Amazon Can Add Germany and Canada to Its List of Investigation Headaches

Amazon Can Add Germany and Canada to Its List of Investigation Headaches
Photo: INA FASSBENDER/AFP, Getty Images

Joining the multiple parties currently investigating Amazon and its shady marketplace behaviour, authorities in Germany and Canada are now launching their own respective probes.

The German Federal Cartel Office, the regulatory authority responsible for enforcing fair competition, has since April been investigating Amazon following complaints about the company’s influence over pricing on its platform, CNBC reported Monday. Per an English translation of coverage of the investigation by German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the probe appears to have been spurred by issues that arose during the pandemic and subsequent seller complaints. The Federal Cartel Office told CNBC that it’s “not up to a private platform to be a price regulator or the price police.” The regulatory authority did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment about the investigation.

Issues around pricing in Amazon’s marketplace have been brought into sharp focus during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, Amazon grappled with obscene price-gouging on its platform amid increased demand for things like masks and hand sanitizer, and separately, Amazon has been accused by U.S. antitrust watchdogs of undercutting third-party sellers and violating its own rules on data aggregation to boost its product sales. (In addition to offering third-party products, Amazon has its own lines of products that compete directly with other sellers on the platform.) Federal Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that its probe is focused on “whether and how Amazon influences retailers’ pricing on the marketplace.”

Reached for comment on Monday, an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement by email that Amazon sellers “set their own product prices in our store.”

“We want customers to buy with confidence anytime they make a purchase on Amazon.de and we have policies to help ensure selling partners are pricing their products competitively,” the spokesperson said. “Our systems are designed to take action against price gouging. If selling partners have concerns, we encourage them to contact our selling partner support.”

Meanwhile, our northern neighbours are also now investigating the tech giant over antitrust concerns, Canada’s Competition Bureau announced Friday. The agency said that its ongoing investigation is looking specifically at whether third-party sellers are capable of succeeding without being forced to use the company’s advertising or Fulfilment By Amazon services, whether Amazon uses any tools to influence shoppers to buy its own products over similar ones from third-party sellers, and if Amazon has had or is still using policies that “may impact third-party sellers’ willingness to offer their products for sale at a lower price on other retail channels.” That last part sounds awfully similar to a kind of price-fixing the company was last year found to be engineering.

In a statement, Amazon told Gizmodo that it is “cooperating with the Competition Bureau’s review and continue to work hard to support small and medium sized businesses who sell in our Canadian store — and help them grow.”

Uh-huh.