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Amazon India allegedly rigged search results and ripped off sellers’ products

Amazon allegedly used its search system and user data to gain an edge over sellers in India, according to a new report from Reuters. The report — based on internal emails, strategy plans, and other documents — outlines an ambitious plan to dominate the platform with its in-house brands. According to the documents, that plan included strategies that Amazon has vehemently denied using amid antitrust scrutiny.

The Reuters story provides extensive details about Amazon India’s alleged activity, but two key pieces stand out. The first is a claim that Amazon employees used “search seeding” (or boosting the rankings of specific product listings) to ensure that company brands like AmazonBasics appeared “in the first two or three” search results for a category. The second, more extensive allegation involves Amazon identifying “reference” or “benchmark” products that are popular with customers and then copying them. At least two high-level executives allegedly reviewed the plans.

Amazon’s copying process apparently went beyond simply cloning the look of well-known products. The documents reportedly indicate Amazon India employees examined internal data like how often customers returned purchases and then designed products based around it. Reuters quotes one 2016 report about an in-house brand called Solimo, whose strategy was to “use information from Amazon.in to develop products and then leverage the Amazon.in platform to market these products to our customers.” The report also described plans to partner with the original manufacturers of reference products to capture “unique processes which impact the end quality of the product.”

Amazon denied the allegations in a statement to Reuters, calling them “factually incorrect and unsubstantiated.” But they mirror claims from other countries. A 2020 Wall Street Journal report found that Amazon employees had studied detailed internal sales data to help it crush independent sellers with competing products.

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Amazon told the Journal that the tactic was strictly prohibited among employees and denied the claims in a US congressional hearing, although then-CEO Jeff Bezos said he couldn’t “guarantee” that the policy had never been violated. Throughout questioning, however, Bezos portrayed possible violations as the actions of rogue employees — not the kind of formal strategy that Reuters describes.

As Reuters notes, Amazon is under investigation in India for alleged anti-competitive behavior. (Regulators are also investigating its Walmart-backed competitor Flipkart.) The investigation covers potentially anti-competitive behavior around self-branded products like AmazonBasics.

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