The attorney general for Washington, D.C., sued Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), accusing the online retail giant of engaging in anticompetitive practices that have raised prices for consumers.
Amazon’s policies governing third-party sellers prohibit them from offering products at lower prices on rival platforms, which has led to artificially high prices for consumers and let the company build monopoly power, Karl Racine said.
“Amazon is increasing its dominant stronghold on the market and illegally reducing the ability of other platforms to compete for market share,” Racine said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters announcing the case.
“The D.C. Attorney General has it exactly backward—sellers set their own prices for the products they offer in our store,” a company spokesman said in an email. “Amazon takes pride in the fact that we offer low prices across the broadest selection, and like any store, we reserve the right not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively.”
Amazon said the outcome Racine is seeking in the case would force the company to post higher prices, “oddly going against core objectives of antitrust law.”
The antitrust lawsuit follows a flurry of investigations and lawsuits targeting America’s biggest tech companies. Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google were sued by state and federal officials last year in monopoly cases. Meanwhile, a House investigation accused the two companies along with Amazon and Apple Inc. of abusing their dominance in digital markets.
More cases may be on the way. The attorneys general for California and New York and the Federal Trade Commission have been investigating Amazon, Bloomberg has reported, while the Justice Department has been probing Apple.
Racine filed the Amazon case on his own, rather than teaming with other states, which is a common practice for attorneys general. He said he didn’t know whether other states would join and said he hasn’t coordinated with the FTC.
The lawsuit focuses on so-called most favored nation agreements, which prevent third-party merchants from selling at a lower price somewhere else, including their own websites, Racine said. The agreements mean the fees Amazon charges to sellers are incorporated into the prices sellers charge on Amazon and on competing platforms online, Racine said.
Amazon merchants and their consultants in 2019 told Bloomberg that Amazon’s practices forced them to raise prices on other sites such as Walmart Inc. If Amazon detected lower prices on other sites, it would bury their products in Amazon search results, where they got most of their sales. Some of the merchants were eager to grow their sales on other sites, but Amazon’s policies prevented them from offering lower prices elsewhere to lure shoppers away.
The lawsuit is the sixth antitrust case against a major U.S. tech company filed in the last year by state and federal officials. The Justice Department and a group of states sued Google last year, accusing the company of abusing its dominance in internet search. That case was followed by two separate complaints against Google filed by other states over search and digital advertising. The FTC and a nationwide coalition of states sued Facebook in December in separate complaints that seek to break up the company.Favorite