Viewers had to wait 96 minutes to hear Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos field questions during his Congressional debut on Wednesday.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., finally did the honors in the second hour of the highly anticipated House Judiciary Committee hearing on online platforms and market power, revisiting a familiar topic: how Amazon uses internal seller data in the development of private label products.
Over the next three-and-a-half hours, Bezos responded to additional queries about small businesses, ecommerce and counterfeit goods—and even whether he believes U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is an extremist.
It’s a rare opportunity to hear directly from Bezos, so we’ve rounded up the Top 20 takeaways from his testimony.
Bezos can’t guarantee Amazon’s policy against using seller data has never been violated.
A year ago, associate general counsel Nate Sutton told the House Judiciary Committee Amazon does not use individual data from its 2.2 million third-party sellers to develop competing private label products.
In response to Jayapal, however, Bezos waffled.
“I can’t answer that question yes or no,” he said. “What I can tell you is we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business. But I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.”
Amazon’s internal policy about seller data is (maybe) voluntary.
“What I can tell you is that we do have certain safeguards in place,” Bezos said. “We … expect people to follow that policy the same way we would any other. It’s a voluntary policy … and there’s no actual enforcement.”
(He later said he “may have misspoke” and, “We would treat that like any internal policy. And if we found that someone violated it, we would take action against them.”)
Amazon is investigating allegations that it accesses aggregated seller data.
The platform is continuing its investigation into a Wall Street Journal story that found Amazon accesses aggregated seller data.
Bezos told Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., that the company is “looking at that very carefully,” but he did not “want to go beyond what I know right now.”
Amazon’s policies permit the use of aggregate seller data.
Bezos confirmed to Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., that Amazon looks at aggregate data to inform its private label brands—even when there are just two or three sellers of a product on the platform.
Bezos was asked about, but did not comment on, whether this is fair to small businesses on the platform.
Amazon does not think it’s a conflict of interest to sell its own products on its own platform.
“No, I don’t believe it is [a conflict],” Bezos said to Cicilline. “We have the consumers, the ones ultimately making the decisions. They’re making the decisions about what to buy, what price to buy it at [and] who to buy it from.”
Amazon says it has plenty of competition in ecommerce.
Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., cited figures from eMarketer that show Amazon has nearly seven times the market share of its closest competitor in ecommerce.
“When sellers told us that … ‘Amazon continues to be the only show in town—no matter how angry sellers get, they have nowhere else to go,’ … are you saying that these people aren’t being truthful?” she asked.
Bezos disagreed. “I believe that there are a lot of options,” he said.
Bezos does not think Amazon’s relationship with third-party sellers is contentious.
“As part of this investigation,” McBath continued, “we’ve interviewed many small businesses, and they use the words like ‘bullying,’ ‘fear’ and ‘panic’ to describe their relationship with Amazon.”
Bezos disagreed, saying the platform collaborates with sellers. “The evidence that I would suggest would be useful for you to consider … is that third-party sellers in aggregate are doing extremely well on Amazon,” he said, noting that 20 years ago, there were no independent businesses on the site, “and today, it’s 60% of sales.”
Amazon competes with sellers, but still thinks it’s the best option—and it is not “Amazon heroin.”
“During this investigation, we’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories of small businesses who sunk significant time and resources into building a business and selling on Amazon, only to have Amazon poach their best-selling items and drive them out of business,” Cicilline said, calling the initial success sellers see “Amazon heroin.”
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