Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon.com, Inc., seeking to end its anticompetitive practices that have raised prices for consumers and stifled innovation and choice across the entire online retail market.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that Amazon fixed online retail prices through contract provisions and policies it previously and currently applies to third-party sellers on its platform. These provisions and policies, known as “most favored nation” (MFN) agreements, prevent third-party sellers that offer products on Amazon.com from offering their products at lower prices or on better terms on any other online platform, including their own websites.
These agreements effectively require third-party sellers to incorporate the high fees charged by Amazon – as much as 40% of the total product price – not only into the price charged to customers on Amazon’s platform, but also on any other online retail platform.
As a result, these agreements impose an artificially high price floor across the online retail marketplace and allow Amazon to build and maintain monopoly power in violation of the District of Columbia’s Antitrust Act. The effects of these agreements continue to be far-reaching as they harm consumers and third-party sellers, and suppress competition, choice, and innovation. OAG is seeking to put an end to Amazon’s control over online retail pricing, as well as damages, penalties, and attorney’s fees.
In 2019, Amazon claimed to have removed its price parity policy that explicitly prohibited third-party sellers from offering their products on a competing online retail sales platform, including the third-party sellers’ own website, at a lower price or on better terms than offered the products on Amazon.
But in fact, Amazon quickly and quietly replaced the price parity policy with an effectively-identical substitute, its Fair Pricing Policy. Under the Fair Pricing Policy, third-party sellers can be sanctioned or removed from Amazon altogether if they offer their products for lower prices or under better terms on a competing online platform.
The lawsuit alleges that the pricing agreements Amazon imposes on third-party sellers are facially anticompetitive and allow Amazon to illegally build and maintain monopoly power in the online retail market in violation of the District of Columbia’s Antitrust Act. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Amazon:
• Raises prices for consumers: Amazon’s MFNs harm consumers by artificially inflating prices they pay for products purchased across the online retail market. When third-party sellers sell on Amazon, they must pass on the cost of Amazon’s high fees and commissions to consumers.
While third-party sellers can sell their products for lower prices on other platforms and on their own websites, where fees are lower or non-existent, Amazon’s MFNs prevent sellers from passing on these savings to consumers. These agreements create an artificially high price “floor” across the entire online market and prevent other platforms from enticing consumers away from Amazon with lower prices and gaining market share. Without these restraints, products would be available to consumers at lower prices.
• Stifles competition in the online retail market: Amazon maintains its dominance in online retail by preventing other platforms from competing on price to win market share. The most important factor in online shoppers’ purchasing decisions is price. By ensuring that third-party sellers cannot offer lower prices elsewhere online, Amazon insulates itself from meaningful competition.
• Deprives consumers of choice: Amazon’s anticompetitive actions have resulted in less choice for consumers in the online retail market, suppressed innovation, and reduced investment in potentially-competing platforms.
With this lawsuit, OAG is seeking to end Amazon’s use of illegal price agreements to foreclose competition and maintain its monopoly in online retail sales. Additionally, the lawsuit seeks to recover damages and impose penalties to deter similar conduct by Amazon and other companies. ■