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Amazon‘s India division engaged in a systematic campaign of copying items sold by third-party sellers and then manipulated search results to favor its own products, according to a Reuters report Wednesday that cites internal documents.
In a 2016 document, titled “India Private Brands Program,” Amazon’s private label team in India detailed how it would review sales and customer review data to identify “reference brands” to replicate, according to the article.
In one case, Amazon employees noticed an uptick in returns of a shirt made by one of its private-label clothing brands due to sizing issues, Reuters said. The team reportedly found an outselling brand and revised the fit of its shirt to match its measurements.
Amazon teams in India also worked to boost the company’s private label products in search results, using a technique called “search seeding” and “sparkles,” according to Reuters. “Search seeding” allowed Amazon to ensure that new products were the second or third result in search queries, while “sparkles” are banners that are located above search results, Reuters reported.
High-ranking Amazon executives, including Diego Piacentini, who previously led the company’s international business, and senior VP of international consumer Russell Grandinetti, were aware of the business practices in India, Reuters said. Piacentini reported to executive chairman and founder Jeff Bezos and Grandinetti is part of an influential team of key executives overseen by CEO Andy Jassy.
Reuters’ findings directly contradict Amazon’s previous messaging around how it develops its private label products. For many years, Amazon has launched its own private-label goods under the AmazonBasics branding, which offers everything from furniture to clothing. It also offers private label products under other brand names.
Businesses who hawk their wares on Amazon have previously questioned how the retail giant comes up with its own products, with some alleging Amazon directly knocked off their goods.
Amazon executives including Bezos have maintained it’s against company policy to use data from third-party merchants to build future products. Bezos told a Congressional committee in July 2020 that Amazon has a policy that safeguards seller data from employee access.
“If we found someone violated it, we would take action,” Bezos said at the time.
Representatives from Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the full Reuters report here.