Documents show Amazon gaming search results to promote its brands while copying rival products in India
When it comes to accusations of fixing search results, it is usually the likes of Google in the firing line, but documents seen by Reuters show that Amazon has engaged in such activities.
The news agency obtained thousands of internal Amazon documents cited as evidence that the company not only "ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs", but also that it was "manipulating search results to boost its own product lines".
The allegations relate to Amazon's Indian market and appear to show that the company was using proprietary data about other brands and company selling on its platform to determine which products it should "replicate".
The documents reveal how Amazon's private-brands team in India secretly exploited internal data from Amazon.in to copy products sold by other companies, and then offered them on its platform. The employees also stoked sales of Amazon private-brand products by rigging Amazon's search results so that the company's products would appear, as one 2016 strategy report for India put it, "in the first 2 or three … search results" when customers were shopping on Amazon.in.
A document from 2016 called "India Private Brands Program" shows that the Amazon teams working on the company's own private-brand products had plans to form partnerships with the firms making the products it wanted to copy.
The reason for doing so was to gain Tribal Knowledge, manufacturers' "unique processes which impact the end quality of the product". The document says: "It is difficult to develop this expertise across products and hence, to ensure that we are able to fully match quality with our reference product, we decided to only partner with the manufacturers of our reference product".
Amazon has denied all accusations of search result manipulation, and abuse of data to create copycat products. The company says: "We display search results based on relevance to the customer's search query, irrespective of whether such products have private brands offered by sellers or not".