Amazon has come under fire from independent merchants for allegedly using its “Vine” programme to ensure its own brands are promoted.
The online giant’s Vine initiative was introduced two years ago after it pledged to crack down on “incentivised reviews” where merchants would send free items to regular reviewers in exchange for positive reviews, pushing the items higher on search results.
In an attempt to stop this, Vine acts as a middleman between vendors and reviewers. Although it still allows vendors to offer free goods in exchange for feedback, any contact between the two parties must be made through Amazon.
Independent merchants, which account for over half the sales on Amazon, are not allowed to use Vine, meaning Amazon vendors who pay a fee for the service are provided more reviews.
According to Bloomberg numerous third-party sellers have called foul play on Amazon, accusing them of using Vine to unfairly favour its own merchants selling its own-label products by using the reviews to boost their rank in searches.
In response to the accusations Amazon told Bloomberg that shoppers using Vine are able to “select from any eligible product, whether it’s an Amazon private-label product or a product from one of our vendors”.
It added that: “The same guardrails that are in place for vendors are in place for our private-label brands.”
This comes amid increasing scrutiny of Amazon’s practices, with reports emerging in September that a preliminary probe has been launched into how Amazon utilises its data on third party sellers on its site, exploring whether it uses this data to give its own retail arm an unfair advantage.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner that launched the probe, has gained a reputation over the past five years for fighting major tech companies.