I may be in the minority when I confess that I am not a fan of Amazon.
I know a lot of people appreciate their low prices, extensive catalog of consumer goods, and fast shipping times. But I had a slightly different experience with the e-commerce giant, one that most others probably don’t have.
During the summer after my sophomore year of college, I got a job at an RV dealership. One of my jobs was to list RV spare parts on Amazon, eBay and other e-commerce websites.
I had to deal with Amazon’s strict catalog policies, arbitrary intellectual property disputes, and their spotty web services. I probably spent a quarter of my time on the phone with IT support. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very pleasant summer job.
But this experience has given me the insight to understand the power that companies like these have – power that has long gone unchecked. Tech companies have been able to buy out competitors, underpay their workers and pressure the US government.
In July 2020, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google were formally accused of abusing their power to squander their competitors in their respective markets. In October 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives Antitrust Subcommittee said Amazon had taken advantage of its position to unfairly compete with other third-party sellers on its digital platform.
In the report, the subcommittee said each of these companies had abused their monopoly position in their respective industries, often buying up or undermining competitors to maintain this position of power. An internal communications report obtained from Facebook reveals that CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company “can probably still buy any competing startup.”
These types of statements and behaviors are anti-competitive and anti-American. This country was built on a competitive industry. Companies must compete to offer the lowest price in order to generate the highest profit. Of course, not all markets operate exactly this way, but in most cases competition is still necessary. How are we going to innovate if big business kills that opportunity from the get-go?
This is exactly what I discovered after working within Amazon’s sales platform. Third-party sellers can create an account for an annual fee and sell their products with Amazon’s consent. Often, Amazon prohibits the sale of certain items for arbitrary and unwarranted reasons – one of the many ways that Amazon unfairly competes with third-party sellers.
Obviously, each of the accused companies has rebutted stating that they disagree with the report, it is over the top to suggest that these companies are acting in this way and it will only harm consumers.
Even though these companies rake in millions of dollars every year, enjoy more freedom than they realistically should retain, and stifle any hint of competition, they “cannot afford” to suffer any penalty that would result in a financial loss. They therefore present this as “hurting the consumer” when they have the power to dictate whether or not it affects the consumer.
God forbid, multi-billion dollar corporations make a little less money and even get the slightest slap on the wrist. Of course, we cannot accept this, because the shareholders would be upset.
I do not understand this. Any entity, company or otherwise, that enjoys a position of power like these companies should always expect to be scrutinized and held accountable. And if they can’t hold themselves to a higher standard, then the United States should. We need to start enacting more antitrust laws than we saw decades ago.
Sean Gilley (he/him) is a senior political science and economics student with a certificate in computer science.