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Retailers are eager to lodge antitrust complaints against Amazon and Google

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Walmart is a member of the retail association that wants to help antitrust enforcers as they investigate tech giants.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

A leading U.S. retail group, whose members include Walmart Inc., is eager to help antitrust enforcers who are poised to investigate whether Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are harming competition.

The Retail Industry Leaders Assn., which also represents Target Corp. and Best Buy Co., among others, said it is prepared to present its concerns to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, which have carved up antitrust oversight of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.

“It’s pretty clear to us that the FTC and different relevant regulators should be taking a much closer look at these platform companies,” Nicholas Ahrens, vice president of innovation for the group, said in an interview. “We are here to help.”

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The retail association joins a slew of companies, including Oracle Corp., Yelp Inc., Tripadvisor Inc. and News Corp., that have raised concerns about competitive harm from dominant technology platforms. The retailers group has already laid out its views on competition issues to the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, which is investigating the technology industry, Ahrens said.

The group wrote a letter to the FTC dated Sunday, arguing that the tech platforms create an “information bottleneck” that has the power to skew markets and circumvent the traditional power of price competition.

The group also raised concerns about how tech companies may compromise the brands of retailers, favor their own products over those of sellers on their platforms, accumulate data about competitors and allow for the proliferation of counterfeit goods.

It should be “quite concerning to the commission that Amazon and Google control the majority of all internet product search, and can very easily affect whether and how price and product information actually reaches consumers,” the trade group said in a letter responding to a series of hearings the agency held on competition policy.

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Representatives for Amazon and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The FTC has claimed oversight of probes of Facebook Inc. and Amazon, while the Justice Department is set to scrutinize Google and Apple Inc. Separately, the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee kicked off a broad antitrust investigation into the technology industry last month with a hearing on how Google and Facebook have affected the news industry.

The retailers group said it agrees with sentiments echoed by Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, as well as more than 40 attorneys general, that prices shouldn’t be the sole measure of harm.

It’s “the combination of information control and market power that should worry antitrust regulators the most,” the letter said. “That unhealthy combination exists at the level of the internet’s pipelines, at the level of product search, in webhosting, on social media platforms and elsewhere.”

The group also pointed to Amazon’s perceived dominance of e-commerce, where it has nearly half of U.S. online sales. Because it is both a retailer and a marketplace for third-party sellers, Amazon has drawn scrutiny over whether it uses its clout and huge amount of sales data to give itself a leg up over smaller vendors — an issue that the European Union is already investigating and that prompted calls by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential hopeful, to break up the online retailer and other tech platforms.

Amazon says it holds only a small percentage of the nation’s total retail market and faces formidable competition from the likes of Walmart.


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