Antitrust vs. Anti-Trump: The Donald’s Feud With Amazon
Amazon is the largest internet-based retailer in the United States, and it is growing exponentially. Consumers have come to rely on the retailer — and what’s not to love about Amazon Prime — to the tune of more than $107 billion in net sales in 2015. It kicked off the summer by hitting an all-time high of more than $724 per share, leaving Facebook and other high valued companies in the dust. And though Amazon is showing no signs of slowing down (it’s looking to become a multi-trillion dollar company in the next 10 years), due to some of its practices — and failures — it may soon be facing a difficult fight from product distributors, and maybe even … Donald Trump?
Those of us in the consumer products industry are either directly or indirectly aware of the problems Amazon poses to brand integrity and consumer protection. It is impossible to prevent counterfeit products from being sold on the platform, and, perhaps even more frustrating, Amazon is making it exceedingly difficult to remove those counterfeit listings and stop repeat offenders. In many cases, before Amazon will remove a listing, the product owner is required to purchase the knockoff and prove to Amazon, via photos, that the goods are fake. And, of course, Amazon takes its percentage on that sale. Outrageous, right?
Not only do counterfeit goods sold on Amazon harm the product owner in the way of lost sales, but brand integrity suffers as well. Because the infringer can get away with using product copyrights and trademarks to sell counterfeit goods, the consumer believes she is ordering the real deal. In turn, when the consumer receives the product and it breaks, or does not perform as advertised, that consumer leaves a poor review, which the product owner then cannot remove from Amazon. It’s a nasty cycle that, as many product owners can attest to, Amazon seems to have no interest in remedying. And honestly, why would it? The courts have held, including most recently in Milo & Gabby, that Amazon is not liable for the infringement of third-party sellers on its platform. What’s the possible solution for product owners (and ultimately, consumers)? Enter, Donald Trump.
As he does with so many, the Donald has been spatting with Amazon owner Jeff Bezos via Twitter and on the campaign trail. Trump claims that Bezos is concerned that if he wins the election, Trump will go after Amazon for its “huge antitrust problem.” According to Trump, it is for this reason that Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, has 20 staffers digging for dirt on the presidential candidate. While many others are also doing their best to prevent a Trump presidency for various reasons, could Trump be right about Bezos’ motivation?
Antitrust laws promote competition and protect consumers from predatory business practices. Seth Bloom, former general counsel of the U.S. Senate’s Antitrust subcommittee, recently stated that because there needs to be some illegal behavior and not just a large market share, “The test … is whether the conduct of Amazon is benefiting or harming consumers.” He went on to say that he hasn’t heard anything said about how Amazon is harming consumers. Well, apparently Bloom has not ordered a counterfeit food chopper that arrives broken, or counterfeit skin care products that cause severe allergic reactions. If he had, he would know that consumers are being harmed and that Amazon’s brand protection department is well aware of it.
These practices could spell trouble for Amazon should the Federal Trade Commission or Department of Justice start poking around. So, perhaps being called out by Trump — and (hopefully) other high profile individuals/companies — will put some pressure on Amazon to come to the table and address some of these issues in order to … err … make Amazon great again.
Jessica M. Pfau is a partner at Phillips & Pfau LLP. She can be reached via e-mail at