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Amazon tells sellers anonymity no longer allowed on website

by JAY GREENE THE WASHINGTON POST | July 10, 2020 at 2:03 a.m.

SEATTLE -- Amazon notified sellers Wednesday they will no longer be able to anonymously hawk goods on its U.S. e-commerce site as of Sept. 1.

While Amazon said it was making the change to "help customers make informed shopping decisions," the move could also help curb sales of dangerous and counterfeit items that have plagued the site in recent years. It comes just weeks before Amazon chief executive, Jeff Bezos, is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee along with the chief executive officers of Facebook, Google and Apple. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

An Amazon spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

The company announced the change in a post on the site where it shares information with the third-party merchants who list products on its site. Those sellers account for the majority of merchandise sold on the site, as much as 58% in 2018, Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders last year.

Often the names of third-party sellers on the site are an odd collection of letters that have no relation to the company's actual name. And many of those sellers choose not to provide details about where they are located.

But sellers do provide that information to Amazon when they establish their business accounts. The company, though, hasn't previously required the disclosure in the United States, even though it does in Europe, Japan and Mexico.

Amazon didn't explain the reason for making the change now.

"Amazon doesn't do random things, just to try to help consumers," said Juozas Kaziukenas, chief executive of the e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse.

Kaziukenas said the company may have made the move to get ahead of the forthcoming hearing, which promises to be a high-profile spectacle that's part of lawmakers' wide-ranging antitrust investigation into the tech industry. It also comes as the Trump administration has targeted counterfeit sales from foreign companies, alleging in a 54-page report in January that online marketplaces such as Amazon have become haven for counterfeiters that's both undermined U.S. firms and hurt consumers.

Amazon has long lamented the scourge of counterfeits, and has said it spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to police its site for fake goods. Last fall, The Post spent $164 on Amazon to pick up a handful of products that used logos and unique designs from brands such as Hermes, Gucci and Louis Vuitton to determine if they were fake. Each item was counterfeit.

And last year, Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra raised concerns about whether Amazon committed "widespread deception" by selling thousands of products without any warnings despite federal agencies deeming those goods to be unsafe, deceptively labeled or banning them altogether. Those concerns came after a Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 unsafe items listed for sale on Amazon.

Forcing merchants to disclose their business names and addresses could discourage rogue sellers from listing products on the site. Generally, sellers need to prove their identity to Amazon by also providing documentation such as bank statements and utility bills that also include their names and address, Kaziukenas said.

Amazon has always prioritized having the broadest selection of products as a key advantage over rivals, even if it meant the company couldn't always control the quality of products available. Disclosing seller identities will likely reduce selection, eliminating accounts from sellers who want to remain anonymous.

"For Amazon to do this is a big deal," said Rob Dunkel, chief executive of the data-analytics firm 3PM Solutions that works with brands to spot counterfeits online.

The disclosure will likely lead brands, such as luxury bag makers or pricey running shoe firms, to target sellers that aren't authorized to sell their products through Amazon, said James Thomson, a former senior manager in business development at Amazon and now partner at brand consultancy Buy Box Experts.

"That will ramp up," Thomson said.


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