Search advertising plays a critical role in the market appeal — and naturally, the chances to be bought by consumers — for millions of products in the e-commerce world. But the playing field is rarely level and can get pretty nasty. The Wall Street Journal reports Amazon is boosting its own products at the expense of rival manufacturers on its platform.
The publication conducted a detailed analysis of Amazon's promotional methods, placement of ads for its own products versus rival products, and even heard back from the company's spokesman Drew Herdener in terms that essentially dismissed the report. Although Herdener did not clearly answer The Wall Street Journal's questions about Amazon seemingly limiting competition, Herdener stated:
News flash: retailers promote their own products and often don’t sell products of competitors. Walmart refuses to sell [Amazon brands] Kindle, Fire TV, and Echo. Shocker. In the Journal’s next story they will uncover gambling in Las Vegas.
While it is true that retailers will prioritize their own products, it is not accurate to describe Amazon's practice as a fair or even normal strategy. The self-promotion is so deep for products like Amazon's Fire TV, Echo Show, and Ring doorbell that giants like Roku are totally overshadowed as a result and only found if a customer searches for them directly, and sometimes not even then.
Playing dirty — According to a number of anonymous Amazon employees as well as staff from competitor businesses who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, Amazon categorizes upper-level rivals — labels and brands that pose significant competition — as "Tier 1 Competitors." Sources tell the publication that Amazon deliberately thwarts these companies from buying sponsored-ad space next to its own devices. In terms of ad placement too, the publication found that Amazon would feature its own Fire TV products at least four times below "our brands" when a search was typed in for "Roku Streaming Stick."
Keywords for these ads will frequently and overwhelmingly take users to Amazon's products. This isn't too shocking when you recall the congressional hearing from July in which Amazon informed Apple that it prioritizes its own products. Documents related to the back and forth between the tech titans showed that Amazon's products had "competing ads removed from search" and, in a concession for Apple, Amazon said it would provide "content, search and navigation equivalent to what Amazon has for its own products."
Alleged bribery and now this — The report comes just a week after it was reported that the Department of Justice had accused six consultants and several Amazon employees of a broad bribery scheme to give competitors an edge over Amazon's e-commerce kingdom.
Prior to that, Amazon was criticized for using third-party vendor data to assert itself over smaller rivals by copying their products and ensuring Amazon's matcher products appeared first in search results subsequently. In a battlefield where neither side is playing fairly, you can expect both teams to use all kinds of methods — including ethically compromised ones — to come out on top.