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AG says he forced Amazon to shut down “unlawful price-fixing” program


Cardboard boxes made to resemble Amazon packages, but with the logo in the shape of a frown.
Enlarge / Cardboard boxes made to resemble Amazon packages during a protest outside the home of Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.

Amazon must shut down the price-fixing program known as “Sold by Amazon” (SBA) under a legally binding resolution announced today by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Amazon had already suspended the program amid an investigation, but the settlement prevents the program from being restarted.

“The ‘Sold by Amazon’ program allowed the online retailer to agree on price with third-party sellers, rather than compete with them,” the announcement said. Ferguson alleged that Amazon violated antitrust laws by “unreasonably restrain[ing] competition in order to maximize its own profits off third-party sales” and that “this conduct constituted unlawful price-fixing.”

Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Amazon and the consent decree in King County Superior Court today.

“As part of the legally enforceable consent decree, Amazon must stop the ‘Sold by Amazon’ program nationwide and provide the Attorney General’s Office with annual updates on its compliance with antitrust laws,” Ferguson’s announcement said. Amazon will also pay $2.25 million that the AG’s office will use to support antitrust enforcement. The requirement for Amazon to provide annual updates lasts five years.

Amazon “glad to have this matter resolved”

Sold by Amazon began in 2018, and Amazon suspended the program in June 2020 after Washington state began investigating it. Ferguson’s lawsuit said that Amazon suspended the program “in a manner that could be efficiently and effectively resumed” at any time, but the consent decree forbids Amazon from restarting it. The consent decree also forbids Amazon from offering a new program with the same terms and conditions, regardless of whether the program uses the Sold by Amazon name.

When contacted by Ars, Amazon said, “This was a small program to provide another tool to help sellers offer lower prices, much like similar programs common among other retailers, that has since been discontinued. While we strongly believe the program was legal, we’re glad to have this matter resolved.” Amazon also claimed it discontinued the program “for business reasons unrelated to the AG’s investigation.”

In the settlement, Washington agreed to release Amazon “from all claims that the State asserted or could have asserted in the Complaint based upon past conduct.” The document says that Washington may “pursu[e] any law enforcement action with respect to the acts or practices of Amazon not covered by this Consent Decree or any acts or practices conducted after the Effective Date of this Consent Decree.”



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