Amazon is reducing the number of items it sells under its own brands as its private-label business reportedly is suffering from disappointing sales. The private label business has always been controversial because it competes with Amazon’s partners’ own products that they sell on the platform. Dana Mattioli reports in The Wall Street Journal:
Amazon.com Inc. has started drastically reducing the number of items it sells under its own brands, and the company has discussed the possibility of exiting the private-label business entirely to alleviate regulatory pressure, according to people familiar with the matter.
Amazon’s private-label business, with 243,000 products across 45 different house brands as of 2020, has been a source of controversy because it competes with other sellers on its platform. The decision to scale back the house brands resulted partly from disappointing sales for many of the items, the people said. It also came as the retail-and-technology giant has faced criticism in recent years from lawmakers and others that it sometimes gives advantages to its own brands at the expense of products sold by other vendors on its site.
Over the past six months, Amazon leadership instructed its private-label team to slash the list of items and not to reorder many of them, the people said. Executives discussed reducing its private-label assortment in the U.S. by well over half, one of them said.
The move was initiated after a review of the business by Dave Clark, a longtime Amazon executive who took over as head of its global consumer business in January 2021, the people said. Mr. Clark left the company last month. As a result of that review, Mr. Clark pushed the team to focus on bestselling commodity goods, along the lines of Target Corp.’s “Up & Up” or Walmart Inc.’s “Great Value” brands, rather than offer the extensive range of items Amazon currently does, the people said.
Amazon’s private-label business started in 2009 with consumer electronics products such as cables and expanded into other categories. It now encompasses everything from vitamins and coffee to clothing and furniture, with brand names such as Amazon Basics, Goodthreads and Solimo. However, Amazon has said that its house brands only account for about 1% of its retail sales. Amazon’s revenue last year, including other businesses such as its cloud-computing operation, totaled $469.8 billion.
The growing scale of its own offerings increasingly put Amazon in competition with other sellers on its platform, angering those sellers and resulting in antitrust scrutiny.
In 2020, The Wall Street Journal detailed how Amazon employees used data from its platform on individual third-party sellers to develop Amazon-branded products that compete with those sellers. The Journal also reported that year how some major brands were angered by products Amazon developed for its own labels that closely resembled their items, claiming the tech company copied their designs.
Amazon at the time said it was opening an internal investigation into how its private-label employees use seller data and if they were violating a company policy not to use such data. In testimony to Congress, then-CEO Jeff Bezos said “I can’t guarantee you that policy has never been violated.”
Amazon’s handling of such competition issues has been under scrutiny from a congressional committee investigating big tech companies and from regulators including the Securities and Exchange Commission, which the Journal reported in April was examining how the company disclosed some details of its business practices. The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating Amazon’s competitive practices.
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