The District of Columbia sued Amazon on Tuesday, accusing it of artificially raising prices for products in its ubiquitous online marketplace and around the web by abusing its monopoly power, a sign that regulators in the United States are increasingly turning their attention to the company’s dominance across the economy.
In the lawsuit, the D.C. government said that Amazon had effectively prohibited merchants that use its platform from charging lower prices for the same products elsewhere online. That, in turn, raised prices for those products not just on Amazon’s website but in other marketplaces as well, it said.
“Amazon has used its dominant position in the online retail market to win at all costs,” said Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia. “It maximizes its profits at the expense of third-party sellers and consumers, while harming competition, stifling innovation, and illegally tilting the playing field in its favor.”
Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said in a statement that Mr. Racine “has it exactly backwards — sellers set their own prices for the products they offer in our store.” She added that Amazon reserved the right “not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively.”
others raise their prices elsewhere or choose to list solely on Amazon, the largest e-commerce site in the country, to avoid losing their listings. The complaint said “Walmart routinely fields requests from merchants to raise prices on Walmart’s online retail sales platform because the merchants worry that a lower price on Walmart will jeopardize their status on Amazon.”
Absent the policing, sellers “would be able to sell their products on their own or other online retail sales platforms for less than they sell them on Amazon’s platform,” it said.
“Most favored nation” contracts are common across industries, including the cable industry with media business partners. Mr. Racine’s office will have to prove how the price agreements harmed other sellers and were anticompetitive.