Amazon admits it favored own listings for ‘nonessential’ items over independent sellers, even if others had faster delivery times

  • Amazon’s algorithms have been favoring nonessential items sold directly by Amazon or sellers that use its warehouses over third-party sellers with faster delivery options, according to Recode.
  • Amazon said last week that it would temporarily pause shipments of nonessential items to its warehouses to prioritize products that have been in high demand because of the coronavirus.
  • Amazon has also come under scrutiny in the past for how it decides which products are featured in its “Buy Box.”
  • Amazon has also seen unprecedented demand recently as people are using its platform to order household staples amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
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Amazon’s algorithm has been favoring nonessential items sold directly by Amazon – or sellers that store their products in Amazon’s warehouses – over listings from third-party sellers that offer faster delivery options, according to a report from Recode.

Amazon said last week that it would temporarily pause all shipments of nonessential items to its warehouses until April 5 as part of an effort to prioritize household staples, medical supplies, and other highly-demanded items during the coronavirus outbreak, as Business Insider’s Eugene Kim reported.

However, Recode’s report reveals that there are options on Amazon for purchasing nonessential items with faster delivery times – like sporting goods, for instance – but such options are not featured in Amazon’s “Buy Box”. Instead, shoppers would have to click on a smaller box located lower on the product page that says “New and Used” to see such options.

The “Buy Box,” as its name implies, is the box located along the right side of the product listing page that allows customers to add the item to their cart.

Amazon issued Recode the following statement indicating that the hidden listings were the result of an error.

“To address the need for high-priority items and ensure customers are receiving deliveries as quickly as possible, we’ve made a number of adjustments to how our store works,” the statement said. “In this case, some of these changes have resulted in an error which, in some cases, resulted in an unintended variation in how we select which offers to feature. We are working to correct it as quickly as possible.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s question regarding when the error would be corrected and request for additional comment.

It’s not the first time the algorithms that decide which products Amazon features prominently have come under scrutiny. In 2016, an investigation from ProPublica found that the company was favoring products sold directly by Amazon.

The methods Amazon uses to inform which products are featured in its “Buy Box” have also been at the center of antitrust concerns surrounding the company over the past year.

Last July, for example, the European Union’s Competition Commission opened an investigation into Amazon to see if it was engaging in anticompetitive behavior. The commission said it would look into the data Amazon uses to decide which listings are featured in the “Buy Box,” as well as Amazon’s agreements with marketplace sellers, as part of its investigation.

The report comes as people across the United States are relying on Amazon more than ever as they avoid crowded stores amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon has said it’s hiring 100,000 warehouse workers to help the company keep up with the unprecedented surge in demand caused by the virus.