Coincidence or not – just at a time when Amazon started facing increasing antitrust scrutiny over its dominant position in the e-commerce and retail landscape, the company, notoriously shy on disclosing details about its business, decided to share some interesting data with the public. In a bid to paint his company as a partner of small and medium-sized businesses rather than an all-consuming behemoth, Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos disclosed that third-party sellers accounted for 58 percent of total physical gross merchandise sales on Amazon last year, up from just 3 percent in 1999.
“Third-party sellers are kicking our first party butt. Badly.”, Bezos self-deprecatingly wrote in his annual letter to shareholders
, only to add the not-so-subtle humblebrag that third-party sales on Amazon, while beating the company’s first party sales, have also grown much faster than eBay’s gross merchandise volume between 1999 and 2018. According to Bezos, third-party sales on Amazon grew from $0.1 billion in 1999 to $160 billion in 2018, while the company itself sold $117 billion worth of physical merchandise last year. As a reaction to the disclosure, market research company eMarketer revised its U.S. market share estimate for Amazon downward from 47 to 38 percent in 2019, a message that Amazon’s leadership team will gladly approve of in light of a possible antitrust probe from the Federal Trade Commission.
Ironically, Amazon’s role as a platform for independent third-party sellers is what got the company into trouble in Europe. Last week, the European Commission launched an investigation
into whether “Amazon's use of sensitive data from independent retailers who sell on its marketplace is in breach of EU competition rules”. In recent years, the EU watchdog has proven not to shy away from going head to head with America’s tech giants, imposing billion-dollar fines on Google and Microsoft
. If found guilty of anticompetitive behavior, Amazon could also face a multi-billion-dollar punishment.