Amazon is the monopoly that companies dream of becoming. The company’s control over the e-commerce market is so large that avoiding it is difficult, especially for students who depend on the internet to buy everything from furniture to food to school supplies. As a result of its size, Amazon has been able to raise prices all while selling lesser-quality goods. In response, the Federal Trade Commission has launched a lawsuit against the company. Regardless of how convenient Amazon is, students should avoid buying from a company that is exploiting them.
Amazon, once a humble start-up company operating out of a garage, now controls nearly 38% of all e-commerce in the U.S., which is nearly 32% larger than the second-largest online seller, Walmart. This gives the company the ability to force its will upon the marketplace with relative ease. As a result of Amazon’s size and the use of algorithms to promote its products over competitors and price-fix products, the FTC is going face to face with the company that has cornered the e-commerce market.
The FTC, in its lawsuit, focuses on how Amazon has conducted itself in the marketplace, specifically, its actions that cost hundreds of thousands of sellers and consumers billions of dollars.
“Amazon is a monopolist that uses its power to hike prices on American shoppers and charge sky-high fees on hundreds of thousands of online sellers,” John Newman, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a press release.
As a result, the FTC lawsuit is not aimed at breaking Amazon apart, but instead focuses on the tools the company uses to impose its will on the market.
Amazon’s search function is one of its largest tools for maintaining the company’s monopolistic power. When searching for almost any item on the marketplace, from pencils to T-shirts, customers are met with an array of Amazon’s own products and sponsored products. This function allows Amazon to not only put their products first, which gives their products a higher likelihood of being bought, but also to profit from other companies who pay to be seen first akin to Amazon’s products.
While sellers obviously suffer from this function, customers are not immune either. The search function and the algorithm associated with it work in tandem to ensure that discounted or cheaper products are hidden from the consumer. Customers who shop on Amazon are subjected to higher priced products or Amazon’s products — which are typically lower quality than competitors’. As a result, the experience for the customer is riddled with high prices, biased product placement and advertisements.
Although most students aren’t directly involved in the lawsuit launched by the FTC, we can still find ways to fight back against Amazon. Primarily, avoid using it. Buying from alternative online stores allows you to get better quality products for a better price. Alternatives to Amazon such as Target offer a sizable and fairly priced online section. When comparing the prices of notebooks sold on both marketplaces, Target’s search results provide cheaper and higher quality products immediately when compared to Amazon. Other options, such as Etsy and Carousel, let you buy directly from smaller retailers without going through Amazon as an intermediary. Even buying from your favorite shop in Ann Arbor such as Bivouac or Vault of Midnight not only gives you the ability to purchase the goods that you want but to support local businesses while doing so.
Additionally, it’s important to educate others about Amazon’s monopoly status. The more people learn about Amazon’s unethical behavior, the more likely it is that support for the company will fall and pressure on it to course correct will rise. Standing against Amazon is too big a job for just one person. It takes a vast network of people to ensure that companies like Amazon don’t abuse the market we all use.
The current state of e-commerce is a concerning one, but it’s not beyond fixing. Taking action against a monopolistic company may seem futile but can make a difference. Being outspoken against Amazon and encouraging others to do the same helps send a message to any other companies looking to follow in its footsteps: Not only will they be sued by the government, but ridiculed by the public as well.
Thomas Muha is an Opinion Columnist. He writes about issues relating to social media and the internet. He can be reached at email@example.com or on X @TJMooUM.