The Web Retailer News Digest for February 8, 2022

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The drumbeat for antitrust legislation against big tech companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon is growing louder in Washington DC. A landmark US Senate bill prohibiting tech corporations from favoring their own products and services has cleared a major obstacle in Congress, taking it one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the American Innovation and Choice Online Act on January 20, paving the way for a Senate vote on the antitrust bill. The bill must still be confirmed by the Senate and then reconciled with a House of Representatives version before being sent to President Biden to sign into law. 

The bill prevents dominant platforms, determined by factors such as the number of users and market capitalization, from self-preferencing, which means discriminating against other businesses or companies that rely on their services. In practice, this means Amazon could not rank its private-label products higher in search results than those of third-party competitors.

Let’s break down what to expect going forward, what it means for the marketplace, and most importantly, what it means for third-party Amazon sellers.

How will a proposed US antitrust law affect Amazon sellers?

If you’ve been following US politics over the last few years, you know that there’s a lot of division both between parties and within parties. But this issue seems to be one of the rare ones with bipartisan momentum from all sides. If it is ultimately passed, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act would give antitrust enforcers “strong, flexible tools,” such as “civil penalties, authorization to seek broad injunctions, emergency interim remedies, and potential confiscation of executive salary,” to help them achieve their aims. Even a diluted version of the measure could give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to regulate supposed monopolies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other tech behemoths. 

Unsurprisingly, you can expect that Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other targeted tech companies will fight the measure through lobbying, the courts, and the court of public opinion. Indeed, many public statements are already being made, and private letters are being sent. In a blog post, Alphabet Global Affairs President and Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker wrote, “…Legislation being debated in the House and Senate could break these and other popular online services, making them less helpful and less secure, and damaging American competitiveness.”

When considering how this legislation would affect Amazon, it would mark the end of seller-despised practices such as buy box listing suppression, or the all-too-common tactic of offering a lower-cost version of a popular third-party product under a number of Amazon house brand names. Other significant changes could follow, such as separating fulfillment services from the marketplace, or breaking the company up into smaller companies specializing in certain areas such as AWS or entertainment. It really depends on how extensive any passed legislation is, how far the regulators wish to go, and whether the political powers are friendly (or not) to Amazon.

For Amazon sellers, the hope would be that the passing of such legislation would result in a more level playing field in the marketplace, one where the sellers would only have to compete against each other and not also against Amazon itself. But there might be unintended consequences. 

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s VP of Public Policy, made a public statement opposing the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. He claimed that the law would cause “collateral damage” to sellers and customers. He went on to say that the proposed legislation would “jeopardize our ability to allow small businesses to sell on Amazon,” as well as “make it difficult for us to guarantee one or two-day shipping for those small businesses’ products — key benefits of Amazon Prime for sellers and customers alike.” While the validity of those comments is specious at best, clearly this is a situation worth watching for all concerned.

Read more at CNBC and SupplyChainBrain.

Important 2022 dates for marketplace and ecommerce sellers

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Here’s your reminder of important 2022 dates for marketplace and ecommerce sellers. If you haven’t already done so, mark your calendar, get your sales strategy ready, and pre-order your stock. 

  • February 1: Chinese Lunar New Year
  • February 13: Super Bowl
  • February 14: Valentine’s Day
  • 2nd April – 3rd May: Ramadan and Eid 
  • April 17: Easter 
  • Mid-July (tbd): Amazon Prime Day
  • May 8: Mother’s Day
  • May 31: Memorial Day (US)
  • June 19: Father’s Day
  • July 1: Canada Day
  • July 4: Independence Day
  • August, 2nd week: Back-to-school
  • October 31: Halloween
  • November 25: Black Friday
  • November 26: Small Business Saturday
  • November 28: Cyber Monday
  • December 18-26: Hanukkah
  • December 25: Christmas
  • December 26: Boxing Day
  • December 26-Jan 1: Kwanzaa
  • December 31: New Year’s Eve

Please note that some dates may vary by country. Consider this a reminder to research the holidays in the markets you sell in, and plan your 2022 holiday sales accordingly. 

Read more at Cruxfinder.

Post-Brexit, Amazon finally reconnects UK sellers to the EU

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Two years after the UK Brexit-ed the EU, there’s some good news for Amazon UK sellers. Amazon will resume its European Fulfillment Network (EFN) service between the UK and the EU, allowing merchants to sell their merchandise on both sides of the English Channel once more, beginning in March 2022. This will enable UK sellers to tap back into the easiest way to sell to EU marketplaces and into the Amazon fulfillment network in a way that had escaped them during the post-Brexit period.

Increased competitiveness will be the main impact of the European Fulfillment Network’s restart. Nearly 70% of UK sellers on Amazon Germany have reportedly ceased selling, but the restart of the EFN may allow these small firms to continue commerce with the continent. On the negative side, UK sellers will almost certainly face more competition from EU sellers.

Eligible overseas offers will go live in phases through the EFN beginning in March 2022 and continuing until May 2022. Invitations to sign up for the launch have already started to arrive in the mail for certain merchants.

If you plan to utilize the EFN service, be sure that you meet all the requirements for selling on the EFN, update listings and inventory accordingly, and be aware of the upcoming updates to FBA fees.

Read more at Tamebay.

Amazon’s new returns program for foreign sellers in US marketplace 

Amazon is launching the Returns Provider (RP) program to help foreign sellers manage seller-fulfilled returns from US customers. The Returns Provider program helps connect foreign sellers with service providers to manage returns if the sellers don’t have a US return address. On February 16, 2022, a limited number of international sellers will be able to participate in the RP program, which will eventually be open to all sellers by March 2022.

The program is intended to make domestic returns easier, help sellers reclaim return costs, and assure a smooth client returns experience. To further streamline the return process, sellers can receive prepaid returns for seller-fulfilled orders with the provider’s domestic warehouse address once enrolled. The new RP program is essentially an integrated service for returns where a US-based return address is unavailable, with vetted service providers who specialize in the returns management process. For foreign sellers, it seems like a potentially viable and lower-cost option to handle US returns, as long as all terms & conditions are met.

Read more at Amazon.

Also in the news

  • New Amazon requirements for radio frequency device listings. Amazon.
  • Reminder of updates to Amazon referral and FBA fees, UK, March 31. Amazon.
  • Is eBay Struggling With Video In Listings? Value Added Resource.
  • eBay continues to extend seller protections to all sellers impacted by severe weather. eBay.
  • Retailers ask US regulators to examine Visa, Mastercard fees. Digital Commerce 360.

Webinars in the week ahead

For everyone

Various dates: Amazon advertising’s global webinar program continues with 20+ webinars scheduled, covering Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, reporting, optimization, and tips.
Amazon.

For US sellers

February 8, 10: Amazon Small Business Academy Pathways Series February. Amazon.

February 9 & 10: Know your campaign tools: Spotlight on Sponsored Products reporting. Amazon.

February 9, 10, 11: Seller University Webinar Sessions: Grow your Brand with Amazon Amazon.

February 10: Building brand awareness with Amazon Ads Amazon.

February 10: How Expert Lifecycle Marketers Use First-Party Data to Drive Growth. Tinuiti.

For UK sellers

February 6 & February 10: Know your campaign tools: Spotlight on Sponsored Products reporting Amazon.

February 8: The Delivery Conference 2022. Tamebay.

And finally…

Amazon takes the high road on US cannabis legalization, man.

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And finally, at the 3-way intersection of Main Street, Wall Street, and High Street, Amazon openly supports the federal legalization of cannabis in the United States. Why? Well, it’s not because a spaced-out Jeff Bezos wants to open a chain of Whole Foods-branded marijuana greenhouses on the sunny side of the moon. It turns out the reason is much more grounded.

Two weeks ago, we covered a recent report on Amazon’s rapidly expanding US warehouse space. Amazon needs more people to work in all those warehouses – and there’s a labor shortage. So how does Amazon find additional workers for high-stress $15.00/hour fulfillment center gigs? The answer is not disqualifying those who test positive for cannabis in a pre-employment drug screening (except for positions regulated by the US Department of Transportation).

Amazon’s broad support for three different federal cannabis regulation bills making the rounds in Washington is based on one primary issue – the need for more workers. And if the “devil’s lettuce” becomes federally legal, then more warehouse jobs nationwide will be available to fill with midnight tokers. According to Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), “They (Amazon) don’t want to sell it. It opens up the hiring pool by about 10 percent.” Amazon’s own announcement touts the benefits of legalization – and more jobs working for Amazon – as “investing in impacted businesses and communities.”

It’s interesting to see that Amazon is openly backing a Republican-led bill, especially since Jeff Bezos and Amazon were particular targets of the most recent Republican President’s ire. But as any modern-day hippy on Phish tour can tell you, good weed leads to strange bedfellows. With Amazon, there’s usually a game of 4D chess being played in anything they do. So, if the legislation passes, don’t be surprised to see offers for the “PRIME Bud of the Month” in your email – and keep one bloodshot eye on the moon, man.

Read more at Amazon.

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