The Wildly Misleading Statistic at the Center of the FTC’s Antitrust Case Against Amazon
One of the central arguments in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Amazon is that the online retailing giant has stunted the growth of potential competition by forcing small businesses and other independent sellers to funnel their products through Amazon’s own in-house distribution system.
Much of that argument seems to hinge on a single statistic—one that top officials at the FTC have cited in interviews and on Twitter and that pops up in a newly unredacted part of the FTC’s lawsuit. There’s just one problem: that stat doesn’t say what the FTC keeps claiming it does.
To understand what it does say, first you need a bit of background.
Amazon has allegedly deprived potential competitors of the “ability to gain the scale and momentum needed to effectively compete online,” as FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan told Bloomberg TV in an interview on September 26.
In fact, the argument goes, Amazon has been so determined to squash that potential competition that in 2019 it shut down the so-called “Seller Fulfilled Prime” (SFP) program—an arrangement in which independent sellers could offer free shipping to buyers with Amazon Prime subscriptions but where the sellers remained responsible for getting the orders out the door accurately and on-time. Since the SFP program was shuttered, all independent sellers using Amazon Prime have been forced to go through Amazon’s own distribution network (known as the “Fulfillment by Amazon,” or FBA, system).
That’s evidence of anti-competitive monopoly power, according to Khan, who called the arrangement a “coercive scheme” during that same Bloomberg TV interview.
“At various points, Amazon did experiment with giving sellers more leeway to use Seller Fulfilled Prime,” she explained. “But once Amazon recognized that that would threaten its monopoly power, it switched that off, even though sellers were effectively meeting the same standards that FBA does.”
In the newly redacted part of the lawsuit, the FTC reiterates this claim—and attaches a figure to it: 95 percent. This is the key statistic.
“Amazon shut SFP down because they said deliveries weren’t on time. But new info today shows sellers using SFP met the delivery requirement set up by Amazon more than 95% of the time,” Douglass Farrar, director of public affairs for the FTC, tweeted on Thursday, along with a screenshot from the lawsuit.
Amazon shut SFP down because they said deliveries weren’t on time. But new info today shows sellers using SFP met th
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