Shira Ovide, writing at Bloomberg, unloads some harsh criticisms of Amazon’s advertising business. Ovide explains that the option has become a toll that producers must pay in order to get their products in front of customers. She concludes:
To be fair, Amazon is doing a lot of work for its cut of sales. It provides a vast customer base for merchants, often stores inventory for them and handles shipments, and takes responsibility for customer service and payments. That’s arguably far more work than Apple does for its 30% commission on a purchase of an iPhone game. 3
And all advertising is, in a way, a toll levied by a powerful distributor. Businesses buy ads on Facebook and Google to ensure their products and services don’t get drowned out by a sea of other information. Frito-Lay pays a supermarket extra to ensure its chips are on visible spots on shelves. Alibaba and eBay sell ads similar to those that Amazon offers to merchants. There’s nothing particularly unusual about what Amazon is doing in carving out room for merchants to market themselves, for a fee.
But there is also something perverse about paying Amazon a kind of tax to make sure your product is seen on Amazon, so people will buy the item on Amazon. Even Google’s ad empire isn’t this kind of a closed loop. And if one Amazon merchant doesn’t purchase an ad, one of its competitors’ dog beds — or Amazon’s own brand — might instead nab an eye-catching display and wrest a sale instead. Amazon is just different, in a way that makes typical business tactics a little icky.
Amazon’s growing cut from its merchants is one reason why the company’s revenue is increasing more quickly than its merchandise sales. Amazon is extracting a bigger share for itself. Like other powerful tech companies, Amazon is able to charge more to the partners that rely on it, because they don’t really have a choice.
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