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eBay is suing Amazon for allegedly stealing away its sellers

By Alison Griswold

Despite its recent push into private-label merchandise, Amazon still depends on a large network of third-party merchants to sell on Amazon.com. In a complaint filed Oct. 17 in Santa Clara, California, competitor eBay alleges that Amazon has for years violated its user policies to poach eBay sellers for its own e-commerce platform.

“Since 2015, dozens of Amazon sales representatives in the U.S. and overseas set up eBay member accounts to access eBay’s ‘M2M’ email system and used that system to solicit many hundreds of eBay sellers to sell 0n Amazon’s platform,” the company writes in its complaint. “Amazon’s misuse of eBay’s M2M system has been coordinated, targeted, and designed to inflict harm on eBay.”

The lawsuit details the not-so-subtle methods that Amazon representatives allegedly used to lure eBay sellers to Amazon.com, while evading detection by eBay. These included using odd formats to share emails and phone numbers (for instance, “You can write me at jdoe AT amazon DOT com”) and explicitly asking eBay sellers to delete Amazon’s solicitations (“you can write down 2.0.6. – 5.5.5. – 5.5.5.5. and then delete this message if you so choose”).

“Ebay does scan for key terms and they don’t exactly like us poking around,” one Amazon representative wrote. Representatives also used variations to disguise the Amazon name, such as “a-m-a-z-o-n” and “A.M.Z.N.”

Amazon declined to comment.

The company claims Amazon representatives violated policies in its user agreement that ban members from offering, referring to, or requesting email addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information through the company’s messaging systems. EBay’s user agreement also prohibits members from contacting each other to buy and sell items outside of eBay. In addition to user agreement violations, eBay alleges Amazon violated California’s Unfair Competition Law. The company is seeking an injunction against Amazon affiliates misusing its platform, monetary relief, and punitive damages.

Unlike Amazon, eBay doesn’t own any inventory. Its 2017 gross merchandise volume, or value of stuff sold through the platform, topped $88 billion. By comparison, third-party sellers made up more than half of goods sold on Amazon.com in 2017.

Earlier this month, eBay sent a cease-and-desist letter to Amazon after a seller reported Amazon’s poaching efforts. EBay alleged at the time that it had found about 50 Amazon employees in countries including the US, UK, Australia, France, and Singapore, who sent more than 1,000 messages designed to pull its sellers over to Amazon’s marketplace. An Amazon spokesperson said at the time that the company was “conducting a thorough investigation of these allegations.”