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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

There’s debate on both sides of the Atlantic as to whether Amazon's mountain of data gives it an inherent — and unfair — advantage over rivals. But critics may be looking at the wrong thing in the data.

What they're saying: James Thomson, a former Amazon executive who now consults for brands that sell on the platform, says the e-commerce giant's singular advantage is behavioral data allowing it to precisely target customers for its private label products.

Behavioral data tells Amazon who precisely is interested in what product. "They know exactly who has looked for batteries but has not purchased them," Thomson tells Axios. "That's the audience you want."

Driving the news: Margrethe Vestager, the EU's top antitrust regulator, today launched a probe of whether Amazon is unfairly monopolizing data in order to outsell rivals.

  • Amazon declined to comment. But it might argue that third-party sellers — big-time wholesalers (about 0.5% of Amazon merchants) — have access to the same sales data as Amazon does.
  • But behavioral data — which it does not share — is deadlier, Thomson says. With it, Amazon can target a customer and beat national brands on price.
"They basically get to boil the ocean for their whole catalog and figure out exactly where the opportunities are."
— James Thomson

The dominance of Amazon's private label on its platform will become a louder question if voice commerce — something the company is pursuing through Alexa — becomes the next big thing, says Gartner L2 analyst Cooper Smith.

  • Brands will have to train shoppers to ask for their exact products when barking an order at Alexa.
  • Otherwise, a generic request for "toilet paper" will mean Amazon gets to ship customers its own brand.

Go deeper: How Amazon steers shoppers to its own products (NYT)

Go deeper

20 mins ago - World

Russian authorities say Navalny has been transferred to hospital

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been hospitalized, one day after his doctor warned that the jailed Putin critic "could die at any moment," Russia's prison service said Monday.

Why it matters: News that Navalny's condition had severely deteriorated on the third week of a hunger strike prompted outrage from his supporters and international demands for Russia to provide him with immediate medical treatment.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
31 mins ago - Economy & Business

The state worst hit by the pandemic

Data: Hamilton Place Strategies; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the job facing governments was to save lives and save jobs. Very few states did well on both measures, while New York, almost uniquely, did particularly badly on both.

Why it matters: The jury is still out on whether there was a trade-off between the dual imperatives; a new analysis from Hamilton Place Strategies shows no clear correlation between the two.

The U.S. credibility chasm on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The biggest hurdle for President Biden in winning new emissions reduction commitments at this week's White House summit is America's on-again, off-again history of climate change efforts.

Why it matters: The global community is off course to meet the temperature targets contained in the Paris Climate Agreement. The White House wants the summit Thursday and Friday to begin to change that.