Sep 19, 2018

A lurking data question for Amazon

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

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Venice Beach in Los Angeles on May 24. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks against the coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Driving the news: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, authorities on Florida's Gulf Coast closed parking lots because they were full and there were crowded scenes at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri, per AP, which reports a shooting injured several people at a packed Daytona Beach in Florida.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,405,029 — Total deaths: 344,997 — Total recoveries — 2,168,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,642,021 — Total deaths: 97,698 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans sue California over mail-out ballot plan

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a February news conference in Sacramento, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Trump accused Democrats of trying "Rig" November's general election as Republican groups filed a lawsuit against California Sunday in an attempt to stop Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) from mailing ballots to all registered voters.

Driving the news: Newsom signed an executive order this month in response to the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that all registered voters in the state receive a mail-in ballot.