It strains credulity when a $1.7tn company claims victim status. Amazon’s demand that critic Lina Khan should recuse herself from investigations as chair of the US Federal Trade Commission is doomed to fail. Khan’s scrutiny of Amazon helped her to get the job in the first place. But the complaint may give business-friendly lawmakers pause just as the FTC attempts to expand its powers.
What does Amazon fear? Chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky chose not to mention the first quarter operating income jump of 122 per cent to $8.9bn on its earnings call. Amazon prefers to play down its size and reach, aware its enemies want to see it broken apart. But the diversity of its businesses will make it difficult for regulators to pinpoint a monopoly.
Amazon contains multiple fast-growing units, just like Facebook, Apple and Alphabet. And, yes, these units make a lot of money. In the first quarter, ecommerce sales alone reached $53bn while third party seller services contributed close to $24bn. Cloud computing business AWS reported $13.5bn. Combine Prime subscriptions and “other” businesses such as advertising and there is another $14.5bn.
While Amazon is the largest cloud computing provider, it has strong competition. Estimates by analysts Canalys put its first quarter global market share at 32 per cent. Facebook and Google have larger digital advertising businesses. A recent $8.45bn deal to acquire MGM puts it in competition with streaming services such as Netflix.
Admittedly, Amazon is by far the largest online retailer in the US, accounting for 41 cents of every dollar spent, according to eMarketer. But that does not make it the largest retailer. Combine ecommerce, physical stores and third party seller revenue and Amazon trails Walmart. This might explain why increased regulatory scrutiny has not stopped the share price rising over 80 per cent since the pandemic began.
Expect the FTC to follow the lead of European counterparts and focus instead on Amazon’s role as both marketplace operator and online vendor. Third-party sellers have to pay it sale fees, advertising and shipping charges. Amazon competes against them at the same time. Low prices that benefit consumers have stalled traditional antitrust arguments. Unfair treatment of third-party sellers might restart them.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of Amazon’s demand for Lina Khan to be recused in the comments section below.