On May 25, 2021, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General (DC AG) filed an antitrust complaint against Amazon.com, Inc. in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The complaint accuses the company of monopolization and illegal restraints of trade. Interestingly, the complaint does not include allegations of federal antitrust violations.
The complaint alleges that Amazon “fair pricing policy” requires third-party sellers who sell products through Amazon to agree to what is really a most-favored-nation (“MFN”) provision. According to the complaint, this fair pricing policy restrains third-party sellers, which wish to sell on Amazon’s platform, from selling their products on other websites, including their own websites, at prices lower, or on better terms, than offered through Amazon. This fair pricing policy replaced Amazon’s price parity provision, but the claim is that this new policy has the same effect as Amazon’s old policy. It is considered a platform most-favored nation agreement and allows for Amazon to penalize third parties found in violation of these policies. Allegedly, the provisions have the effect of creating a price floor with Amazon’s prices being the lowest. Because these third-party sellers incorporate Amazon’s fees – which can be up to 40% of the product’s price – into their prices, they are forced to inflate their product prices on other platforms since they must account for the fees in their sale price. The claim of the Office of the Attorney General is that this policy suppresses competition and unnaturally inflates prices for consumers across all online retail platforms. The complaint asserts that these unreasonably high fees are built into prices market wide, due to the alleged price floor caused by the most-favored nation provisions.
According to the complaint, Amazon allegedly violates D.C. antitrust law in a variety of ways. First, Amazon is alleged to be engaged in unlawful horizontal agreements because Amazon horizontally competes with many third-party sellers (i) as online retailers, and (ii) in particular products. Second, Amazon is alleged to be engaged in unlawful vertical agreements because the most-favored-nation provisions eliminate competition in online retail. Third, Amazon, accounting for 50-70% of all online retail sales and benefiting from network effects, is alleged to monopolize and attempt to monopolize the online retail sales market.