Amazon has radically transformed small businesses in both the U.S. and China, making them dependent on the e-commerce giant while also obscuring their existence, according to a new report published Wednesday by Data & Society.
The foundation-supported research institute spent over a year interviewing 40 current and former merchants on Amazon, who described a largely hidden economy that bears little resemblance to the traditional retail industry. The company’s alleged unfair treatment of its third-party sellers has previously come under scrutiny in Congress and by antitrust watchdogs in several states.
But a number of merchants stressed that they don’t all see themselves as victims. Rather than simply making their livelihood worse, Amazon changed how their jobs function. “It’s less like running a mom-and-pop than like day trading,” said Moira Weigel, a communications professor at Northeastern University who authored the report. Selling on Amazon “blurs the lines between small business and gig work.”
Amazon lists products on its website in two different ways, though it’s not always easy for consumers to tell the difference. First, like any brick-and-mortar shop, it buys merchandise from wholesale manufacturers and then marks up the price.