scorecardAmazon had a secret operation to gather intel on rivals like Walmart and FedEx, reportedly called Big River
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Amazon had a secret operation to gather intel on rivals like Walmart and FedEx, reportedly called Big River

Alex Bitter   

Amazon had a secret operation to gather intel on rivals like Walmart and FedEx, reportedly called Big River
Retail2 min read
  • Amazon ran an uncover operation to gather information on rival retailers, according to a new report.
  • Dubbed "Big River Services International," it sold products through Walmart, eBay, and others.

Amazon is so obsessed with dominating the e-commerce world that it reportedly spent years gathering information about rivals like Walmart and eBay by selling products directly on their websites.

The tech giant started a company called Big River Services International as part of "Project Curiosity," a 2015 effort to understand how Amazon's rivals in retail, logistics, and related fields ran their businesses, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Big River sold items like t-shirts, shoes, and beach chairs on competitors' platforms. Its goal was to get information from rivals that Amazon could then use to inform its own business decisions, according to the Journal.

Big River employees also went to great lengths to hide their connections to Amazon, even when talking to other Amazon workers. They minimized electronic records of their work, even when informing Amazon's top brass about what they found. Executives viewed printed copies of the Big River team's reports and weren't allowed to keep them, though they were allowed to take notes, the Journal reported.

The employees also used separate, non-Amazon email addresses when talking to other companies, the report says. They were even coached on how to respond if someone found out that they were actually working for Amazon, the Journal reported.

"Benchmarking is a common practice in business," an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider, using an industry term for comparing itself to rivals. "Amazon, like many other retailers, has benchmarking and customer experience teams that conduct research into the experiences of customers, including our selling partners, in order to improve their experiences working with us."

After Big River joined a fulfillment program for e-commerce sellers operated by FedEx, for instance, Big River employees relayed pricing and other terms for the service to Amazon's logistics team, which then made changes based on the information, the Journal reported.

The Amazon spokesperson said that a review of internal documents has "not identified any instances of an Amazon employee having FedEx pricing information prior to its launch or using such information to adjust our own pricing or pricing discussions with any sellers."

"The information we have reviewed indicates that pricing information was obtained after FedEx launched FedEx Fulfillment on February 7, 2017, and this information was one of many pieces of information considered as part of pricing discussions," the spokesperson told BI.

Big River also developed its own brands to sell through rivals' marketplace websites. They include an India-based brand called Crimson Knot that sells photo frames on Indian e-commerce website Flipkart, as well as a streetwear brand called Not So Ape, which used a website hosted by Shopify to sell in the US, according to the Journal.

Amazon has faced scrutiny for its treatment of sellers on its own platform before. A congressional committee found in 2020 that the company had used data on sales by third-party sellers to create its own version of the products — usually to the detriment of the independent sellers and their businesses.

A lawsuit from the FTC last year also claimed that Amazon effectively raised prices by increasing what the company charged its third-party sellers and punishing them for offering lower prices on websites besides Amazon.




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