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亚马逊打击哄抬物价,没想到导致了物资短缺

亚马逊打击哄抬物价,没想到导致了物资短缺

Spencer Soper, 彭博社 2020年06月17日
有些商家为了避免卷入亚马逊打击哄抬物价的行动,选择了将商品下架,尽管他们并没有涨价。

当美国人在亚马逊(Amazon.com Inc.)上买不到洗手液、厕纸和消毒湿巾的时候,许多人以为是居家隔离的购物者需求激增导致产品脱销。事实上,有些商品并未缺货,但商家为了避免卷入亚马逊打击哄抬物价的行动,选择了将商品下架,尽管他们并没有涨价。

亚马逊在3月开始针对违反价格政策的行为发布模糊的自动警告,后来持续到4月,威胁要封杀哄抬物价的卖家。在此之前,有媒体曝光该平台上的卖家囤积居奇,将两瓶装的Purell洗手液卖到了400美元的高价,引发关注。但亚马逊的警告并没有具体说明公司认为什么样的价格是合理的,这导致卖家像在玩猜谜游戏一样。他们要尽量确定扣除掉成本、运费和亚马逊的佣金(通常在15%左右)之后销售某种商品是否依旧有利润可赚。

卖家能采购到这些商品,而且知道这些是亚马逊消费者急需的商品,但他们故意将商品下架,因为商品销售规则不明确,而且违法价格政策的后果对他们来说可能是毁灭性的。在高度自动化的系统中,商户与亚马逊员工之间几乎没有任何接触,因此恢复被冻结的账户可能需要几周甚至几个月时间。所以,卖家会尽量避免被亚马逊封杀,即使这意味着放弃销售热门商品。这一切恰好发生在亚马逊力推必要生活用品的时候,比如清洁用品。

到底有多少商户突然把产品下架,这种做法在多大程度上加剧了物资短缺?现在我们仍然不得而知。供应链中断也是导致商品缺货的原因之一。但帮助卖家避免被封杀的顾问表示,在亚马逊打击哄抬物价行为期间,他们收到了大量客户来电。其中一位顾问是前亚马逊员工克里斯·麦凯布。他说,有数百个卖家联系他。他建议数十个卖家停止销售,因为亚马逊的规则不明确。他说:“亚马逊的大规模清理让许多人感到害怕,他们不敢继续销售湿巾和厕纸。”

亚马逊的发言人表示,公司的政策始终是禁止哄抬物价。

她说:“我们的目标是保护消费者,打击明目张胆的大幅涨价。如果卖家认为我们的工作有失误,欢迎他们直接联系我们,我们会展开调查。”

亚马逊在线购物平台上有成千上万个卖家,销售的商品数以亿计。新冠疫情的爆发使该平台陷入混乱。沃尔玛(Walmart Inc.)和塔吉特(Target Corp.)等大型零售商是按批发价采购大部分库存,然后加价在门店销售,而亚马逊上销售的多数商品来自独立的卖家,由他们自行定价。在正常情况下,亚马逊利用技术手段能够有效匹配供应和需求。它会发布消费者在该平台上的商品搜索数据,卖家可以根据这些数据来了解当前的热门商品。

新冠疫情促使各地政府宣布紧急状态,许多州颁布了打击哄抬物价的法律,以避免灾难之后价格上涨对消费者的影响。但对于哪些行为构成哄抬物价,以及哪些商品受到保护,各州都有不同的规定。亚马逊很难管理这种现象,因为该平台上的卖家和买家来自不同的州。

虽然该平台利用复杂的算法来监控价格,但一个卖家是否违规取决于消费者所在的地区。有些州规定了构成哄抬物价的门槛,例如比正常价格高10%。但有些州的规定却用了“肆意”等模糊的字眼。亚马逊卖家在全国的售价相同,他们也无法提前预知消费者来自哪个州。因此,亚马逊很难制定明确的规则,导致卖家质疑该公司使用算法防止哄抬物价行为的做法过于激进。

在飓风等自然灾害爆发之后,亚马逊曾经遭遇过有关哄抬物价的投诉。但这些灾难中,进入紧急状态的州数量有限。而席卷全美的新冠疫情已经持续了几个月,所以有关哄抬物价的担忧变得日益突出。有多位议员呼吁通过联邦立法打击这种哄抬物价行为,亚马逊也在5月呼吁联邦政府出台解决方案,强调了靠该公司单枪匹马应对这种现象的难度,尽管亚马逊有一支专门团队和技术手段来监督这种行为。

美国联邦贸易委员会(Federal Trade Commission)的一位前律师布莱恩·胡斯曼在5月撰写了一篇博客文章支持联邦立法。他写道:“各州之间标准不统一,给零售商协助执法、保护消费者利益和遵纪守法带来了巨大挑战。”胡斯曼目前在华盛顿特区负责主持亚马逊的公共政策团队。

所以,亚马逊迫切希望监管机构将其视为打击哄抬物价的盟友,而不是违法者。亚马逊称自疫情爆发以来,该网站已经删除了50多万件商品,冻结了6,000个违反价格政策的账号。该公司一直在配合多个州的总检察长,包括提供被指控恶意提高价格的卖家的信息等。

亚马逊与其卖家合作伙伴关于打击该平台上的假冒商品或征收销售税的责任归属问题,一直争论不休。如今,哄抬物价的违规行为到底应该由谁来负责,已经成为双方之间新的争论点。代表电商卖家的行业组织电商卖家协会(Online Merchants Guild)在5月提起诉讼,请求阻止肯塔基州总检察长丹尼尔·卡梅伦对亚马逊卖家执行该州的价格管制法律。起诉书中表示,总检察长执法的对象应该是亚马逊。

与此同时,卖家表示,他们没有涨价也收到了自动警告,这一事实表明亚马逊的打击面太广。一位卖家在亚马逊上销售商品已经有六年时间。她说在3月收到有关哄抬物价的警告之后,自己下架了约100款商品,包括洗手液和厕纸等。这位卖家的库存来自为药店和超市供货的制造商和经销商。她说在2020年,她的大部分商品一直没有涨价。

另外一位亚马逊资深卖家在该平台上销售办公用品,包括洗手液和清洁用品。他说他在3月收到两封电子邮件,警告他可能违反了价格规定,但没有指明有问题的是哪些商品。他销售的商品多达数千种。他询问了亚马逊卖家支持部门的代表,后者指出了几种触发警告的商品,包括塑料餐盒、厕纸和全身湿巾等。但这位代表没有告知卖家到底能以什么价格出售,所以他把可能导致违规的商品全部下架。

代表亚马逊卖家的纽约律师CJ·罗森鲍姆表示,即使亚马逊卖家在疫情期间大幅提高售价,他们也可以向监管机构证明涨价并非剥削性定价。许多亚马逊卖家使用软件设定售价,当库存较低时,软件会自动上调价格。这样做是为了保护卖家在亚马逊上的信誉,因为亚马逊使用算法监控卖家的业绩,如果卖家库存量告罄,就会遭到亚马逊的处罚。软件还会在价格中加上额外的运费成本,有些州打击哄抬物价的法律允许这样做。但罗森鲍姆表示,对许多卖家来说,与找律师对付监管人员的成本和失去亚马逊业务的风险相比,继续销售亚马逊已经开始严格监控的商品并不值得。

他说:“什么样的价格才是公正的?这个问题没有确切的答案。”他补充道,为了避免被封杀,有数十位客户特意下架了部分热销商品。“亚马逊对待卖家的态度非常糟糕。”(财富中文网)

翻译:刘进龙

审校:汪皓

当美国人在亚马逊(Amazon.com Inc.)上买不到洗手液、厕纸和消毒湿巾的时候,许多人以为是居家隔离的购物者需求激增导致产品脱销。事实上,有些商品并未缺货,但商家为了避免卷入亚马逊打击哄抬物价的行动,选择了将商品下架,尽管他们并没有涨价。

亚马逊在3月开始针对违反价格政策的行为发布模糊的自动警告,后来持续到4月,威胁要封杀哄抬物价的卖家。在此之前,有媒体曝光该平台上的卖家囤积居奇,将两瓶装的Purell洗手液卖到了400美元的高价,引发关注。但亚马逊的警告并没有具体说明公司认为什么样的价格是合理的,这导致卖家像在玩猜谜游戏一样。他们要尽量确定扣除掉成本、运费和亚马逊的佣金(通常在15%左右)之后销售某种商品是否依旧有利润可赚。

卖家能采购到这些商品,而且知道这些是亚马逊消费者急需的商品,但他们故意将商品下架,因为商品销售规则不明确,而且违法价格政策的后果对他们来说可能是毁灭性的。在高度自动化的系统中,商户与亚马逊员工之间几乎没有任何接触,因此恢复被冻结的账户可能需要几周甚至几个月时间。所以,卖家会尽量避免被亚马逊封杀,即使这意味着放弃销售热门商品。这一切恰好发生在亚马逊力推必要生活用品的时候,比如清洁用品。

到底有多少商户突然把产品下架,这种做法在多大程度上加剧了物资短缺?现在我们仍然不得而知。供应链中断也是导致商品缺货的原因之一。但帮助卖家避免被封杀的顾问表示,在亚马逊打击哄抬物价行为期间,他们收到了大量客户来电。其中一位顾问是前亚马逊员工克里斯·麦凯布。他说,有数百个卖家联系他。他建议数十个卖家停止销售,因为亚马逊的规则不明确。他说:“亚马逊的大规模清理让许多人感到害怕,他们不敢继续销售湿巾和厕纸。”

亚马逊的发言人表示,公司的政策始终是禁止哄抬物价。

她说:“我们的目标是保护消费者,打击明目张胆的大幅涨价。如果卖家认为我们的工作有失误,欢迎他们直接联系我们,我们会展开调查。”

亚马逊在线购物平台上有成千上万个卖家,销售的商品数以亿计。新冠疫情的爆发使该平台陷入混乱。沃尔玛(Walmart Inc.)和塔吉特(Target Corp.)等大型零售商是按批发价采购大部分库存,然后加价在门店销售,而亚马逊上销售的多数商品来自独立的卖家,由他们自行定价。在正常情况下,亚马逊利用技术手段能够有效匹配供应和需求。它会发布消费者在该平台上的商品搜索数据,卖家可以根据这些数据来了解当前的热门商品。

新冠疫情促使各地政府宣布紧急状态,许多州颁布了打击哄抬物价的法律,以避免灾难之后价格上涨对消费者的影响。但对于哪些行为构成哄抬物价,以及哪些商品受到保护,各州都有不同的规定。亚马逊很难管理这种现象,因为该平台上的卖家和买家来自不同的州。

虽然该平台利用复杂的算法来监控价格,但一个卖家是否违规取决于消费者所在的地区。有些州规定了构成哄抬物价的门槛,例如比正常价格高10%。但有些州的规定却用了“肆意”等模糊的字眼。亚马逊卖家在全国的售价相同,他们也无法提前预知消费者来自哪个州。因此,亚马逊很难制定明确的规则,导致卖家质疑该公司使用算法防止哄抬物价行为的做法过于激进。

在飓风等自然灾害爆发之后,亚马逊曾经遭遇过有关哄抬物价的投诉。但这些灾难中,进入紧急状态的州数量有限。而席卷全美的新冠疫情已经持续了几个月,所以有关哄抬物价的担忧变得日益突出。有多位议员呼吁通过联邦立法打击这种哄抬物价行为,亚马逊也在5月呼吁联邦政府出台解决方案,强调了靠该公司单枪匹马应对这种现象的难度,尽管亚马逊有一支专门团队和技术手段来监督这种行为。

美国联邦贸易委员会(Federal Trade Commission)的一位前律师布莱恩·胡斯曼在5月撰写了一篇博客文章支持联邦立法。他写道:“各州之间标准不统一,给零售商协助执法、保护消费者利益和遵纪守法带来了巨大挑战。”胡斯曼目前在华盛顿特区负责主持亚马逊的公共政策团队。

所以,亚马逊迫切希望监管机构将其视为打击哄抬物价的盟友,而不是违法者。亚马逊称自疫情爆发以来,该网站已经删除了50多万件商品,冻结了6,000个违反价格政策的账号。该公司一直在配合多个州的总检察长,包括提供被指控恶意提高价格的卖家的信息等。

亚马逊与其卖家合作伙伴关于打击该平台上的假冒商品或征收销售税的责任归属问题,一直争论不休。如今,哄抬物价的违规行为到底应该由谁来负责,已经成为双方之间新的争论点。代表电商卖家的行业组织电商卖家协会(Online Merchants Guild)在5月提起诉讼,请求阻止肯塔基州总检察长丹尼尔·卡梅伦对亚马逊卖家执行该州的价格管制法律。起诉书中表示,总检察长执法的对象应该是亚马逊。

与此同时,卖家表示,他们没有涨价也收到了自动警告,这一事实表明亚马逊的打击面太广。一位卖家在亚马逊上销售商品已经有六年时间。她说在3月收到有关哄抬物价的警告之后,自己下架了约100款商品,包括洗手液和厕纸等。这位卖家的库存来自为药店和超市供货的制造商和经销商。她说在2020年,她的大部分商品一直没有涨价。

另外一位亚马逊资深卖家在该平台上销售办公用品,包括洗手液和清洁用品。他说他在3月收到两封电子邮件,警告他可能违反了价格规定,但没有指明有问题的是哪些商品。他销售的商品多达数千种。他询问了亚马逊卖家支持部门的代表,后者指出了几种触发警告的商品,包括塑料餐盒、厕纸和全身湿巾等。但这位代表没有告知卖家到底能以什么价格出售,所以他把可能导致违规的商品全部下架。

代表亚马逊卖家的纽约律师CJ·罗森鲍姆表示,即使亚马逊卖家在疫情期间大幅提高售价,他们也可以向监管机构证明涨价并非剥削性定价。许多亚马逊卖家使用软件设定售价,当库存较低时,软件会自动上调价格。这样做是为了保护卖家在亚马逊上的信誉,因为亚马逊使用算法监控卖家的业绩,如果卖家库存量告罄,就会遭到亚马逊的处罚。软件还会在价格中加上额外的运费成本,有些州打击哄抬物价的法律允许这样做。但罗森鲍姆表示,对许多卖家来说,与找律师对付监管人员的成本和失去亚马逊业务的风险相比,继续销售亚马逊已经开始严格监控的商品并不值得。

他说:“什么样的价格才是公正的?这个问题没有确切的答案。”他补充道,为了避免被封杀,有数十位客户特意下架了部分热销商品。“亚马逊对待卖家的态度非常糟糕。”(财富中文网)

翻译:刘进龙

审校:汪皓

When Americans couldn’t find hand sanitizer, toilet paper and disinfecting wipes on Amazon.com Inc., many assumed the products had run out thanks to surging demand from home-bound shoppers. In fact, in some cases the products were available, but merchants had pulled them to avoid getting caught up in Amazon’s price-gouging crackdown—even though they weren’t raising prices.

Amazon began issuing vague warnings about price policy violations in March that extended through April, threatening to kick merchants off the site. The automated warnings followed glaring headlines about greedy opportunists, like the merchant trying to sell a two-pack of Purell hand sanitizer for $400. But Amazon’s warnings didn’t specify prices the company deemed fair. That left merchants playing a guessing game as they tried to determine if they could sell the items and still make a profit after accounting for their own costs, shipping and Amazon’s commission, which typically runs about 15%.

Merchants had access to these products and knew Amazon shoppers wanted them, but they deliberately pulled them because the rules about selling them weren’t clear and the consequences for violations could be devastating. In a heavily automated system with little contact between merchants and Amazon employees, it can take weeks or months to reinstate suspended accounts. As a result, merchants do whatever they can to avoid being exiled—even if it means forfeiting sales of popular products. All of this was happening at a time when Amazon was prioritizing essential household items, such as cleaning supplies.

It’s unclear how many merchants yanked their products and how much doing so exacerbated shortages that were also fueled by supply-chain disruptions. But consultants who help merchants avoid suspensions say they were inundated with calls from clients during the price-gouging crackdown. One of them, a former Amazonian named Chris McCabe, says he heard from hundreds of merchants and advised dozens of them to stop selling products because the rules were unclear. “Amazon just did a giant sweep and they really scared a lot of people away from selling wipes and toilet paper,” he says.

Amazon, through a spokeswoman, said the company’s policies have always prohibited price gouging.

“Our objective is to protect customers from clearly egregious price increases,” she said. “If a seller believes we’ve made an error, we encourage them to reach out to us directly and we will investigate the matter.”

The Covid-19 outbreak roiled Amazon’s online marketplace, where millions of merchants sell hundreds of millions of products. Amazon differs from major retailers like Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. that buy most of their inventory wholesale and then sell it in their stores at a markup. Most of the products sold on Amazon come from independent merchants who set their own prices. In ordinary circumstances, the marketplace uses technology to efficiently match supply and demand. Amazon releases data about the products customers are looking for on the site, which signals the merchants what’s in demand.

The pandemic prompted governors around the country to declare states of emergency—which in many cases triggered price-gouging laws enacted to protect consumers from price spikes following disasters. But precisely what constitutes price gouging and which products are protected varies from state to state. It's a difficult phenomenon for Amazon to manage since the marketplace can match buyers and sellers from different states.

While the company uses complex algorithms to monitor prices, whether or not a merchant is in violation depends on where the customer lives. Some states set specific thresholds for price gouging, such as 10% above typical prices. Other states define it vaguely with words like “unconscionable.” Amazon merchants offer the same prices nationally and don’t know in advance where their customers live. All of this makes it difficult for Amazon to manage with clear rules, making merchants suspect the company got too aggressive in trying to prevent price-gouging violations with algorithms.

Amazon has weathered price-gouging complaints in the aftermath of hurricanes and other natural disasters where the state of emergency is limited geographically. The coronavirus outbreak swept the entire nation and has lasted for months, so price-gouging concerns took on greater prominence. Several lawmakers proposed federal legislation to prevent it, and Amazon in May also advocated for a federal solution, highlighting the difficulties of addressing the phenomenon on its own despite having a team devoted to watching for price gouging and technology designed to spot it on its web store.

“The disparate standards among states present a significant challenge for retailers working to assist law enforcement, protect consumers, and comply with the law,” Brian Huseman, a former Federal Trade Commission attorney who now oversees Amazon's public policy team in Washington, D.C., wrote in a May blog post supporting federal legislation.

Amazon is eager to be seen by regulators as an ally in fighting price gouging, not a perpetrator. The company says it removed more than 500,000 offers from its site and suspended 6,000 accounts for violating price policies since the pandemic started. The company has been cooperating with attorneys general in several states by sharing information about sellers accused of improperly jacking up prices.

Who is responsible for price-gouging violations has already become a new area of dispute between Amazon and its merchant partners, which have also sparred over who bears responsibility for policing counterfeits on the marketplace or collecting sales taxes. The Online Merchants Guild, an industry group representing e-commerce sellers, in May filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron from imposing state price control laws on Amazon merchants. Instead, the attorney general should enforce the laws against Amazon, the lawsuit states.

In the meantime, merchants say the fact that they received automated warnings despite not raising prices shows that Amazon’s crackdown went too far. One merchant who has been selling products on the site for six years says she eliminated about 100 items, including hand sanitizer and toilet paper, after receiving warnings in March about price gouging. The merchant, who gets the inventory from the same manufacturers and distributors that supply pharmacies and supermarkets, says she hadn’t raised prices at all on most of the products in 2020.

Another long-time Amazon merchant who has been selling office supplies on the site, including hand sanitizer and cleaning products, says he received two email warnings in March about potential price violations that didn’t even specify which of the thousands of products he sells were in question. He spoke with a representative in Amazon’s seller support department who identified several products raising alarms, including plastic food containers, toilet paper and a body wipe. The rep wouldn't say how much the merchant would be allowed to charge, so he stopped selling products likely to trigger a violation.

Even Amazon merchants who raised prices significantly during the pandemic can show regulators that the hikes were not exploitative, says CJ Rosenbaum, a New York attorney who represents Amazon merchants. Many Amazon sellers use software to set prices, which automatically shoot up when inventory is low. This is done to protect merchants’ reputation on Amazon, which uses algorithms to monitor their performance and punishes them for running out of stock. That software can also add extra shipping costs, which some state price-gouging laws allow. Still, the cost of hiring lawyers to fend off regulators and the risk of losing an Amazon business isn’t worth it for many merchants to sell the products Amazon started aggressively monitoring, Rosenbaum says.

“There was no clarity on what pricing was fair,” he says, adding that dozens of his clients deliberately avoided certain in-demand products to avoid suspensions. “Amazon treated sellers very poorly.”

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