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Amazon reportedly favors its own brands in search results

An investigation by The Markup alleges the e-commerce giant puts its own brands above better-rated products from competitors. Amazon says it doesn't.

Amazon Shopping
James Martin/CNET

Amazon frequently places products from its own brands higher in search results than better-rated items from competitors, according to an investigation from tech news site The Markup published Thursday. The report alleges that Amazon brands and exclusive receive an "outsized portion of the top spot on search results," even though they make up a small portion of all the products examined in the investigation. 

Amazon denied the report's conclusions. "We do not favor our store brand products through search," an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement. The company said search results are different from listings that are "featured from our brands," which it calls "merchandising placements."

"These placements are clearly labeled to distinguish them from search results," said the spokesperson. "The type and amount of merchandising shown to a customer depends on many factors, including the customer's query, the product the customer's shopping for, and whether the customer is shopping on desktop, mobile browser, or in our app."

The Markup said its investigation analyzed results from more than 3,400 popular product searchers in January 2021. The top result was an ad, with a "sponsored" label, 60% of the time. Of the rest, Amazon gave the top spot to its brands and exclusives half of the time, according to The Markup. This top spot was reportedly often given to those instead of to competing products with higher ratings and more sales. The investigation showed "Amazon was hogging the top spot," according to The Markup. 

Its investigation included a survey showing that the vast majority of consumers didn't know most of the company's top-selling house brands were owned by Amazon.

The report comes as US senators on Thursday are reportedly set to unveil bipartisan legislation that would bar tech companies from favoring their own products on their platforms. This legislation will join the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, similar legislation proposed in June, that would prohibit any online shopping platform from using internal data from merchants to support its own offerings on a marketplace or to favor its own products over those from another merchant competing on the same platform. The bill has gone through markup in the House Judiciary Committee but is not currently scheduled for a vote from the full House of Representatives.

Amazon has previously denied accusations of using data from third-party sellers to develop and sell its own products, which were detailed in an April 2020 Wall Street Journal report. In July 2020, then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told Congress that the company prohibits using seller-specific data to aid its private label business.