EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 3010 - February 27, 2013     3 of 5

Court Rules on Amazon's Merchandising Practices

By David A. Utter

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One of the benefits of shopping on Amazon comes from how the company presents alternatives to searchers on the site. These search results give shoppers additional choices beyond what they may have thought they already wanted.

But like many things in life, there's always someone who doesn't gain the same benefit that many other people do from a given practice. As law professor Eric Goldman noted at Forbes, Amazon's search results and merchandising earned it a court challenge.

Amazon won the challenge brought by Multi Time Machine (MTM), a watchmaker who doesn't sell products on Amazon. As Goldman noted, searching for that company's products on Amazon instead brought competing products to the search results.

MTM responded with a trademark infringement suit. Amazon asked for summary judgment, a motion the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted in favor of the retailer. The decision seems to reflect how a shopper might enter a brick-and-mortar store looking for one brand, and encounters a display containing a competing brand.

Goldman noted how this practice goes on regularly in the world of retail. He cited examples like "retailers charge vendors "slotting fees" to place their products on store shelves next to the competitors' products."

Essentially, Amazon does enough in its search results in the court's opinion to avoid confusing customers over what's being presented in response to a query. This may be a bit of a relief to ecommerce pros in niche markets where a similar potential for confusion could exist.

About the author:

David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. Send your tips to and find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.

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