SEATTLE — EBay claims Amazon has illegally tried to lure top sellers off its marketplace by exploiting its internal messaging system.
The auction site said it was tipped off to the situation last month by an eBay seller who had been contacted by an Amazon representative. An early investigation by eBay found at least 50 Amazon representatives had sent hundreds of solicitation messages over the past several years. The Amazon contacts came from multiple countries, including the United States and Britain.
EBay sent a cease-and-desist letter to Amazon on Oct. 1 outlining its claims. The auction company said the Amazon representatives seemed to know that their use of eBay’s messaging system violated the company’s terms of service.
“Ebay does scan for key terms and they don’t exactly like us poking around,” one message read. “Honestly the easiest way to communicate about this would be on the phone.” Other messages involved weird phrasings that seemed intended to evade detection, such as avoiding using the word “Amazon,” and instead writing “a-m-a-z-o-n Australia” or “A.M.Z.N.”
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company was conducting a thorough investigation of the claims.
Amazon’s use of eBay member accounts and messaging for purposes other than buying and selling products was illegal under California law that prohibits the misuse of private computer systems, eBay said. “We have demanded that Amazon end its unlawful activity and we will take the appropriate steps, as needed, to protect eBay,” the company said in a statement.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the cease-and-desist letter earlier Wednesday.
Amazon is adding to the breadth and depth of the products on its website by attracting third-party merchants. That lets Amazon tie up less of its resources in holding inventory waiting to be sold, but it also places extra pressure on the company to attract sellers that offer the merchandise that it believes customers want.
Amazon charges for various services, such as selling, distribution and advertising. Last year, for the first time, more than half of the units sold on its website were from third-party sellers.
While some sellers list on both Amazon and eBay, as well as other sites, others opt to pick a primary marketplace. EBay says it has more than a billion product listings at any given time.