Fordham Law School graduate Shaoul Sussman ’19 co-authored a post for ProMarket, the blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Sussman analyzes Amazon’s algorithm that determines a seller for the “buy now” box.
The Buy Box is every bit as crucial as it sounds. For any product you might shop for on Amazon…there are often multiple sellers offering that item, including, in many cases, Amazon itself. Amazon has an algorithm that selects one of these sellers as the default seller for that product. Sellers refer to being selected as “winning the Buy Box.”
“Winning,” though, is a deeply problematic way to describe this process. It brings to mind a fair contest — an image of sellers competing in a free and open market with clearly established rules that apply equally to all contenders. In reality, Amazon’s third-party sellers are pitted against one another in something more akin to a Roman arena, where, like gladiators, they are subject to the arbitrary whims of a self-serving Emperor. While some sellers may win the day, ultimately only the Emperor comes out on top.
Amazon insists that its Buy Box algorithm is a neutral arbiter designed to select the seller that best meets the needs of customers.