Amazon's deal to sell official Apple products is facing a possible Federal Trade Commission investigation because the same deal also booted many third-party resellers, including refurbishers, from selling low-cost MacBooks and iPods on Amazon.
As The Verge first reported, the FTC last month interviewed MacBook refurbisher John Bumstead about how the Amazon-Apple partnership affected his business. "There were a bunch of FTC lawyers on the conference call," Bumstead told PCMag on Friday. "I got the impression they were still in the early stages (of the investigation)."
In January, his MacBook sales were pulled from Amazon as the e-commerce giant removed unofficial Apple product listings from the site. Bumstead's refurbished products were particularly affordable, at around $200 and up. But without access to Amazon, most consumers will probably never be aware such offerings exist, he said.
"It really was a decision that affected consumer choice. I used to sell a $129 white MacBook that people loved," Bumstead added. "But now if you go to Amazon, you'll get the impression a five, six, seven hundred dollar MacBook is the low-end."
The FTC declined to confirm the possible investigation. But according to Bumstead, officials at the agency are examining the impact the Apple-Amazon deal had on third-party resellers, and seeking to interview affected business owners.
Bumstead said he resorted to selling some of his refurbished laptops on eBay, but the platform can't match the reach of Amazon. "Definitely a chunk of sales I was used to getting has disappeared," he added. "I know (resellers) who have had to quit the business."
Amazon declined to comment on the possible investigation. But the company last year commanded about 49 percent of the US e-commerce market, making it by far the biggest online retailer, according to research firm eMarketer. EBay was in second place with only a 6.6 percent share.
"Amazon is half of the online retail market," Bumstead added. "So if you remove listings for low-end laptops by the millions, you are doctoring the reality of what the marketplace looks like, and affecting consumer knowledge of what is out there." Bumstead is now urging other affected resellers to contact the FTC about their experiences.
Consumers can still find refurbished Apple products on Amazon through its "Amazon Renewed" program. However, the program is only open to third-party Apple resellers who can spend millions on product inventory, putting it out of reach of many small businesses.