Ashok Kumar Gupta, the chairman of the Competition Commission of India, or CCI, in an interview last week waded into the murky waters of e-commerce regulation in India. The background was the release of the antitrust agency’s “Market Study on e-Commerce in India: Key Findings & Observations” that same week. The report, based on a seven-month study, makes detailed observations on the business model and practices of retail e-commerce platforms, foodtech firms and online travel agencies in India.
All of these companies have been locked in disputes with their partners: e-commerce companies with sellers and retailers; foodtech companies with restaurants; travel agencies with hotels. The complaints against the platforms are largely the same: they favour some partners/sellers over others (or even run their own), the pressure to discount is excessive and search and ranking algorithms are opaque.
Into this complex cajoling, complaining and confusing tango between government, e-commerce players, online sellers and offline traders jumped CCI. The agency engaged consulting firm EY in April 2019 to do a market study of e-commerce in India that claimed to evaluate if any ongoing activity is obstructing competition in the market.
Then yesterday, CCI announced an investigation into anti-competitive behaviour by Flipkart and Amazon India, over complaints lodged by Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh, a trade body representing sellers of smartphones and accessories.