Amazon Basics ripped off accessories, now Amazon is coming for Fitbit, Ecobee and more

In the image above, there are two wearables. One of them is the recently released Charge 5 by Fitbit, a $ 179.95 fitness tracker designed to measure everything from your heart rate to your sleep and even your skin temperature. The other is Amazon’s new $ 79.99 Halo View fitness tracker, which Amazon says can measure everything from your heart rate to your sleep and skin temperature. Ten points if you can tell me which is which.

The Halo View was just one of many new devices that Amazon announced at its now annual fall hardware event this week. But while many of Amazon’s new products feature completely original designs and features, like its cute Astro “home robot” or Ring-branded home surveillance drone, there were a handful that strikingly resembled pre-existing products.

Take Amazon’s new $ 59.99 smart thermostat, which works with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, and promises to sense when you’re home and adjust the temperature accordingly. It’s very similar to what other Alexa-enabled thermostats like the $ 250 Ecobee Smart Thermostat offer, but at a fraction of the price. Not to mention that Amazon’s design is also similar to a pre-existing smart thermostat produced by a company called Tado (which sells for itself for the equivalent of about $ 240).

Amazon’s new smart thermostat.
Image: Amazon

Not all smart thermostats need to look completely original or have a unique set of features (after all, a thermostat can’t do everything). But announcement of Amazon’s own smart thermostat comes just months after The the Wall Street newspaper reported that Ecobee had been reluctant to share additional data with Amazon, in part out of fear that the data would help it launch competing products, fearing it could harm consumer privacy. Ecobee was reportedly told that failure to provide this data, which would send information to Amazon about the status of the device even when a customer was not using it, could risk the company losing its Alexa certification for future models or not in Prime Day sales. .

In response to The edge, Amazon said it did not use data from any other thermostat connected to Alexa to design its smart thermostat. He said the device was co-created with Resideo, a company that has also worked on Honeywell’s Home thermostats, and that Ecobee continues to be one of his valued partners.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s new Halo membership features look like obvious competitors to MyFitnessPal. Halo Nutrition is designed to help users find recipes and cook foods that meet their dietary needs, similar to Functionality of meal plans MyFitnessPal already includes it as part of its premium plan. There are also guided workouts from Halo Fitness, similar to the self-guided routines. by MyFitnessPal. But Amazon’s health subscription is much cheaper than MyFitnessPal’s premium tier. Amazon is including a free year of its Halo membership services with the purchase of its new Halo View fitness tracker, and it sells for $ 3.99 / month thereafter, which is less than half the price of MyFitnessPal’s $ 9.99 premium tier.

When we asked Amazon about these similarities, it said it hasn’t copied other companies and its Halo service includes some unique features not available with other fitness trackers.

Answer questions from The edge, Amazon has said it has “pioneered hundreds of entirely new features, products, and even categories” throughout its history. “Amazon’s ideas are ours,” the company said, citing products such as Kindle, Amazon Echo, and Fire TV as prominent examples of its original inventions.

I’m not trying to claim that Amazon is breaking the rules with these products. There are only a limited number of ways to design a display that clips to your wrist and shows you your heart rate – even if it has clear Fitbit vibrations – or a panel that attaches to your wall. to control the temperature. Even complicated devices like smartphones have seen their designs gradually converge over the years, a process that is not facilitated by the fact that many manufacturers use components provided by the same small handful of companies.

But the similarities seem cynical coming from Amazon, which has been criticized for ripping off designs for products sold on its platform and then undercutting them on price. Earlier this year, bag and accessory maker Peak Design drew attention to the surprising similarity between its $ 99.95 Everyday Sling and Amazon Basics’ $ 32.99 camera bag, for example. Amazon’s version of the bag has since been discontinued, the company said The edge.

Peak Design’s bag next to a very similar model from Amazon.
Image: Cutting edge design

Amazon’s cloning of the Peak Design bag was also not an isolated incident. In 2019, striking similarities were also reported between the $ 45 shoes produced by Amazon’s 206 Collective label and the $ 95 equivalent of Allbirds. The similarities prompted Allbirds CEO Joey Zwillinger to reply in a Medium message saying he was “flattered by the similarities your private label shoe shares with ours,” but politely requested that Amazon “also steal our approach to sustainability” and use renewable materials in the same way. Amazon said the shoe has since been discontinued as well, but continues to offer similar styles. Amazon also said its original design did not violate Allbirds’ design and that the aesthetic was common across the industry.

Or what about the Amazon Basics laptop stand that Bloomberg reported in 2016, which launched at around half the price of Rain Design’s best-selling model (at the time) at $ 43? Harvey Tai, chief executive of Rain Design, said the company’s sales had fallen since the appearance of Amazon’s competing model in the store, although he admitted that “there is nothing that we can do that because they did not infringe the patent “.

Copying and trying to undermine dominant market players is nothing new. But Amazon is in a pretty unique position in that it doesn’t just compete with these products; in many cases, it sells them through its own platform as well. This theoretically gives him access to a gold mine of data that could be invaluable if he wanted to launch his own competitor.

Amazon has been accused of doing just that in a the Wall Street newspaper investigation last year, which alleged that Amazon employees “used data about independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop competing products.” The WSJ specifically cited a case where an anonymous employee of an Amazon private label accessed detailed sales data on a car trunk organizer from a company called Fortem launched in 2016. In 2019, Amazon launched three competitors similar under its Amazon Basics label.

The same report also detailed an example of employees accessing sales data for a popular office chair seat cushion from Upper Echelon Products, before Amazon launched its own competitor.

Amazon tells The edge that an internal investigation carried out following the publication of the WSJS report found no violation of its policies prohibiting the use of non-public individual seller data.

Whether or not Amazon employees break its rules, regulators have taken note. Last year, the EU accused Amazon of using “non-public seller data” to inform its own retail offerings and business decisions. “Data on the activity of third-party sellers should not be used for the benefit of Amazon when it acts as a competitor of these sellers,” European Commission antitrust czar Margrethe Vestager said at the time. The Commission has yet to release a final report or findings, and in a statement Amazon said it did not agree with its accusations.

For its part, Amazon says it has a policy of preventing its employees from using “vendor-specific non-public data to determine which private label products to launch.” But the company’s founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos told lawmakers last year he couldn’t guarantee the policy was never violated, and sources interviewed by The the Wall Street newspaper said employees had found ways to get around those rules.

These accusations have so far focused on low-tech items such as bags, shoes and trunk organizers. But as Amazon has expanded into more areas of consumer tech, its designs are once again drifting very close to the competition.

Given these concerns, it seems particularly odd that Amazon was willing to benchmark the price of competing smart thermostats sold through its platform at launch. Its smart thermostat is “less than half the average cost of a smart thermostat sold on,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president of appliances and services at the company.

Again, I must point out that there is nothing illegal (to my knowledge) about using public information like prices to inform your own products. But taking a moment to specifically reference the prices of competing devices sold on your own monolithic online store is an odd choice amid all this scrutiny.

It will be impossible to know how close the features of each of Amazon’s new products are to their competition until we try them out for ourselves. But given Amazon’s size and market power, these kinds of embarrassing questions need to be asked. After all, Amazon walks a delicate line between operating one of the world’s largest selling platforms and competing within it as an increasingly prolific consumer tech maker. It’s a tough balance, and regulators are watching.

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