eBay has accused Amazon.com of trying to poach sellers for its own marketplace through eBay's internal messaging system, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The report said that on Monday, eBay sent a cease-and-desist letter to Amazon, alleging that 50 Amazon sales agents sent 1,000-plus messages through eBay's system over the last several years in a bid to sway sellers to its platform. The Amazon contacts came from multiple countries, including the U.S. and Britain. eBay said it was tipped off to the situation last month by an eBay seller who had been contacted by an Amazon representative. Poaching allegedly violates California's Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act. In a statement to the WSJ, eBay called Amazon's behavior "unlawful and troubling" and hinted at the possibility of a lawsuit, saying it would "take the appropriate steps, as needed, to protect eBay." Amazon said it was investigating the claims. It's not known if Amazon will fight the cease-and-desist request.
Total Retail's Take: Whether or not the poaching claims are true, the accusations bring to light how the two largest online marketplaces work and how important third-party sellers are to both businesses. eBay, for example, is entirely reliant on third-party sellers, and could be in big trouble if merchants jumped ship to its top competitor, Amazon. Meanwhile, Amazon makes more profit from its third-party marketplace sales than its own website sales, and therefore there's significant incentive for the online retailer to go hard after acquiring more sellers. Whether Amazon did so legally in this case if the question at hand.