Flemish MP Maurits Vande Reyde (Open VLD) yesterday issued a warning to small businesses of the risks of working with the Dutch online retailer Bol.com.
“Due to its powerful position, Bol.com can misuse sales data from Flemish stores to its own advantage,” he said.
Until recently, when Amazon opened up a Dutch webshop, Bol.com (originally Books On Line) was the main inline shopping site for Dutch and Flemish customers. Amazon shoppers were then forced to choose between German at amazon.de or French at amazon.fr.
Bol.com is offering small businesses the chance to offer their wares for sale on the platform, which it argues attracts many times more customers than any local business could do by itself.
A campaign to attract Flemish companies to the platform has been under way since the beginning of May.
But Vande Reyde warns that Bol’s generous offer is not all it seems.
“I have already received complaints from local shops, whose products first sold well via Bol.com, but who then experienced an inexplicable decline,” he said.
When they checked the search results, the companies found the same products suddenly appeared to be sold by Bol itself.
Vande Reyde explained that he suspects that the company uses the sales algorithms for its own benefit. “If a product becomes popular somewhere, the local trader is pushed to one side. There is also no transparency about how the search results are created.”
In effect, the free shop window offered by Bol.com is more of a testing ground for the company itself, to see which products are selling well and allowing Bol to pick off top sellers for itself while sidelining the original company.
In addition, local sellers who work with Bol.com are subject to many conditions, he said.
They must offer approximately the same service as the online store and set the lowest possible price, and they must not offer a different price in their store than on Bol.com.
“It is not right for Bol.com to determine the pricing policies of our Flemish stores.,” he said.
And he called on Flemish economy minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V) to tighten the laws on the misuse of data, and to create better support measures to improve the online presence of small, local businesses.
UPDATE: Bol.com denies the misuse of data.
“If we were to use data from local retailers to benefit ourselves, we would not have a long-term right to exist because local retailers would not want to sell with us,” the company said in a statement. They also points out that more than half of the orders on its platform are through a partner.
“Ultimately, bol.com is working to only offer in its own range products that are not or insufficiently offered by local retailers.”
If there are any gaps in the range the company even gives its partners the first opportunity to offer these articles, the statement said.