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Santa Clara, California—Ebay is suing rival Amazon, claiming representatives of the retail giant opened eBay accounts for the sole purpose of poaching the site’s sellers.

In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in California Supreme Court, eBay Inc. alleges that since 2015, dozens of Amazon representatives have become eBay members but with no intent of selling anything on the online marketplace.

Instead, they used their membership status to access eBay’s member-to-member (M2M) email system and use it to try to convince hundreds of eBay sellers to move to Amazon’s third-party marketplace.

According to the lawsuit, the representatives would send solicitation emails to eBay sellers within minutes of opening their accounts, all the while writing email addresses and phone numbers in ways that could escape detection, i.e., jdoe AT amazon DOT com or 2.0.6.-5.5.5.-5.5.5.5. (This email address and phone number are both generic and merely used as examples in the complaint.)

Amazon’s alleged scheme violated the user agreement and policies that parties agrees to when they sign up to sell on eBay, the company said in its suit.

The policies dictate that sellers cannot use M2M to solicit people to sell off the platform and cannot use the platform to exchange personal information. The company has automated programs in place that are designed to detect if people are swapping email addresses and/or phone numbers.

EBay specifically cites a handful of eBay sellers’ accounts that it said were found to be linked to Amazon IP addresses and that began sending solicitation emails to sellers almost immediately upon creation.

One individual appears to have opened up three accounts tied to two different addresses in Seattle and all containing the word “savvy” within the span of a few weeks in 2016. These accounts, the lawsuit states, “sent more than 120 solicitation emails while making zero bids, zero purchases, zero listings, and zero sales on the eBay platform.”

Ebay and Amazon are rivals, and competition between the two West Coast companies has only intensified in recent years as Amazon has begun to eat into eBay’s business by expanding its third-party marketplace. According to the suit, items sold by third-party sellers accounted for half of Amazon’s total unit sales in 2017.
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In its lawsuit, eBay points to Amazon’s alleged seller poaching as being one in a series of ethically questionable incidences, citing media coverage of Amazon’s attempt to hire away employees from one of its own customers and the 2015 report by The New York Times painting Amazon as a cutthroat corporate environment where employees are not valued.

“Amazon’s illegal efforts to lure eBay sellers appear to be part of a larger pattern of aggressive, unscrupulous conduct,” the suit states.

Amazon did not respond to National Jeweler’s request for comment on eBay’s allegations by deadline.

Ebay’s suit brings a total of five counts against Amazon: intentional interference with contractual relations; intentional interference with prospective economic relations; fraud; violation of the California penal code (eBay is based in San Jose); and violation of the California business and professions code.

The company is asking for an unspecified amount in damages as well as a permanent injunction on Amazon representatives using M2M or the eBay platform to solicit sellers.

A PDF of the full lawsuit can be accessed here.

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