This browser extension shows how many brands on Amazon are actually just Amazon

Technology

A new browser extension promises to show you which products in your Amazon search results are sold by brands that are either owned by or are exclusive to Amazon, giving you a better idea of who’s selling what you’re buying. It’s called Amazon Brand Detector, and it uses a list of Amazon brands created by The Markup, along with filters and other techniques (detailed here) to detect and highlight products that are a part of Amazon’s Our Brands program.

The Markup created this extension after its investigation into how Amazon ranks its in-house brands in search results and says the tool (available for Chrome-like browsers and Firefox) is designed to make searches more transparent. When we tested it, it obviously highlighted Amazon Basics and Essentials products, but it also drew attention to results that were otherwise indistinguishable from ones not affiliated with Amazon: a dog leash labeled as being made by Panykoo, socks by Teebulen, a sweater by Ofeefan.

While Amazon marked some of those results as “featured from our brands,” that wasn’t the case for all of them. That advisory text is also small and grey, making it easy to miss if you’re casually browsing (especially since there may not be any notice of the affiliation on the actual product page), and it didn’t show up on every result the tool highlighted.

Amazon isn’t necessarily shadowy about these brands: it has a page that lists its “private and select exclusive brands,” many of which have legit-sounding names: Happy Belly, Wag, Nature’s Wonder. Some are private labels owned by Amazon, where some are “curated selections” sold exclusively on Amazon but not necessarily operated by the company.

Clicking through to the store pages, there’s a spectrum of Amazon branding. Basic Care has a large Amazon logo right at the top, Stone and Beam notes that its products are “exclusively on Amazon,” and Rivet’s product names are prefixed with “Amazon Brand.” Meanwhile, Amazon’s branding doesn’t appear on the Goodthreads page unless you watch to the end of a video titled “Fall 2021.” Most Goodthreads products will have the phrase “An Amazon Brand” somewhere on the page, but it’s not always prominent.

The page also doesn’t contain all of Amazon’s brands — there are letter-soup brand names highlighted by Amazon Brand Detector like Weeso and other brands like Daily Ritual, which showed up often in search results. Despite “An Amazon brand” being listed as a feature of the Daily Ritual sweater that showed up in my search results, that brand isn’t on Amazon’s “Our Brands” page.

As ProPublica points out, traditional grocery stores have long had their own private-label brands, though stores like Kroger and even Walmart are operating on a somewhat smaller scale — items are more hidden on the third page of search results than they are on the bottom level of a shelf. And, as an advisor to third-party Amazon sellers told ProPublica, Amazon’s brands take up space in the coveted first page of search results that could go to other brands (some of which may have more positive reviews or higher sales numbers). Amazon denied favoring its brands in search results, though The Markup has an in-depth investigation into how the company weights its results.

For some customers, it may not matter who’s selling the products, as long as they’re decent. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to know where the things you buy are coming from (or who doesn’t want to give Amazon more money than necessary), it could be worth installing the Amazon Brand Detector extension. At the very least, the results may end up being interesting — there were a few times during testing when I went, “Huh… I wouldn’t have guessed that was from Amazon.”