Amazon tests tool that lets brands contact shoppers, in departure from its tight control over customer data

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SHOP-CAFBAMZNThe front desk of the Amazon office is pictured in New York, May 1, 2019.Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Amazon is quietly rolling out a way for some brands on its site to engage with shoppers, in a move that represents a departure from its historically tight controls over customer data.

Last week, Amazon began piloting a tool that enables U.S. brands that are part of its Brand Registry program to email marketing materials to shoppers who have opted to “follow” their brands. Brands can then notify those shoppers when they launch a new product or promotion.

The follow button is featured in areas such as a brand’s store page and videos on Amazon Live, the company’s livestream shopping platform.

The tool, called “Manage Your Customer Engagement,” is designed to drive repeat purchases for brands and help them build a more robust following on Amazon’s sprawling marketplace. In a video describing the tool, Amazon urges companies to “build your brand with Amazon.”

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement: “Amazon is committed to serving our shoppers by helping them engage with their favorite brands. With Manage Your Customer Engagement, brands will be able to initiate email campaigns about new product announcements and offers that Amazon will send to shoppers who choose to follow the brand.”

As its third-party marketplace continues to grow, Amazon has sought to court major brands and build a more robust library of high-quality products on its site. Issues with counterfeiting and pricing tactics have made some brands wary of increasing their Amazon presence, but the coronavirus pandemic pulled in some of those who may have been hesitant to sell on the platform.

More than three-quarters of U.S. brands, or roughly 78%, are currently selling on Amazon’s marketplace, up from 55% in 2019, according to a February report from Feedvisor, which helps brands grow on e-commerce marketplaces.

To some, Amazon’s decision to let brands contact shoppers may come as a surprise. The company has long prohibited businesses that sell on its site from soliciting customers directly, keeping data such as their email addresses private, largely to shield shoppers from spam. Merchants could communicate