Photo/IllutrationThe logo of Amazon.com (Provided by Amazon Japan)

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) will investigate whether a planned point-return system by the Japanese arm of Amazon.com Inc. violates the Anti-Monopoly Law, although few expect any serious penalties against the e-commerce giant.

The FTC’s decision on Feb. 26 to investigate the company came as the central government is considering strengthening regulations on influential IT-related companies.

The response to Amazon is expected to show the Japanese government’s stance on the services provided by these potentially monopolistic companies.

Sellers of products on the Amazon Japan website have been able to decide on their own whether to award points to purchasers.

But on May 23, Tokyo-based Amazon Japan will introduce a system in which sellers are required to award points to buyers worth at least 1 percent of the product price. The sellers themselves will have to shoulder the costs of the point-return system.

The Anti-Monopoly Law prohibits companies from unilaterally changing the contents of contracts with other firms or individuals by “abusing their dominant positions.”

The FTC suspects Amazon Japan has used its dominant position to change the contracts with the sellers to introduce the 1-percent point-return system, which can result in financial losses for the sellers.

Amazon Japan has said the point-return system will increase sales for the sellers.

Since January, the FTC has been conducting a survey on the businesses of such companies as Amazon, Yahoo Japan and Rakuten Inc. to determine their real business conditions and practices.

The commission said it has received complaints about Amazon Japan through the survey.

In its investigation into the company, the FTC will question the sellers. If they refuse to answer questions based on confidentiality obligations with Amazon Japan, the FTC will consider using the right of compulsory investigation stipulated under the Anti-Monopoly Law.

The anti-monopoly watchdog, however, has a reputation of having a bark that is worse than its bite.

In previous investigations into other companies, the FTC has issued warnings that are not legally binding. Over the past five years, the FTC has ordered the payment of monetary penalties in only one case.

“Amazon Japan may be thinking that if it receives only a light warning, it will not need to take it seriously,” a high-ranking official of the economy ministry said.