Amazon is by far the largest US online retailer. Over the past 20 years, it has skipped its origins as a website from which you can order books to become, among other things, the all-you-can-buy one-stop shopping for all physical and digital goods from A to Z.
The company's explosive growth is partly due to the scattered third-party trading market. Many marketers are actually retailers, manufacturers and dealers overboard. But thousands more sell not only counterfeit goods, but also unmarked, unsafe, recalled or even prohibited goods that could seriously endanger consumers – especially children.
The Wall Street Journal identified more than 4,100 such products for sale on Amazon .com during a month-long investigation, and at least 2,000 are toys or medications that do not include child risk warnings.
Among the journal's findings: 116 products falsely listed as FDA-approved, including toys, which the agency does not regulate; 80 entries for "sleeping wedges" in infants say that the FDA can cause suffocation and that Amazon had previously banned; 1,412 electronics entries that falsely claim to be UL certified; 2,324 toys that failed to include federal suffocation warnings; and more.
WSJ ordered tests of 10 specific children's products it purchased on Amazon, and many had the enigmatic brand "Amazon's Choice". Of these, four failed tests were based on federal safety standards, including one that contained high levels of lead.
Balloons also proved to be a sticking point: WSJ found 4,500 balloon listings that did not include necessary suffocation warnings, and the newspaper alerted Amazon about them. Weeks later, WSJ found another 2,200 balloon entries that did not include necessary warnings. Including all the balloon lists, WSJ identified 10,870 problematic listings to Amazon, of which 83% were eventually removed or modified.
An incorrectly labeled product WSJ included in the report proved fatal to the owner. A 23-year-old Missouri man purchased an Amazon motorcycle helmet that at that time was listed as certified to meet the US Department of Transportation safety standard. Later that year, however, he was killed in a crash while riding a bicycle. A federal investigation later found that the helmet did not meet DOT standards and was revoked. However, WSJ found the product still for sale, with an active list of promised compliance, until WSJ contacted Amazon to inquire about it.
WSJ's investigation found 157 products for sale that Amazon has already banned from selling on its site. The motorcycle helmet was one of more than 2,300 product listings that were changed or pulled after WSJ pulled them under Amazon's attention. Still, within two weeks, WSJ found that at least 130 of these problem articles appeared, "some sold by the same vendors previously identified by the Journal under various listings."
In short, the Journal writes, Amazon "has increasingly evolved as a flea market," exercising little or no oversight of goods sold by third-party merchants, unless a specific complaint or media report draws an element to the company's attention. The market setup that causes Amazon to land in hot water apparently annually to sell some kind of pro-rape, pro-slavery or pro-Nazi clothing also leads to endemic listings for recalled or harmful goods.
About 60% of Amazon's physical retail sales come from the third-party market, the company said. A recent quarterly report showed that the market is generating $ 11.14 billion in sales for e-commerce in just three months. But even consumers who are skeptical about buying from third-party merchants can still easily find themselves buying from one. Many of the elements in WSJ's survey were fulfilled by Amazon: eligible for Prime shipping, from Amazon warehouses, and in Amazon boxes. Two different buyers told WSJ that they had suspected harmful or mis-labeled products they purchased from the site were reviewed and approved in some way by Amazon, as they would be in a general store like Target or Walmart until contacted by WSJ.
Counterfeit products, often less secure than their "real deals", are also a persistent plague for Amazon and its customers. WSJ did not test counterfeit goods, which appear in searches for all kinds of products, from luxury goods to cheap USB cables.
When Ars reached for comment, an Amazon representative led us to a company blog stating, in part, "We offer a variety of ways for regulatory agencies, industry organizations, brands, customers and customer service teams to report security issues. When we receive these reports, we are moving quickly to protect customers, remove unsafe products from our store, and investigate. "
Swimming against the tide of foolish lists and questionable goods is challenging for even the best-educated consumer, and it is prevailing in court if you end up with a harmful product, at best, a hit-or-miss exercise.
The family of the young man who died in the motorcycle accident sued Amazon, as well as the driver of the vehicle he had collided with, and the third-party dealer who sold the helmet. The merchant was required to pay $ 1.9 million in restitution; Amazon satisfied $ 5,000 without admitting wrongdoing. A lawyer for the company told WSJ, "Basically, a third party used Amazon as a bulletin board to advertise the product and sell."
Your ability to sue Amazon if you are harmed by a third-party product largely depends on where you live. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled in July that Amazon could be held liable under state law for a defective product that made a woman blind in Pennsylvania.
However, the right to the third circuit was the first to do so. The Fourth and Sixth Circuit appeals ruled in May and June, respectively, that Amazon is merely a platform, not a "seller," of state consumer protection law.