Over half of all products sold on Amazon’s website are from third-party sellers that either warehouse the products with Amazon, or ship them directly to customers themselves. In round numbers, there are three million active third-party sellers on Amazon’s site, over one million of these new in 2019, representing over 600 million products, of which 200 million were added in 2019.
Amazon takes limited responsibility for the quality of third-party products on its site, making the legal distinction that it does not actually sell the products, but that others do. In court, Amazon has said it isn’t liable for what merchants sell.
Question: Should Amazon be held legally responsible for third-party goods sold through its website?
What if Amazon third-party sellers were selling trash? This is not an idle question. In a piece by the Wall Street Journal*, investigative reporters tried tracking down third-party sellers who make a business of sorting through other people’s trash by digging through dumpsters, buffing and polishing the rejects, and putting them up for sale on their Amazon stores.
It is not as if these resellers try to hide what they are doing. Some promote their foraging activities on YouTube. To test how easy it is to set up an Amazon store that sells trash, WSJ reporters went dumpster diving in New Jersey and retrieved discards from trash bins including a stencil set, scrapbook paper, and a sealed jar of Trader Joe’s lemon curd.
They set up a store, “DJ Co,” on Amazon—a driver’s license and bank statement was all it took—and listed the salvaged items for sale as new. The site was approved for fulfillment by Amazon, and the items were listed for sale with the Amazon Prime logo. (The reporters bought the items themselves, before they could be sold to the public.)
Amazon’s rules don’t explicitly prohibit salvage, and allow used items for sale, as long as that is disclosed to buyers. After reporters showed Amazon some product listings from dumpsters, the company claimed these were isolated incidents, and that it was investigating. Shortly after, Amazon updated its policy to explicitly prohibit items from trash.
You Stand Behind Your Products
As you contend with ever-increasing competitive pressure from all sides, think about the value you provide your customers: peace of mind, knowing you’ve vetted every product you sell; returns without the hassle, and a real, physical location to shop, enjoy, meet like-minded folks, and return to next week, and next year. That’s worth a lot, yes?
* Source: Wall Street Journal, “You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon—Literally” Khadeeja Safdar, December 18, 2019