Amazon need to police 3rd party listings to avoid causing offence

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Gandhi Flip FlopAmazon didn’t have a good week with their Indian PR last week. Immediately after India’s Minister of External affairs threatened to cancel all Amazon employee’s Indian visas after finding Indian flag doormats for sale on Amazon Cananda, a second complaint hit the press.

This time it was Gandhi flip flops. Gandhi is revered across India for calling for the British to quit India in the 40’s, eventually leading to India’s independence. His birthday, the 2nd of October, is still a national holiday in India.

Unlike the flag, desecration of which is a crime in India, there’s no such law against using Gandhi’s image. However it is considered remarkably disrespectful to stand on his image which of course is pretty much the only use for flip flops.

Amazon for the second time in days found themselves cancelling a listing to appease Indian sensibilities. Amazon are of course vying against Flipkart to become the biggest marketplace in India and with a roughly 1/5 of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) living in India it’s a massive territory worth winning.

What I find interesting about this is that ten years ago it was eBay who were constantly being berated for allowing the sale of offensive goods. Amazon are a decade behind eBay in attracting complaints and it’s likely that these incidents are only occurring now as Amazon’s third party business grows.

Amazon are expanding categories, seeing third party sellers expanding their stock, opening up custom and hand made categories and all this activity inevitably means that some products will be listed which will get Amazon into trouble.

eBay have successfully navigated their way out of the constant media attention of having to publicly cancel offensive listings. Even though it’s arguable that the two items Amazon have had to take down aren’t particularly offensive to many in America or Canada, we live in a much smaller world than ever before and Amazon will have to police their marketplace more than ever in the past to avoid causing offence.


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