Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal accused Amazon of acting like a flea market, somewhat amusingly since a derogatory term for eBay for many years was ‘fleabay’. The premise is that once upon a time as a retailer Amazon was impeccable but fast forward to today Amazon have grown their third party marketplace so that over half of all products aren’t sold by Amazon and the Wall Street Journal suggest some products are sub par.
The Wall Street Journal Headline is ‘Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products’ and that’s a problem for Amazon. They equate Amazon to social media companies unable to stem the flow of fake news saying that Amazon are unable or unwilling to effectively police third-party sellers on its site
Amazon aren’t too happy with the flea market moniker, to such an extent that they’ve published a blog post to set out the steps they take to keep the marketplace safe and their ‘industry-leading safety and compliance program’.
Amazon say that just in the past year (2018) they invested over $400 million to protect the marketplace and their customers and built robust programs to ensure products offered are safe, compliant, and authentic and and continuously refine and improve, tools that prevent suspicious, unsafe, or non-compliant products from being listed.
New seller account vetting includes a number of verifications and uses proprietary machine learning technology that stops bad actors before they can register or list a single product in our store. All products offered on Amazon must comply with applicable laws and regulations, and our own policies. For example, they require toys to be tested to relevant safety standards.
“We provide a number of ways for regulatory agencies, industry organizations, brands, customers, and our customer service teams to report safety issues. When we receive these reports, we move quickly to protect customers, remove unsafe products from our store, and investigate. For example, if a customer reports a concern with a product, a customer service associate can instantly trigger an investigation. Additionally, because of our direct relationships with customers, we are able to trace and directly notify customers who purchased a particular product online and alert them to a potential safety issue—our systems are far more effective than other online and offline retailers and customers can feel confident they’ll have the information they need.”
The problem for many sellers is that there are a ton of cheap products available on Amazon with outstanding (but often probably fake) reviews and sometimes the tools are used against them. It’s not completely unheard of for a competitor to purchase a product just to open a complaint and get the seller’s listing shut down to remove the competition for themselves.
On any marketplace, there will always be a choice of shoddy goods as well as truly superb products. The truth is that some buyers are more than happy with cheap knock offs and even some who will happily knowingly buy flea market fakes so long as they know up front that the products are fakes. Amazon will need to increasingly spend time vetting their sellers and their products and it’s an almost impossible task for a few banned, unsafe or mislabelled products to slip through the net.
The real challenge for Amazon is how to take down the dross without catching genuine sellers and genuine products by mistake and this isn’t always easy. Perhaps the most notorious instance was the hoverboards which Amazon took drastic action on a few years back telling consumers to bin them at huge cost to the marketplace and sellers alike.