Season 1, Episode 62

We Need More Emphasis on Product Safety

Amazon publicly prides itself on offering the best buyer experience. As a “consumer obsessed” company, why aren’t they putting more emphasis on product safety? In this episode Chris and Leah discuss the difficulty of reporting illegal activity or safety related issues on Amazon.

Show Notes


[00:00:07] Chris: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our wonderful podcast for Amazon sellers and business owners. I’m Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris. I’m here with Leah McHugh. How are you doing Leah?

[00:00:20] Leah:
 Good. How are you?

[00:00:22] Chris: Good. And I know you’ve got a lot to say on this topic today about abuse reporting and policy abuses on Amazon, which right in seller central they’ve got this bright orange button about ” Hey, report abuse here”

[00:00:37] Leah: I think it’s a blue hyperlink actually..

[00:00:39] Chris: Okay, I’m sorry, a blue hyperlink. I thought I saw something orange. I’ll check my glasses later. The amount of abuse, I guess I’ll set the stage here– skyrocketed I would say 2019- 2020, two, three years ago abuses of all kinds skyrocketed. So they got to the point where instead of hiding their heads in the sand and trying to avoid the whole topic, it came up a lot in the media as well. They had to do something to make it easier to report abuse.

The problem is, did they do it effectively? Did they do it the right way? And you’re about to tell us that out of that long list of potential abuses they present, there are some key absences.

[00:01:20] Leah:
 Well, yeah. So if you go through the report abuse link, I find it quite odd that there is no option to report unsafe or illegal products being sold on Amazon. And subsequently what happens when you try to report illegal or unsafe products that you have come across on Amazon, they deny your abuse report saying that your report doesn’t match the reason you’ve selected for the abuse, but there is no reason that fits that particular category nor is there space to actually provide real information about how that product is illegal or how that product is unsafe, unless you can fit it into that little 200 character box. There’s nowhere to add attachments. There’s nowhere to add evidence. So how are people supposed to report these things? We’ve seen people try to do it through customer support. Sometimes it works after multiple tries, maybe.

[00:02:18] Chris: Right, we’ve been of course, consulting clients on this and having them email them predominantly because the seller central functionality is useless and most of the time it gets ignored, there’s no response. There’s no sign of action, so that’s one caveat to this, but it is pretty amazing that they are missing those kinds of basic obvious things that also present the largest risk to consumers.

[00:02:41] Leah: Right. And there’s also, as far as I can see there, isn’t an easy way to report it on the front end either. I mean, certainly you can go through customer support or you can leave a review, whatever the case may be, but there’s a form publicly available to support infringement of your IP, but there isn’t a form publicly available to report unsafe or illegal products sold on their site. So, I know that Amazon monitors government websites for product recalls or actions taken by the FDA, but what about products that are identified early on before those government bodies get a chance to actually action these things? Because those bodies are behind too. You can report something and it can take about a year for them to actually investigate and take action. So why is there no publicly available place on Amazon to report unsafe and illegal products.?

[00:03:42] Chris: 
And they’re also publicly boasting of we’re trying to get to zero counterfeits on Amazon. So you would think if they were trying to do everything in their power stop counterfeit, this would be extremely easy. Just illegal products would be extremely easy to report.

[00:03:57] Leah: Well, if I were a customer centric company, I would imagine that product safety would be pretty top of mind but I’m not seeing that in their tools.

[00:04:07] Chris: Right, and also just stolen items are being sold on Amazon, stolen inventory, stolen from retail outlets. I mean, not necessarily what you see on the news with 18 people running into, you know, smash and grab, putting a bunch of Gucci bags into backpacks and running out but there is a current problem with stolen items being sold on the site. I mean, what if you’re, is it easy to report? Hey, I am holding a stolen item or are they just going to refund that buyer and forget about it?

[00:04:38] Leah: Well, that’s actually another thing that is not an available option on the abuse forum is somebody is selling stolen items.

[00:04:45] Chris: Right, right. Which is a growing problem nationally, not just on Amazon. I mean, those items I assume are going to eBay and other other sites too, but safety concerns, you would think they want to nip those in the bud because the ones that they find today, they can prevent new safety complaints tomorrow, that’s what they always said. You know, when we have all these clients who had their listing suspended for safety issues, just because one or two buyers made a couple of stray comments. All of those sellers were forced to appeal, even if return rates were low, voice of the customer was almost insignificant. So they were taking a hard line on those people, but why aren’t they making it easier to report unsafe items through seller central, which is the main portal for the marketplace seller.

[00:05:34] Leah:
 Right, and I’m not saying that all of their reports they get are going to be accurate. I mean, we know they must get a ton of reports that don’t go anywhere or contain no real information, but to not even have somewhere to report that is a surprisingly large oversight I think.

[00:05:53] Chris:
 Right, it’s a bit crazy. So, maybe that functionality’s coming, we’ve been talking a lot on this podcast about changes that could be in the offing, now that Andy Jassy is a year into the CEO role. Different executives, changing roles, sometimes leaving the company and being replaced.

So hopefully there could be big changes on seller central itself coming, could be big changes on the abuse prevention teams, because there’s so many different kinds of abuse still going on years after we started talking about it. It’s buyers and sellers who report bad behavior and abuse. It’s not just brand owners. We work with a lot of brands to help prevent abuse, of course. A lot of that is flagging it to Amazon’s attention and hoping that they’ll look at the big picture and not just resolve the one case in front of them. Unfortunately, seems like they’re just one at a time, one case at a time resolving the issue in front of them, trying to get it off their plate and not looking at that big picture.

[00:06:51] Leah: Which is interesting because I know there’s been a long legal battle of is Amazon liable for the product sold on its marketplace but more specifically, I’m curious from a legal standpoint. So if you’re a lawyer and you’re listening, let us know what, what is their legal liability when somebody has reported unsafe and illegal products and Amazon fails to take action?

[00:07:16] Chris: It’ll be interesting to find out or to have that wind up in the courts and have it adjudicated properly.

[00:07:22] Leah: Right.

[00:07:22] Chris: 
Which it seems like on four or five, six different things we’re saying that and waiting for that to happen. But, we don’t know. There’s no clear answer to that.

[00:07:30] Leah: 
You know, from an IP standpoint, once, once that is reported to Amazon, they now have a legal liability to do something about it.


[00:07:37] Chris:
 So from a safety side, what is their liability? Once something has been reported to them, if they haven’t done anything about it.

Yeah, we’ll have to leave some of this to the economic historians of the future to ask these questions, looking back at 2022, this was widely understood and known to Amazon, to the public. Why was it left on its own to just let nature take its course?

[00:08:04] Leah: Yeah. Cause you even see news articles where the journalist mentions, "we reached out to Amazon about these unsafe products and as of date of publishing, those products are still available for sale."

[00:08:13] Chris: Right. Or they just don’t comment and what happens I think Amazon PR teams, which have grown to what 200 or 300 people now, reach out to policy and performance teams and say “Hey, we got a request from a reporter what’s going on with this? Why is this listing up?” I don’t even know if anyone really thinks that hard about it. I think they just take the listings down as a knee jerk reaction and then try to figure out what went wrong later. But the problem isn’t solved at the source. It’s pretty obvious. Otherwise it wouldn’t keep happening. So we understand that abuse reporting is hard to fathom at Amazon. It’s very murky and probably begins as a gray area and just goes darker from there. So, anyone has questions on it, please ask Leah and I. We deal with this stuff all the time and we understand the right way in the right channels to get this in front of the proper people. So, yeah, questions are welcome. Thanks Leah.

[00:09:08] Leah: Thanks, Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh


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