Can you imagine shelling out your hard-earned money for an item on Amazon.com only to have it harm you or fail to function as described?  This is exactly what is happening yet few people are aware of the extent of the problem. In short, Amazon does not screen many of the items listed on its website, which can allow for unsafe, banned and mislabeled products to be sold to unsuspecting customers.

The Evolution of Amazon

While Amazon started as a bookselling site, over the years it has evolved into a highly polished digital flea market. The retailer sells its own products, but it also works with third-party sellers to sell their items as well. This is where discrepancies come into play. Many of these third-party sellers are from other countries, which can contribute to the problem; different countries have different regulatory  agencies, meaning their products are held to different—and potentially more lenient—standards. 

This can be a major problem that has the potential to result in harmful products being released into the marketplace.  After all, most Amazon customers assume they are doing business with the typical big box store when shopping on Amazon.com.  The little-known truth is that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of unsafe goods sold on Amazon’s site every single day due to Amazon’s limited oversight of the goods sold through it by third-party sellers.

Consider this hypothetical situation: A Houston customer hops on the web and buys a seemingly fun toy for his or her child on Amazon.  The item is delivered, the child plays with it and tragically chokes on one of its loose parts. It turns out the toy in question was sold on Amazon through an anonymous third-party seller from China.  So, who can the injury claim be made against? Amazon, and if so, under what theory? The Chinese manufacturer and seller, and if so, how does one begin to identify who that is?  

The Extent of the Problem 

While Amazon’s official policy requires all products on their site must comply with federal regulations, as of this blog they have yet to put effective screening processes into place. There are endless merchants selling many third-party products on their site, and the company has struggled to find a way to look into them all. If Amazon had failed to screen one or two products here and there sold by its countless third-party sellers, you would not be reading this article.  Amazon’s third-party seller problem has become a major issue as a result of the website’s remarkable sales figures and success. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report in August 2019, federal agencies have declared more than 4,100 goods for sale on Amazon’s website as unsafe.  If these items were sold in traditional brick-and-mortar stores in the United States, the government could force retailers to take them off the shelves.  Sadly, more than 2,000 toy and medication listings on Amazon do not have the proper warnings about health risks posed to toddlers.

This Wall Street Journal article also reported more than 150 items for sale on Amazon that had been previously banned.  As an example, the Food and Drug Administration warned the public about sleeping mats sold on Amazon that have the potential to suffocate children.  In fact, the newspaper paid for testing of 10 kids’ products purchased on Amazon, the majority of which were up-sold as Amazon Choice products. Sadly, four of these products failed tests designed to gauge whether products meet federal safety standards.  One of the promoted products contained lead levels in excess of the federal government’s safety limits. Nearly 50% of the products identified by the newspaper were shipped from the retailer’s warehouses. It is particularly interesting to note these listings were brought to the attention of Amazon executives, resulting in a removal or alteration of nearly 60% of the items in question.

Many lawmakers are looking to crack down on retailers like Amazon, calling for more detailed regulations to be put into place. Amazon’s defense, however, is that since these defective products are coming from third parties, they are not liable for any harm caused by the product. 

Amazon’s Statement about defective products on their site

Amazon leaders stated the listings referenced above were subsequently analyzed and addressed.  The company also stated its internal policy is for every product sold on the website to be in full compliance with regulations and the letter of the law. Though Amazon executives claim safety is their top priority, the evidence revealed by The Wall Street Journal suggests otherwise.  If you or anyone you know has been injured by a defective product purchased on Amazon or anywhere else, contact The Callahan Law Firm to speak with an experienced Houston personal injury attorney for a free case evaluation and to discuss how we can help.