Friday, August 23, 2019

Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site

The Wall Street Journal (via Christopher Mims):

In practice, Amazon has increasingly evolved like a flea market. It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, many of them anonymous, many in China, some offering scant information.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Inc.’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.


Amazon’s struggle to police its site adds to the mounting evidence that America’s tech giants have lost control of their massive platforms—or decline to control them. This is emerging as among the companies’ biggest challenges.

See also: Passive Guy.


Update (2019-08-30): Josh Dzieza:

Under the surface, Amazon is a scene of constant warfare. A growing share of goods on the platform are sold by third parties, who compete viciously for limited real estate. Some hop onto fast-selling listings with counterfeit goods, or frame their competitors with fake reviews. One common tactic is to find a once popular, but now abandoned product and hijack its listing, using the page’s old reviews to make whatever you’re selling appear trustworthy.

Amazon’s marketplace is so chaotic that not even Amazon itself is safe from getting hijacked.


Take this listing, formerly for an AmazonBasics HDMI cable. Amazon removed it and other listings after being contacted by The Verge, but before it was taken down, it was being used to sell two completely different alarm clocks: a “Warmhoming 2019 Updated Wooden Digital Alarm Clock with 7 Levels Adjustable Brightness, Display Time Date Week Temperature for Bedroom Office Home,” and a white wake-up light clock, which was out of stock. Strangely, that clock was listed as a second variety, color “Blackadaafgew,” yet the listing’s copy referred to binoculars that “can help you see a clear face from more than 650 feet away.” Many of the Amazon listings appear to undergo multiple hijackings.

Update (2019-09-13): Ashley Bischoff:

I just bought a product that was listed as “Amazon’s Choice” and “Fulfilled by Amazon”—and it still ended up being counterfeit. Ughh. (The top review details how one can spot counterfeits.)

Update (2019-10-13): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

How is this legal? If Target or Wal-Mart stocked products known to be unsafe on their shelves, they would be held criminally liable, right?

Another bad problem is that Amazon has seemingly lost control over the counterfeit/graymarket with more expensive products too, like Microsoft Surface and Logitech gear. Compounding the problem, it seems as if Amazon has allowed Sipped with Prime sellers to lump their graymarket gear in with Amazon inventory. But, beyond that, as a recent personal experience showed, Amazon has begun putting any and all marketplace sellers on “equal footing” with itself in displaying products to Prime customers: as long as the combines price is lower, their product page will show a marketplace seller with free shipping over Sold and Shipped by Amazon goods. And then when it turns out their marketplace seller is a scammer, Amazon wets the bed… I spent more than 20 on the telephone over the course of a month to get refunded for a Surface Book 2 that was mistakenly ordered by an accounting team (who was sent a link from Amazon) through a marketplace seller who shipped a sketchy-as-can-be-imagined obviously-graymarket box. We wanted to buy through, but the ordered didn’t understand Amazon’s UX. We shipped the item back, unopened, but never received a refund from the seller. A month, for $1300! Eventually it took a chargeback through the credit card to get Amazon to issue a refund.

At every step, Amazon’s “Leadership Team” was powerless and impotent. They couldn’t get responses from the counterfeiting team, they couldn’t get responses from the A-to-Z Guarantee Team, and they had no power to escalate. You’d think counterfeit/graymarket would be an area Amazon Leadership would want to be on top of, but intrinsically they cannot be. And, afaik, that seller is still selling on Amazon.

It was a devastating experience for my faith in Amazon, and I’ve been a customer since they opened!

I never order third party that are not shipped from an Amazon warehouse, and almost never ones that are not actually sold by Amazon. It’s just not worth it.

This is an externality of big growth and giant scale. And that's what we, as a society or humanity allow.
Why Amazon is so successful, because they can apply their tool and methods and scale, but if we would value many of the smaller things like safe products for kids they would not be able to grow that fast.
The same thing with YouTube. It's impossible to check what crap is uploaded because it's millions of hours being uploaded, yet if we would say, that they can grown as fast as we can keep reasonably checking the uploaded content they would not grow that fast.

What's amazing is that Amazon seem completely unaware of the danger to their whole operation this sort of crap represents.

They are already renowned for offering all sorts of products at a good price but increasingly they're becoming know as the place to go for dodgy electronics and batteries that may end up burning you and your house down. How they don't see that as a problem is baffling.

> The same thing with YouTube. It's impossible to check what crap is uploaded because it's millions of hours
> being uploaded, yet if we would say, that they can grown as fast as we can keep reasonably checking the
> uploaded content they would not grow that fast

I'm guessing that's why robot fighting videos were taken down as "animal cruelty". YouTube is now trying to moderate videos using machine learning.

Yup, it's staggering that Amazon doesn't see the danger - although they have cracked down on vitamin or related items. Perhaps too hard, but I understand why they are doing it. Still there are some products such as bike parts that are so counterfeited that no one buys at Amazon. As that's crept into computer parts and other items people are considering huge swaths of products that they avoid Amazon for. The danger for Amazon is Walmart, Target, and other online portals more than happy to take those customers. Once you lose the "I'll just try Amazon first" mentality it doesn't take much for people to shift.

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