Reporters Succeed in Selling Dumpster Contents on Amazon

One expert says there's "absolutely nothing" preventing 3rd party sellers from listing literal garbage.

When you’re the biggest e-commerce company in the world, people love to bag on you. And if you’re Amazon, sometimes you deserve it.

According to an article in Business Insider, third party sellers accounted for 58 percent of Amazon’s gross sales in 2018. And the sales can certainly be gross, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.

That’s because the WSJ says its reporters, in an attempt to test the oversight of Amazon’s third-party seller network, were able to successfully sell products via the platform that they’d found in a dumpster. The outfit says it was following up on reports from dumpster divers that it was “easy to list discarded toys, electronics and books on the retailer’s platform.”

Reporters obtained the trashed items, cleaned and packaged them, and sent them to by an Amazon warehouse, where they would take advantage of the Fulfillment by Amazon service. This means they would be listed as Eligible for Prime, and hard to distinguish from the products Amazon sells itself. Once they were listed, reporters quickly bought the products back as “customers.”

One package, they said, even came back in the original box they’d sent it in – not Amazon’s own packaging – and appeared to have been unopened. And it was a food item retrieved from a dumpster at Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s told the Journal that it doesn’t approve of any of its products to be sold on Amazon, though the seller’s account wasn’t flagged until much later, and nobody confirmed the origins of this new third party seller’s products.

Following the report, Amazon added to its list of “unacceptable items” those intended for destruction or disposal … and a spokesperson told the Journal that Amazon expects its sellers to act honestly and fairly, which begs the question: does anybody actually check? Not according to former Amazon compliance director Rachel Greer, who told the Journal there is “absolutely nothing stopping you from dumpster diving.”

We already know Amazon has a counterfeit problem and Business Insider suggests that stories like the Wall Street Journal’s only compound the problem of growing consumer distrust, saying that as problems continue to crop up, consumers may consider shopping elsewhere. And likewise, from the third party seller side, merchants worried about brand reputation and counterfeit competition may opt not to list their goods with Amazon.

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