Holiday shopping in 2019: can Amazon be trusted?

Why online shoppers must be weary of rock bottom prices

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Americans record breaking amounts of money online this month

Holiday shopping has long been a boon for brick & mortar retailers in the United States. In recent years, however, online shopping has increasingly taken its share of holiday shopping dollars. In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone, online mega-retailer Amazon.com posted over $72 billion in revenue. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder Amazon puts so much time and effort into advertising its holiday shopping deals.

What many unsuspecting shoppers don’t yet understand, however, is that many of the holiday gifts they purchase on Amazon’s website are not sold by Amazon. Rather, they are sold by Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of third-party retailers. Sadly, Amazon does very little to police the products sold by these retailers and, oftentimes, those products turn out to be dangerous.

In fact, a 2019 Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that over 4,000 products offered for sale on Amazon had been deemed unsafe by U.S. federal agencies. Once you understand the true practices behind the third-party retailer program, these numbers become less shocking.

According to Bruce Anderson, a former detective who now heads e-Enforce (an e-Commerce protection and enforcement firm), there are dozens of reasons why consumers should be suspicious of Amazon’s third-party seller program.

“While many of Amazon’s third-party sellers are legitimate,” Anderson explained, “hundreds, if not thousands, are not. We’ve seen illicit sellers do things like purchase entire lots of expired, brand-name vitamin/supplement products from rogue distributors at rock-bottom prices. Then they turn around and sell them on Amazon as ‘new’ for prices legitimate sellers can’t compete with. That means consumers end up with potentially unsafe products while the original manufacturer risks negative product reviews resulting from these faulty sales. It’s a massive problem for brands and for online holiday shoppers.”

Anderson cautions that if a product price on Amazon seems too good to be true (even during holiday markdowns), it probably is. He suggests that before consumers click the “Buy Now” button on a seemingly sweet deal, they check the manufacturer’s website to see if their particular Amazon seller is approved by the company. He further suggests that consumers check not only product reviews, but seller reviews appearing on the third-party retailer’s Amazon storefront page. If other people have had problems with that seller, chances are you will too.

We’re all interested in a good deal, especially around the holidays. That said, none of us should risk our family’s well-being in the name of saving a few bucks.