Suspicious Sellers on Amazon
Over the holidays, as a little Christmas gift to myself, I ordered a t-shirt boasting the cover of the classic album Aja from esteemed dad-rock duo Steely Dan. To my surprise, I was given an estimated delivery time of 15-20 days. This seemed completely absurd. How could Amazon, the biggest online retailer in the history of the planet, take so long to deliver such a radical item?
What I found out is that the t-shirt was coming not from Amazon, but from a third-party seller who specialized in nerdy, classic-rock themed apparel. When I placed the order, I assumed that it was coming from Amazon itself, whom I could presumably trust to make a delivery in less than 20 days.
It turns out that what Amazon is responsible for is facilitating the order, and, in this case, not much else. In this regard, working with Amazon’s third-party sellers is oftentimes like shopping on Ebay. You’re buying from other independent sellers listing their own items for sale on the site. And because the Amazon’s interface can sometimes make it difficult to tell where your item is coming from, it can often become frustrating trying to determine where your classic rock t-shirts -- or whatever it is that you might be buying -- are actually coming from.
Did the person who expected me to wait 15-20 days for this shirt actually have it in their possession? Or was it somewhere else? Were they hiding behind an Amazon page, concealing the confusing rationale for which the shirt ultimately took more than half a month to arrive?
This will be a bit of review here, but bear with me. This is a screenshot of the Amazon store page for the GE WB44T10010. As we can see, it’s a GE product but it is not being sold by GE or Amazon. The seller is highlighted in the box we have added. Their name is Joe Schmoe's. Because Joe Schmoe's is not Amazon, they’re a third-party seller
We can look further into Joe Schmoe by clicking on their store page link to look for clues that can help us learn more about the seller. As we can see from this image, they seem to specialize in appliance replacement parts. Most of their inventory consists of replacement range igniters, ice makers, washer pumps -- you get the idea. This, combined with their 94% positive rating, are pretty good indicators that Joe Schmoe is a seller that we can trust.
It is important to note that Joe Schmoe is on the hook for the whole of the packing and shipping process. If something happens to be wrong with the product, they’re the ones who will be in charge of the customer service. If you need a return, an exchange, or you have a question about the product, that is all on them. In this case, Amazon only facilitates the transaction. If it happened that the shipping of this item was fulfilled by Amazon -- and if this were the case, we would be able to see it clearly indicated in the buy box -- this would be a different story.
While you can’t trust everything a seller might be saying about their policies, from their description, we can see that Joe Schmoe's claims to ship from a warehouse and has a return policy. Because of their majority positive review average, and their high number of reviews, we will take them at their word. The points listed in their store description serve as important indicators that A) Joe Schmoe's is most likely a legitimate business selling on Amazon and B) they take their business on Amazon seriously enough to include their return policy in their store description.
If you’re used to buying only from Amazon and not from third-party sellers, this might sound like it’s all par for the course.
However, in the unpredictable world of third-party sellers, you can’t take things like legitimacy and accountability for granted.
Now that we understand what a good seller looks like, let’s talk about some attributes of suspicious sellers and some red flags to look out for.
This is an example of a seller that we shouldn’t be so quick to trust. We have taken out the seller’s name because we are not trying to call anyone out. However, it is worth noting that we noticed that this seller changed their name between the first time we encountered them and now.
The first thing that you should notice is that their rating is an extremely low 15%. Granted, they do not have as many reviews as Joe Schmoe, but their overall average is abysmal.
Next, we’ll take a look at their store description. In comparison to the last one we looked at, it leaves a lot to be desired. They claim to be “the fastest growing distributors of electronics products in the market,” though their low number of reviews tells us that that is probably not the case. Not only that, you’ll notice that there is no mention of a physical warehouse. And nowhere in their description do we see any kind of return policy.
Similar to how a seller might not be one hundred percent truthful when they claim to have a physical warehouse for their items, just because they don’t mention a warehouse in their description doesn’t mean they don’t have one. But why are we placing so much significance on whether or not the seller has a warehouse?
This is a list of the brands that the seller has in their inventory, with the number next to each brand representing the number of items from the brand that the seller. This particular seller has an expansive inventory and in fact has hit the limit for the number of items Amazon will allow a seller to sell.
Taking this information into account with what we already know about the seller -- the poor reviews, no mention of a return policy -- it could be that the seller is a dropshipper. What this means is that the seller has no inventory. When you place an order for one of the items listed on their store page, they place an order for it from another seller on Amazon, or another website, and have it shipped directly to you.
There are several downsides to this practice. Because the seller is buying from another retailer and shipping to you, the seller must charge a higher price. They do not want you to know the item is available for a lower price.
Returns in this situation are complicated. Customers often confuse the brand with the dropshipper they purchased the item from, resulting in a headache for both the customer and the brand. Because a lot of dropshippers aren’t trying to build a good relationship with customers, and are simply out for a quick buck, a lot of them don’t take returns, refunds, or customer service seriously.
Because the profit margins for dropshippers are so thin, some of them resort to selling fraudulent or counterfeit product. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if what you are ordering is the genuine article. However, there are easy ways to inform Amazon that you received such an item.
If you receive an item that you believe is fraudulent or counterfeit, you can inform Amazon by clicking the “Report incorrect product information” button on an item’s store page.
Using this menu, you can report to Amazon that this seller is deceiving customers with counterfeit or fraudulent product. While Amazon takes a step back and plays the role of facilitator in these types of transactions, they take claims of fraudulent product very seriously and will be willing to work with you to take steps against this seller.
Using this information, you can start to get a better idea of who it is you’re actually buying from when dealing with third-party sellers. In our next post, we will go over some ways in which suspicious and deceptive sellers are harmful to you, Amazon, and American business. Until then, next time you’re on the lookout for classic rock t-shirts, or whatever it is you’re in the market for, remember to scope out the sellers before you wind up in a sticky situation with a seller who doesn’t have your best interest in mind.