An Experiment in Product Safety

One of the truly frustrating and quite frankly disappointing aspects of being a consultant in the seller space is learning just how unwilling many sellers are to take due care with the products they sell, even the products that they are custom ordering and importing from China.

I have been told by multiple sellers that since Amazon doesn’t care about compliance, neither do they.

Now, I am aware that Amazon does, in fact, care about compliance… but not enough to do any sort of pre-checks for seller listings.

What does this mean if you’re a consumer?

It means that that super cheap toy you just bought for your child could break off and choke them, or poison them with lead or cadmium, or that nice “FDA approved” piece of kitchen equipment may be contaminated with lead or BPA, or something else that is guaranteed to be harmful to your health.

And Amazon does NOTHING with seller products until they are informed that there could be a problem. After all, the legal liability lies with the seller. And what does the seller think?

Since Amazon doesn’t care about compliance, neither do they.

How does this make me feel, as a mom, as an Amazon seller myself, as someone who has spent the better part of 8 years working in compliance?

So, we're going to do something about this.

We’re running an experiment. Based on my knowledge of seller accounts, I am finding products that I expect to be unsafe and we’re going to buy them and send them to an accredited third party laboratory and report back to you how the testing goes.

The fact is, very few of the projects we work on are with sellers who have ever done any testing at all on their product. In fact, nearly all products we have worked on were noncompliant in some way, and some were downright dangerous to use. 

And what’s worse? These are the good guys!! These are the ones who know they have an issue, and want to correct it. There’s a whole world out there of sellers blithely cheating the system and putting you and your children at risk.

Further, they make it incredibly difficult for the legitimate sellers, the ones who choose to follow the rules, to be successful. As a Chinese thought leader told me this weekend in a PM asking for help, Chinese sellers know the rules, they just choose not to follow them. There are WAY too many sellers on Amazon like this.

So what products will we be testing?

First, these are items that we are buying based on characteristics of the detail page. I know nothing about these businesses, I have never worked with them, nor have I been told about them. My process was to go to Toys, Kitchen, and Baby through Amazon’s browse nodes, and select products based upon price and features.

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Product #1:

Kidolino Magnetic Drawing Board for Kids with 2 Stamps and 1 Pen, Travel Size

Why this product? It’s got multiple reviews calling it flimsy or hard to use. It’s quite cheap for a toy (anything under $20 with this many parts from a no-name brand is not likely to have been tested, due to the cost of testing that many components).

Product #2:

Jumbo Counting Bears with Stacking Cups by Kids Korner – Rainbow Matching Color Sorting Toys for Toddlers with ( 54 pc with Travel Tote )

Why this product? Its size would indicate that it’s likely a small parts hazard, plus it’s supposed to be used for actual food contact. It says it’s not for children under 3, and yet it’s being marketed to toddlers.

Product #3:

3D Puzzle Creative Handmade Assemble Jigsaw Toys Pink Princess Castle (35 Pieces)

Why this product? The price is laughable! Whoever heard of a product with that many colors for sale for less than $5? It’s so cheap, I tossed it in for fun. Really though, the concern I have with this is the glue that holds the foam to the cardboard. For this price, I doubt they were very particular.

Product #4:

ROBOTIME Wooden Alphabet Peg Puzzle Board Easy-Hold Jigsaw Puzzle Toy ABC for Toddlers Preschool

Why this product? It clearly states it’s for babies and toddlers, and these pegs are quite small. I am suspicious of whether they would pass the choking hazard testing. Also, it is very inexpensive considering the number of colors on the product.

Product #5:

Kiartten Manual Citrus Press Juicer Top Rated Premium Quality Metal Lemon Lime Squeezer-FDA Approved

Why this product? First, it’s a no name brand of a generic kitchen type item, so I am pretty confident this seller is following the teachings of some Amazon guru who told them kitchen products are great. One major problem – the FDA does not approve food contact materials, they issue lists of GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) materials, so I can already tell this seller knows nothing about compliance. Also, given the number of typos, I suspect this is not even a US-based seller, or at least someone who isn’t that concerned about details – if the page isn’t even spelled correctly, why would I think that the seller tested the product for safety? I suspect they instead simply relied on their Chinese supplier’s assurance that their citrus squeezer was “FDA approved.”

Product #6:

Depp’s Silicone Ice Cube Trays (Set of 2) Sphere Ice Ball Maker with Lid & Large Square Molds, Reusable BPA Free FDA Approved Keep Your Drink Chilled for Hours Without Diluting It

Why this product? Because it has many similar issues to Product #5 – it says it’s FDA approved silicone, which isn’t a thing, it’s a no-name brand, spelling and syntax elements make it pretty clear this isn’t a US-based seller as well.

Product #7:

Lunch Box for Kids Adults,Leak-Proof FDA-Approved Microwave Dishwasher Freezer Safe with Lids All-in-One 2 Layers Meal Prep Bento Food Storage Containers (Pink)

Why this product? First, it’s clearly appealing to children, so I’m going to expect it to have a tracking label, plus pass for lead content on all exterior parts, as well as passing FDA food contact regulations.

Product #8:

Angels UP Double-Side Leash Design Pacifier Clip for Baby, 4-Pack

Why this product? It looks cheap, it is cheap, they’re insisting on the item being BPA free, which only matters for ingestible products, making me think – yet again – that this seller knows nothing about compliance, and that this product is a choking hazard. Not only that, it has a warning for choking hazard!

 
WARNING:
CHOKING HAZARD — Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.

You’ve got to be kidding, right? It’s for a BABY and it has a choking hazard warning on it.

Product #9:

Pacifier Clip Girl, BPA Free Silicone Teether, Set of 2 (Petal Pink/Soft Gray/White)

I am most curious about this one, because the seller in this case is using the right terminology: “CPSC/CPSIA Certified! Meets safety length requirements. Locking snaps on each end of beads. Durable Safe Clip.” As in, they realize it’s the *CPSC* that regulates the product, not FDA (the FDA restricted BPA, not CPSC), it mentions the beads and clips, which are the typical source of the choking hazard. So we’ll see – of all of these, I expect this one is the only one that might pass. But, the head of the clip still looks like every other one of these clip products, so it’s on the list.

Product #10:

Premium Quality Baby Pacifier Clip (4 Pack) for Boys and Girls! . Fun and Cute ,Extra Safe, Double-sided Baby Pacifier Leash Designs.

Why this product? Well, you might ask why three different choking hazards for pacifier clips? Mainly because I’m a mom, and I care about the safety of my children, and the safety of the children of other moms. And these things look dangerous to me. Also, this one actually says: “EXTRA SAFE MATERIALS! Only the highest quality cloth is used in our soothie clips. There is no BPA in the plastic! This product is 100% safe for your baby. Please remember that while it is unlikely they will come apart, they are comprised of parts small enough to pose a choking hazard and should always be used under adult supervision.” So not only are they going on about the BPA thing, but they are telling you that it’s not safe for the baby to use on their own, meaning it’s not likely to be safe for use by a baby. AND… the warning.

 
WARNING:
CHOKING HAZARD — Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.

 

When will the results be ready?

The products are already on their way to the lab. Typically, testing takes 5-10 business days, but we’re requesting quick turnarounds. So stay tuned…

Help me! I just realized I’m in a niche that’s probably regulated and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. What do I need to do to become compliant?
About the Author
I got my first job at Amazon because of my German language skills from my Master’s in History. Take that, people who said I’d never get a good job with my liberal arts degree! I soon learned that I’m not good at taking orders and started my MBA coursework at Seattle University.

I worked at Amazon for 8 years, as a liaison for law enforcement in Fraud/Transaction Risk, a quality and compliance manager in Product Compliance for Amazon Brands and imports globally, and lastly, managing hardware for Website Availability. I love the flexibility that working for clients on Amazon rather than for Amazon affords me.

In my not significant free time, I do fiber crafts such as spinning, crocheting, and embroidery, and I have been in a community band since 2009, playing French Horn, Trombone, or Euphonium depending on the band’s needs that season.

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