Amazon is perhaps the biggest and most powerful retailer in the world. It long ago established its dominance in the world of online retail (earning the nickname “the everything store”), and its popularity has only increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But no company can grow forever without eventually facing legal issues, and Amazon has had its share. One of the most recent legal questions has to do with whether Amazon can be held liable for the products sold on its site. For a long time, the answer was generally “no,” because Amazon was simply the marketplace connecting buyers and sellers. But in 2009, the company began offering an ever-expanding line of popular products sold more cheaply than competitors and branded under the name AmazonBasics. This de facto “store brand” is now facing serious scrutiny over the safety of many of the products offered – particularly electronics.
The AmazonBasics line now offers over 5,000 products, most of which are non-controversial. But dozens of electronic devices offered by Amazon have received at least 1,500 complaints since 2016. These complaints come in the form of safety warnings posted as Amazon reviews by customers who have been harmed, nearly harmed or suffered property damage from the products.
The reviews were analyzed in a CNN report, and many contained horror stories of products melting, smoking, catching on fire and causing electrical shortages. Some of the products were as simple as a USB charging cord for a cellphone (one of which started a computer chair on fire) or as complex as a microwave (which several users claimed suddenly caught fire during use).
It is typical for companies who sell electronics to have problems like this. But when these problems occur, any responsible company needs to respond quickly and decisively, investigating claims, issuing recalls and offering to compensate those who were injured or suffered property damage.
According to the CNN investigation, some products have remained available for sale despite numerous serious safety complaints. Others have simply disappeared and are no longer available for purchase – seemingly without explanation.
Amazon may be leading the retail market due to its massive list of product offerings and speedy delivery policies. But unless the company is willing to effectively address the safety issues raised about its own branded products, it could quickly lose consumer trust and find itself facing a long list of product liability lawsuits and other legal woes.