Another Report Questions Product Safety on Amazon—This Time, It’s Private Label Goods

The ecommerce giant fired back, saying it uses "industry best practices."

The investigation found complaints about products "exploding, catching on fire, smoking, melting, causing electrical malfunctions or otherwise posing risks.” Unsplash, iStock
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Another report is out questioning the safety of Amazon products, which has prompted the typically tight-lipped ecommerce platform to fire back with a blog post highlighting its efforts to “ensure our products are safe.”

This time, the investigation comes from CNN, which found at least 1,500 reviews for more than 70 Amazon-branded products include comments about the items “exploding, catching on fire, smoking, melting, causing electrical malfunctions or otherwise posing risks.” In addition, at least 100 reviews included complaints about customers being shocked or burned, CNN found.

These products reportedly include a USB cord that short-circuited and set an office chair on fire (and another that caught fire in a parked car), a surge protector that turned into a “blowtorch,” phone chargers that burned hands and legs (and another that started an electrical fire in a car on the freeway), batteries that exploded and sprayed chemicals, paper shredders that turned on by themselves (and another that exploded into a “fireball”) and a microwave and outdoor patio heaters that caught on fire.

CNN also found Amazon continued to sell these products after safety complaints cropped up—and as additional reviews reported similar concerns. Amazon has also provided “little or no information to consumers or the public about how it is handling allegations that some of its merchandise is unsafe,” the investigation found.

In fact, according to the report, 11 products have been pulled, but 30 items with three or more reviews with complaints remain for sale as of Sept. 10., including a battery charger with 22 reviews that mention overheating, melting or burning. Meanwhile, Amazon told CNN at least eight products had been under investigation, but were determined to meet its safety standards.

While noting that these complaints represent a small fraction of overall purchases, and that fires caused by consumer electronics are not unique to Amazon-branded items, electrical engineers told CNN “as the number of reports about the same kinds of failures increases about the same item, so does the likelihood that there is a defect in the design or manufacturing.”

In an email, an Amazon spokesperson told Adweek its response varies on a case by case basis and could include removing the product, adjusting the design, notifying customers or “other appropriate action.”

The spokesperson also noted Amazon is “confident” its AmazonBasics microwave is safe to use as the appliance “continues to meet or exceed all certification requirements established by the FDA, UL, FCC, Prop 65, and others for safety and functionality.”

In response to the CNN investigation, Amazon published a blog post—although it is not among the site’s featured content—noting “we thought it would be helpful to share the facts about how we ensure the safety of our products.”

According to the post, before it launches private-label products, Amazon “thoroughly [researches] technical standards, as well as compliance and safety standards,” along with voluntary standards, and it vets suppliers “through a series of manufacturing and quality audits.” It also works with third-party labs on testing.

During manufacturing, Amazon said it requires manufacturers to submit quality control documentation, and it works with suppliers to ensure products meet standards including 180 safety, regulatory and quality tests.

After products are available, Amazon said it audits AmazonBasics products “to ensure those products continue to meet our safety, quality and compliance standards.” In addition, the ecommerce platform says it “actively [monitors] customer reviews,” and noted that after launching thousands of AmazonBasics products since 2009, “we’ve only had to initiate recalls on two products.”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.