Amazon has been quite a known marketplace when it comes to finding something you need or selling something. With over millions of sellers online, the company has gained even more customers by acquiring Whole Foods in 2017.
However, more and are consumers see that much like the other section of the site will have you dealing with unsafe and counterfeit products, the grocery section has turned out to be quite disappointing too. Products are reported to have been available for purchase, although their expiration date has passed.
Most Amazon customers had reported these instances when they bought things such as beef jerky, granola bars, coffee creamer, and baby formula. Upon investigation and interviews conducted with the consultants, consumers, brands, and third-party sellers, there is said to be a flaw in the technology employed by Amazon. This loophole has allowed them to export expired items. Safety advocates for consumers have also started to worry about these kinds of risks that are by-products of a growing marketplace.
Out of the $900 billion assets owned by Amazon, 2.5 million businesses make use of the site for the distribution of food. In total, it can account for around 5.8% of the total merchandise sold by the company. In the site, you can find third-party merchants who sell different products that may be used or not from places all over the world. They may have purchased these from flea markets, clearance aisles, and distributors.
By scanning their Grocery and Gourmet category, you can find numerous complaints written by customers on products like expired granola bars, beef jerky, hot sauce, baby food, and baby formula. There are also some comments on some six-month-old Goldfish crackers, as well as packs of instant coffee creamer that produce a “rancid smell.” Data analytics showed that Amazon’s marketplace-top 100 best food products still have their fair share of customer complaints, with 40% of the sellers having customer complaints higher than five.
Liquidation warehouses and closeout sales are usually the source of spoiled food that ends up being available on Amazon. When Starbuck announced in 2017 that their Teavana locations would be shuttered, most sellers bought the cheap merchandise related to tea and tried to resell them online on Amazon. As of now, if you look for fruit teas and rock sugar on Amazon, they will still show up despite having been discontinued back in 2017.
In the listing for Teavana, you may find that one of the top reviews talks about how “the tea had a terrible chemical smell.” Many speculate that it is due to the spoiled fruit. The products also show a sign that says “not for resale” which Sarah Soscher, the deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, found alarming. The CSPI is a known group that advocates for the rights of customers. She explained that the presence of the sign is an indication the tea does not have “proper nutrition labels.” It also lacks other features that are usually needed in a direct-to-consumer sale.
According to Sorscher, one person from the long chain of command must have realized that the product was not meant to be consumed.
Another seller on the platform, who had been selling spices, sugar, and other products online for nine years, said that despite the number of inquiries about the Teavana products, Amazon still had no response.
A statement from Nestle, the owner of the rights to distribute Starbucks tea and coffee, such as Teavana, was asked, but the company has chosen not to comment. On another hand, a representative from Amazon clarified that all the products that are sold on their site, including ones that are “not for resale,” are required to provide a date of expiration if the said item is meant to be consumed. They must also guarantee that the product has a shelf life of not less than ninety days.
According to experts, it is hard to tell if the policy made by Amazon is effective in combating this issue.
The director of food policy from the advocacy group called Consumer Federation of America, Thomas Gremillion, stated that it is hard to gauge “how well that policy is enforced” because of the lack of indicators. He also added how some businesses from Amazon may have the decision to sell expired goods still and let the site find out about it.
Another product that will include good sales, but bad reviews are for a third-party seller of Hot & Spicy Doritos. Customers have left reviews regarding their disappointment about the staleness of the product and its closeness to the expiration date. Top listing for the brand of Fiji Water also included a comment saying that they were only able to receive tap water put in Fiji bottles that were recycled.
A buyer from St. Louis, Angie Atkinson, also shared her story about a Land O’ Lakes Half and Half creamers and what she got from purchasing from Amazon. Atkinson was surprised last February to find out that all of the cartons she got contained curdled milk. After looking at the expiration date, she found out the creamers were already expired.
She also added that she was unaware that it was possible to purchase something even if it was already expired. She said that if it had happened to her the first time she bought from Amazon, she would not have done it again.
Another story is from Andrea Wilson who only found out that her brownies from Hostess were already expired for more than a year after consuming a piece. Even when she tried to contact Amazon, she was only entertained after she had publicly tweeted about the incident. While she was able to get a full refund, she also stated that she would never buy food from Amazon again.
Wilson, who is from Washington, D. C., thought that it was extreme to buy brownies that have already expired for over a year online.
In their statement, Amazon said that their priority is to make sure that their customers are protected when buying products from either the company or a third-party seller.
After bringing up several expired foods to the company, Amazon declared that they are going to take corrective actions that will make sure all of the listings will be in line with their standards. Amazon also said that these cases are isolated and that it will not require any enforcement action on the seller. They are also not removing any of the products stated before.
A Work in Progress
In an interview, the spokesperson from Amazon said that they employ a combination of artificial intelligence and human resource to accurately monitor all of the customer feedback which amounts to around 22 million every week. If the seller was found out to be violating their policies, Amazon can readily remove their products or suspend the account itself.
They said that they are making sure that their customers can receive top quality products once they order from the store. They also said that they are employing strategies to makes sure that the products received by customers have enough shelf life.
Lastly, the spokesperson also said that reaching out to their Customer Service is highly encouraged if you want to express your concern. This is to make sure that they are informed of the incident and that they can investigate. If needed, they will also be taking appropriate action.
Since a few lawmakers and regulators are keeping an eye on the Amazon, some Democratic senators have already sent a letter to the Amazon CEO after an article about the banned and unsafe products was published in the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon makes use of their AI by feeding them with data from accounts and listings that have been previously suspended. This is to make sure that the AI gets better at detecting anomalies and blocking activities that are deemed suspicious. If they feel that there is a need for an investigation, human moderators can also start a case if they get enough feedbacks saying that the product is unsafe. For their food category, “Heartbeat” is used by Amazon. It is a database that monitors customer satisfaction ratings through phone calls, seller feedbacks, reviews, and emails.
Despite all these tools, experts say that Amazon also has to find out other ways aside from relying on customer complaints and refunding their orders. They explained that new strategies are needed in the marketplace so that the detection of products are more effective.
On the other hand, CSPI’s Sorscher believes that technology used by Amazon is not enough. She believes that the “expiration dates are a red flag for what else is harder to see.” She explains that if you forget to check something so essential in your product, then there must be a lot of other things you must be missing.
After purchasing Whole Foods for $13.7 billion two years ago, Amazon has become a massive name when it comes to groceries. However, if they fail to clean up the mess in their listings, Amazon might lose their consumers’ trust.