Buyer Beware: Read This Before You Purchase Beauty Products from Independent Sellers on Amazon

Six years ago, I was enjoying New Years Eve dinner in Bora Bora. The seating was family style and I bonded with a woman from Seattle who was next to me. We forged a fleeting vacation friendship over, of all things, our love of Amazon Prime. She said, “if it’s not on Amazon, you don’t need it”. Granted, her husband eluded to the fact that he was an “executive” for the company but I didn’t need their pitch to use the popular e-commerce site. Amazon had already changed the way I shopped years before my trip to the middle of the Pacific. While living in Manhattan, I got what I needed delivered. I used FreshDirect for groceries and Amazon for everything else. The fact that Amazon provided ‘free’ two-day shipping, for an unlimited amount of orders, at just $60/year revolutionized shipping practices online.

image via review from Amazon

At times, I noticed some of my favorite, more expensive beauty products would be available at much lower prices. Admittedly, this caused me to wonder if some products being sold on Amazon were stolen. The increase in thefts of personal care items and subsequently being re-sold on the “black market” (typically flea markets and online) is why items like razors and Dove soap are now under lock and key at your local pharmacy. However, my worry over whether an item was hot was extremely naive.

In 2015, I ordered a bottle of Kerastase shampoo. My salon was sold out, so naturally, I checked Amazon. It arrived as quickly as ever, but when I opened the cap, there wasn’t a seal. At all. Ew. I immediately wrote to the seller, was refunded my money, and threw it away. A few months ago, I ordered some Clarisonic brush heads. The picture below is not mine, but I received brush heads in a similar condition from a different seller. But again, I complained and received a prompt refund. Recently, I noticed an increase of negative reviews for hair care and make-up items I was interested in purchasing. The picture of the Oribe shampoo above made me realize the issue I had previously experienced was much more vast.

image via Amazon customer review

Consumers inherently trust websites like Wal-Mart and Amazon simply because of name recognition. These are international corporations. Buyers naturally assume there are safeguards in place to protect them. There are millions of third-party sellers on Amazon and for $39.99/month, you can easily start selling on their website as soon as you’ve entered some personal financial information. This is the extent of their third-party seller vetting process before goods are available to the public.

I was shocked when I stumbled upon this article published by Business Insider last year. The Government Accountability Office conducted an audit by purchasing goods, ranging from beauty products to sneakers, from five popular e-commerce websites. These included Amazon, Wal-Mart, Sears Marketplace, New Egg and Ebay.

The GAO purchased 47 items from September 2016 until January 2018. The report did not specify where each counterfeit item was ordered from, but an inauthentic item was received from each website. Twenty of the 47 items were counterfeit. I was disturbed to read that this included all of the beauty products.

The inadvertent purchase and use of counterfeit beauty products extends beyond financial exploitation. It is a direct health risk to consumers. The GAO report stated that the counterfeit cosmetics tested positive for rat droppings, mercury and cyanide. It is mind-blowing to think a product that is meant to be applied to your skin contains mercury and is sold with help from one of the beacons of American capitalism.

These websites all claim to have a zero-tolerance policy against the sale of fake goods. Granted, they should hold this stance. Any company with a competent in-house counsel or PR team should be publicly against their customers being hoodwinked. The issue is that the problem remains due to counterfeit goods looking more sophisticated and thus being harder to discern authenticity.

image via Government Accountability Office Intellectual Property January 2018 report, pg 17

There are ways to safeguard yourself when buying personal care products from a website like Amazon. First, it is important to identify what type of third-party seller you are dealing with. There are three designations as explained below:

  1. The first type is a third-party seller that fulfills and ships the order. This means that they simply use Amazon as a platform to sell their goods. This is the biggest risk to the buyer which is unfortunate considering there are many reputable sellers who are small businesses that use websites like Amazon in order to reach a broader audience.
  2. The second type of seller is one that uses Amazon to sell, but the shipping is fulfilled by Amazon. This means the seller ships their goods to an Amazon warehouse where it is supposed to be checked and then sent to the buyer.
  3. The last type of seller is an item that is fulfilled by and shipped from Amazon.

While the second and third pose less of a risk for a buyer, it is not always foolproof. The hostile work environment in many Amazon Warehouses was brought to light thanks to this Daily Beast article published in early March. The article describes employees pushed to the brink mentally and physically. Workers in Amazon’s warehouses are expected to process hundreds of items an hour. It is understandable why a counterfeit item, like the Urban Decay product shown above, could make its way to an unsuspecting buyer in such a stressful workplace . This article from 2014 explains how fake goods can be ‘commingled‘ with Amazon stock. It is also important to thoroughly read buyer reviews. Sellers may hire bots to counteract negative ratings and comments.

I have started buying beauty products directly from the respective brand’s website if I can’t find them online through Sephora, Blue Mercury or Ulta. These big beauty retailers offer great rewards programs as well as discounts on shipping. There is always the option of buying items in-store from a licensed retailer. I know, buying something in person is such a unique concept!

If you have any questions please feel free to DM me on IG @reinesoleillesoin

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