You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon—Literally

From The Wall Street Journal:

Just about anyone can open a store on Amazon.com and sell just about anything. Just ask the dumpster divers.

These are among the dedicated cadre of sellers on Amazon who say they sort through other people’s rejects, including directly from the trash, clean them up and list them on Amazon.com Inc.’s platform. Many post their hunting accounts on YouTube.

They are an elusive lot. Many The Wall Street Journal contacted wouldn’t give details about their listings, said they stopped selling dumpster finds or no longer listed them as new, didn’t respond to inquiries or stopped communicating. Some said they feared Amazon would close their stores.

So the Journal set out to test whether these claims were true. Reporters went dumpster diving in several New Jersey towns and retrieved dozens of discards from the trash including a stencil set, scrapbook paper and a sealed jar of Trader Joe’s lemon curd.

The Journal set up a store on Amazon to see if it could list some of its salvaged goods for sale as new.

It turned out to be easy.

. . . .

Amazon’s stated rules didn’t explicitly prohibit items salvaged from the trash when the Journal disclosed the existence of its store to the company last month. The rules required that most goods be new and noted that sellers could offer used books and electronics, among other things, if they identified them as such.

“Sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s high bar for product quality,” an Amazon spokeswoman said. Examples the Journal presented to Amazon of dumpster-sourced listings “are isolated incidents,” she said. “We are investigating and will take appropriate action against the bad actors involved.”

She declined to comment on the Journal’s store.

Late last week, Amazon said it updated its policy to explicitly prohibit selling items taken from the trash, adding to its list of unacceptable items any “intended for destruction or disposal or otherwise designated as unsellable by the manufacturer or a supplier, vendor, or retailer.”

. . . .

Amazon exerts limited control over its third-party marketplace, which connects buyers with millions of merchants around the world. The company has said it isn’t liable for what these merchants sell, saying in court cases Amazon itself isn’t the one selling the products listed by third parties.

“We had an internal saying: Unless the product’s on fire when we receive it, we would accept anything,” said James Thomson, who helped oversee the Fulfillment By Amazon program—under which Amazon handles logistics for third-party sellers—before leaving in 2013. He is now a consultant to brands with Amazon accounts. In his view, he said, “Ultimately consumers are the police of the platform.”

The Amazon spokeswoman said Mr. Thomson’s “statements are demonstrably false.” Mr. Thomson said he stood by his assertions.

Wade Coggins, near Beaverton, Ore., said he finds items to sell on Amazon and eBay in store clearance sections, abandoned storage units and dumpsters. He said he has salvaged cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and peanuts from trash bins to package his orders.

Blemishes need to be cleaned off, he said, adding that some people shrink-wrap items to make them look more legitimate. “When you send stuff in to Amazon,” he said, “it needs to look brand new.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

In several different news articles over the past few months, PG has noted that Amazon spokespeople have become much more corporate in their statements. If he recalls correctly, in former days when Amazon was responding to reports about questionable items sold on its platform, it was more common for someone in charge of running the relevant business to respond instead of a PR drone.

One of the attractions of earlier Amazon for indie authors was a sense that the company’s reflexes were basically decent. If a problem was reported, the company investigated and fixed it. The platform was improving on a regular basis. In light of the misbegotten attempt by major publishers to sink Amazon’s book business, the people running the indie publishing operation were vocally supportive of indie authors.

It is notoriously difficult to maintain a high-quality company culture over time. Once the original founder pulls out, unless s/he has carefully chosen and trained a group of top-tier managers, the business can wander off into the wilderness.

PG remembers this process playing out when Sam Walton, the founder and CEO of Walmart, died and the company wandered in the wilderness for several years without very good management. Mr. Sam appeared to have shaded out a lot of those who might have had the ability to continue keeping Walmart on track.

PG had a business meeting with one of the Walton children on one occasion and was able to discern none of the storied business acumen of Sam. His impressions were similar to those he has experienced when he met heirs to great wealth on prior occasions – people who were not necessarily very smart and were immersed in a lifestyle focused on the acquisition of art and private jet travel rather than operating a challenging business.

For the general public, the revelation of Jeff Bezos’ marital problems came out of the blue. Perhaps because PG is concerned about corporate succession in light of Bezos’ apparent prompt withdrawal from heavy personal involvement in the management of the company, he has noticed an increase in the number of stories like the OP that appear to reflect that various parts of Amazon are diverging from its former standards and practices.