Four trash cans lined up.

If You’re Selling Trash on Amazon, Close Your Account

Filed under “things I never thought I’d have to talk about,” The Wall Street Journal published an article today about the gnarly “thrifting” craze of dumpster diving and selling the good finds for massive profits. In this case, people are selling trash on Amazon.

Before we begin…

I need to make something painfully clear. If you do any of this, don’t. If you’re thinking about doing any of this, don’t. Selling garbage on Amazon is disgusting, illegal in some states, and creates a relationship of lies and distrust from the start. If you went on Facebook to buy a thing and saw they pulled it out of someone’s trash… would you buy it?

I wish I made this up. From the WSJ:

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’s] platform. Many post their hunting accounts on YouTube.

I know a few of these YouTube channels, and they’re a group I’d never recommend people follow for serious advice. I’ve heard of folks dumpster diving for selling in their own thrift stores or on eBay, but Amazon customers–and Amazon itself–have a much higher expectation of quality. If I ran a grocery store and sold you a jar of some sauce for you to later find out I pulled it out of Wal-Mart’s trash, you’d be utterly disgusted and likely sue.

One reviewer said lipstick arrived with no packaging, marred and mildewed. Five reviewers said they received a protein bar sprouting white fungus, one writing: “My daughter has eaten a handful of them and called me into the kitchen today to show me that there was MOLD on the bar she had eaten half of!!!!!!”

In the article, Amazon says they have some checks in place, but we all know what that really means:

The Amazon spokeswoman said the company investigates product reviews and takes corrective actions as needed. Of those the Journal identified, she said, “the product reviews where customers expressed issues with quality represents less than 0.01% of orders on those products.”

She said Amazon uses “a combination of artificial intelligence and manual systems to monitor for product quality and safety concerns in our store” and that if a product fails its guidelines, Amazon will “take appropriate action against the seller, which may include removal of their account.”

And to really hit this nonsense home, this paragraph citing a seller willing to identify themself really makes my skin crawl. An example of the pinnacle of shady seller shit that exists on the platform, today:

Heather Hooks, 40, said she has sold thousands of goods on Amazon from liquidators, mostly returns such as Lego sets, Tylenol pills, Hanes undergarments and Maybelline makeup. She estimated that about 75% of the products she buys out of liquidation are flawless and said she sells those on Amazon as new. The rest she sells on eBay and other sites, she said, labeling their condition.

While Liquidation isn’t explicitly “trash,” nothing that comes from liquidators should ever be considered new. Should Amazon come knocking, you’ll have zero proof of authenticity or newness, and should you be unable to provide the documentation, Amazon will put you in the ground–where you belong.

Out of what I read in the article, I’m not surprised people have been able to get away with this for so long–including the WSJ who opened an account just for this purpose. Amazon put in no effort to ensure the product was actually new, and based on what I’ve seen and heard about from other sellers, they probably won’t try very hard going forward.

Regarding Ms. Hicks above:

Amazon temporarily banned her from selling about three years ago, she said, because a brand complained she was listing its product as an unauthorized seller.

She’s back to selling, though, for the sake of Amazon’s customers, she shouldn’t have been reinstated. The article says she’s “a lot pickier” now, but I imagine that means she’s pickier about the sources she pulls products from, not that she’s actually taking more appropriate routes for sourcing products (distributors or product suppliers).

After this surfaced, Amazon made this statement to the Wall Street Journal:

On Friday, Amazon said it updated its policy to ban items from the trash. The spokeswoman said: “Sourcing items from the trash has always been inconsistent with Amazon’s high expectations of its sellers and prohibited by the Seller Code of Conduct on Amazon, which requires that sellers act fairly and honestly. We’ve updated our policy to more explicitly prohibit this type of behavior.” Asked how it will enforce the new rule, Amazon said it expanded its existing verification efforts, including increased documentation spot checks.

There’s this notion that when selling on Amazon, you can do whatever, sell whatever, and anyone who tells you anything else can go pound sand. You’ll find dozens of “gurus” that advertise this, and many more YouTube channels that say similar corner-cutting nonsense.

Here’s the deal. Amazon is a business. If you’re going to sell on the platform, you should approach it as a business. Anything less than that and you’re setting yourself up for failure, probably not doing things legally, and really just borrowing time until you get shut down.

The Wall Street Journal was banned from the platform:

On Saturday, the Journal received an email from Amazon: 

“Your account has been closed due to violations of our Seller Policies and Seller Code of Conduct. Specifically, we have learned that your have offered products that were sourced in a manner that does not meet Amazon’s high bar for customer trust and safety.”

But I’m certain where one falls, two more rise up, and Amazon won’t do anything about it.

To all the sellers out there that think this is acceptable: do everyone a favor and close your account.