‘Bad Actors’ Have Slipped Through the Cracks on Amazon
According to our eCommerce retail intelligence, there are more than 2,200 brands in the Vitamin & Supplement Category registering meaningful sales on Amazon. And while we would like to think that all of those brands are good citizens of the natural products industry, offering only the highest quality and scientifically-backed products to consumers, we unfortunately know that this is not true. Joe Hesketh, who leads ClearCut Analytics’ Amazon services team, says that:
For years, we’ve seen many brands take advantage of Amazon’s go-to-market leniency by selling products with unsubstantiated claims. Not to mention, they have been stealing share from responsible brands that play by the rules.”
For the average consumer who does not understand the science behind how many milligrams of an ingredient, like turmeric, DHA or vitamin D3, can go in one pill, it is easy to get tricked into buying a product that has double the strength of what is physically possible. Instances of these types of false product claims around ingredient strength or health benefits are widely seen throughout Amazon and the rest of eCommerce. And while there are FTC and FDA regulations in place to prevent this from happening, not enough has been done by Amazon to remove some of these bad actors from selling on their platform — that is, until now.
Amazon Implements a ‘Gatekeeper’ for Vitamins & Supplements
In November 2020, Amazon announced that by March 31, 2021, brands have to provide the following to list in the Dietary Supplement category:
- Certificate of Analysis (COA) from an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory for each product.
- Product Images that meet the following requirements: have all sides of the product label visible, have a clear image of the supplemental fact panel and ingredient list, contain the name and address of the brand owner, and contain the product name.
- Letter of Guarantee from the brand owner of the product.
According to Hunter Barrows from Bluebonnet Nutrition, a leading brand in the Dietary Supplement category:
We are pleased to see Amazon roll-out these new standards. The safety and quality of supplements should never be a differentiator. Consumers should have confidence in the products they purchase.”
While a Positive Move, Challenges Arise for Brands
While the requirements by Amazon are generally positive, the means to achieving them have proven to be challenging. As a key example, not every brand has a COA for every product from an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited lab. As thousands of brands were scrambling to get these COAs in by the same deadline, Amazon decided to extend its deadline to May 3, 2021. The retailer warned brands that if they do not meet the requirements by this revised date, they risk having their products removed from the platform by May 31.
Over the past few weeks, we have also seen irregular enforcement of these new policies. Some brands have submitted the required documents and had products quickly approved months before the deadline. Others have done the same, but had a portion get approved while many hit a wall and were denied with little explanation as to why. Mr. Hesketh notes that “This is no surprise to anyone that knows Amazon well. Because of their size, mistakes are bound to happen, but it is our hope that they put enough bodies behind this to treat every brand fairly and resolve any issues quickly. It is possible that Amazon will make additional changes to the details of the requirements or the deadlines as we get closer to May 3. Given that, we strongly recommended that brands keep a close eye on any new announcements and take appropriate actions quickly.”
New Policies Are Not Perfect, But They Are Long Overdue
While some requirements have been rolled out abruptly and Amazon’s approval process has been irregular, a more positive aspect of the policy is mandating a Letter of Guarantee. This means that a brand owner must assure that a product actually contains what is being advertised on the label, that the ingredients in a product are safe and lawful, and that a product was made following GMP standards. According to Dean South, Principal of Vitamin Life:
This additional step holds a brand owner responsible for any falsification of documents or claims. And while not fool-proof, it may give irresponsible supplement brands cold feet, knowing that they are now entering into a legal contract with Amazon about the products they are offering to consumers. To me, this seems like a step in the right direction, paving the way for a better and more trustworthy supplement industry.”
In summary, the new requirements by Amazon may have been rolled out with too short of notice. They could also end up being a slight overcorrection, taking down brands or products that are indeed run by good and responsible actors. Yet, overall, ClearCut believes that this is an honorable decision by Amazon. If Amazon can properly enforce these policies, their platform will become a fairer place to compete for responsible brands and a safer and more reliable place to shop for consumers.