Amazon Marketplace was featured on Watchdog last night, with complaints about dodgy sellers and the availability of pepper spray on the site the target of the consumer programme.  

Watchdog (on iPlayer) found several instances of customers buying items on the Marketplace, receiving emails purporting to be from Amazon, paying by transfer service Moneygram and not receiving the products.

Some of the details should have set alarm bells ringing for the buyers, such as getting a 40″ Sony Bravia TV at £300, being asked to take the payment outside of Amazon’s system, as well as the lie that the website’s payments system was down.

Clearly, a savvier online shopper would and should have smelled a rat here, so it is hard to feel too much sympathy, but the fact that people tend to trust Amazon and it is linked to these transactions perhaps makes buyers less suspicious than they would normally be.

It could be argued that Amazon doesn’t make it clear enough that people are buying some items from third parties, rather than direct from the retailer. Items from Amazon Marketplace are integrated into the site search results and also given the benefit of Amazon’s detailed product pages. 

Shoppers unaware of the distinction may think they are buying direct from Amazon, not a third party, as in this search result for the Wii Fit board, an item that is proving to be tricky to track down this Christmas:

Amazon product page for Wii Fit

Aside from the fairly steep price (it can be bought elsewhere for much less), the only indication that the seller is not Amazon itself is the relatively small text under the price and just above the ‘add to shopping basket’ button.

I think Watchdog could perhaps have spent a little more time giving viewers tips about how to avoid such scams; checking sellers’ feedback scores more closely and never paying for items off the site.  

However, having such unscrupulous sellers on its site and the resulting bad publicity on TV is not good for the Amazon brand. The Marketplace is clearly important for the online retail giant, accounting for a third of its sales.

Another online marketplace, eBay, was the subject of a Watchdog item about the sake of counterfeit goods on its site, something Amazon was also criticised for last night.

On this occasion, eBay was held up as an example of how it should be done. According to Max Vetter of  the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau:

“Compared with eBay, Amazon doesn’t seem to have any system in place that could quickly remove counterfeit goods from its sites”.

Buyers do need to be a lot more wary than the people shown on BBC last night, but Amazon should still be taking steps to remove dubious sellers and items from its site, and also educating users about how to use the Marketplace.

What do you think? Should Amazon be more vigilant over what is displayed on its site or do buyers need to be more careful? 

Graham Charlton is a researcher at E-consultancy. Find him on Twitter



Related articles:

Being on BBC’s Watchdog – how much traffic does prime time TV drive to your site?

Ten things Amazon can do better online