Online marketplaces are everywhere these days. Amazon may be the most well-known, but they are hardly alone. It is a growing area, and a number of retailers are following suit. However, in the heat of competition, scaling marketplaces too quickly has led to a lack of attention and responsibility to consumers, and in particular, product safety.
The position of most online marketplaces is that the individual seller is responsible for whatever is sold, therefore, “it’s not our problem.” However, there is mounting evidence that shows shoppers do not agree. Distrust of third-party marketplace sellers is growing as consumers continue to have negative shopping experiences and see the media reporting more frequently on how little these platforms are doing to ensure that the products sold on their platform are safe.
Online marketplaces have thrived, in part, because the sellers are able to trade on a well-known brand name and reputation for quality and customer service. And it is exactly that brand name that is at risk. For example, if a marketplace became synonymous with unsafe products, consumers will turn elsewhere. Would parents purchase a toy if they knew that there was nothing the marketplace was doing to ensure the toy was authentic and not a cheap knock-off that could injure or kill their child? Would anyone purchase a bike helmet if they could not trust that the information about safety testing on the product page was true? If someone found out that the FDA claims made about an eye cream were completely fabricated, would they still want to buy it? It might sound dramatic, but all of these things happened to consumers because a safety check fell through the cracks.
There’s an opportunity for marketplaces to shift away from the negative sentiment right now simply by acknowledging that consumers consider product safety to be a responsibility of their platform and implementing policies and procedures that align with consumers’ best interests. In the long haul, a reputation for prioritizing consumer safety will be far more valuable to a marketplace than any short-term gains they will win by ignoring this issue.
Who’s First, The Seller Or The Consumer?
In most cases, online marketplaces need look no further than their own core values to see who they need to prioritize: the seller or the consumer. In fact, every marketplace I have seen has some variation of a commitment to their customers as a key value or part of their vision. There is a serious misalignment between those stated values and the Wild West of most online marketplaces.
The easy excuse is to say that marketplaces are too big to control. However, leaders need to be willing to enforce values even when it is complex to their system and when it may come at the expense of revenue growth. A marketplace cannot say that they are committed to their customers while turning a blind eye to bad practices that endanger consumers on the part of sellers on their platform. To be clear, not all marketplace sellers are problematic. But the benefit of the doubt needs to be given to the consumer.
Marketplaces do not want to think about consumer safety as it relates to their platform because they don’t want to recognize it is an issue they have to deal with. That means there is a serious lack of attention and that many marketplaces likely have no idea how bad things are until a major news outlet publishes an investigative piece. Companies cannot afford to ignore what is happening on their platform. Consumer safety concerns need to be an ongoing and open topic of conversation. As EOS Worldwide founder Gino Wickman says, “The issue that you fear the most is the one you most need to discuss and resolve.”
Marketplaces should have a list of high-risk product categories that include items for children, that plug into walls or have lithium batteries, that go on the skin or in the body, that are designed to protect people and that have a medical purpose. Every marketplace needs to be aware of how much of their business is represented in each category and should maintain a set of standards for each.
Automation Is Not The Solution
Automation is great for businesses that operate at scale. However, especially when it comes to consumer safety, marketplaces cannot address these issues without incorporating human oversight and intervention. This is especially true because black hat third-party seller tactics are continuously evolving. Therefore, automated solutions must also evolve, and that can’t happen effectively without some level of human review and input.
Remove Bad Actors, Fast
Third-party sellers who sell unsafe products are not going to change their ways. A seller who made up FDA approvals or sells counterfeit toys is not going to suddenly become an upstanding seller after a slap on the wrist. What is more, their bad actions fuel the idea that all marketplace sellers are untrustworthy, which, as previously mentioned, is not true. If there is a rise in complaints or a safety incident occurs, marketplaces need to cut the seller loose and place the importance of their consumers’ well-being first.
If there’s anything that the evolution of online retail has shown over the past few decades, it is that things do not stay the same, but safety should never change. The consumer experience, including safety practices, ultimately shapes what success looks like. For marketplaces to remain relevant, they need to put consumer safety at the forefront of their efforts.