November 28, 2023

7 red flags that could mean a product on Amazon is actually junk

By Marissa Perino From Business Insider

Millions of Amazon items are ordered each and every day. But as any longtime shopper knows, there’s always a chance that replacement phone charger you’ve been considering will turn out to be junk.

In addition to negative — or even falsely positive reviews — Consumer Reports told Business Insider that buyers should be wary of items that may not comply with federal safety standards or have even been recalled. In these cases, items may not only be poor quality, but also extremely dangerous.

Business Insider has previously reported other things to be aware of when ordering from Amazon, including sneaky ways Amazon gets Prime members to spend moreKevin Webb previously reported on two websites can help you compare costs so you don’t end up spending more than you need to.

Keep reading for a look at some easy ways to know if your new Amazon purchase will turn out to be junk.

You check the reviews and ratings for poor scores.

Flickr/John Benson

On Amazon, like with other online retailers, overwhelmingly bad reviews usually signify a bad item. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it can be easy to click and order something you need, and you’ll be disappointed when your new charger breaks after two days.

At a quick glance, consumers can check to see if the item received just one or two stars in its rating. Even if this is the case, it’s worth scrolling down to read specifically what the issue was, and many reviewers provide photographs, or even videos, to give prospective buyers a better sense of the item they are about to purchase.

You notice the warning signs for fake reviews.

Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

Before ordering the item that received five stars over the one that received three, you should be wary of the warning signs for false positive reviews. Many sources — including Wirecutter and previous Business Insider reporting — have published guides on how to spot fakes.

“The veracity and authenticity of the reviews on Amazon has been well scrutinized and challenged by outside groups, media, and even members of Congress,” Consumer Reports told Business Insider in an email.

Consumer Reports defined review hacking as “unscrupulous sellers” taking positive customer reviews from other products and integrating them into their own listings.

“It can provide even a shoddy product with thousands of four- and five-star reviews, and in some cases, earn an ‘Amazon’s Choice’ label,” Consumer Reports told Business Insider.

Consumer Reports recommended that online shoppers read reviews thoroughly. “You may find, as CR did, five-star reviews for coffee mugs and air dusters attached to a listing for an Amazon’s Choice iPhone headphone adapter.”

Reviewers note that an Amazon fulfillment order was not received.

Associated Press

A big red flag that a product may not be what it advertises itself to be is consumers noting their order was delayed or never received. This is often a sign of previous scams.

Two out of the three categories of Amazon sellers actually do not need to be verified by Amazon before shipping. Business Insider recommends skipping third-party sellers altogether as a surefire way to avoid potentially faulty items.

The item has been recalled.

Lynne Sladky/AP Images

If you notice red flags among the reviews, it may be worth checking if the item has been recalled. If so, the item is not only guaranteed to be faulty, but could also prove to be extremely dangerous.

Especially for items pertaining to children, consumers should be aware of poor-quality items that may still be for sale on Amazon. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps an updated list of the most recent product recalls to keep consumers informed. As Amazon sells a large amount of products also found in grocery stores and supercenters such as Walmart, it is worth verifying in case they haven’t yet been pulled from online shelves.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration provides details on how to identify recalled items. These items should be removed from stores immediately, but it still worth checking to see if an item still sold on Amazon falls into this category. These recalled items can range from minor defects in packaging to the inclusion of dangerous substances.

Wall Street Journal investigation in April even found that Amazon was selling over 4,000 items “ declared unsafe by federal agencies.”

Of the items identified as dangerous, at least half were toys and medications — posing a major health risk to children and people taking medication.

The item doesn’t have the proper certification.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Even if an item hasn’t been recalled, it may not comply with certain safety standards. Depending on the item, proper certification is required — if this is not noted in the description or item details, it is another major warning sign that the item is of low quality.

“Shoppers shouldn’t assume that a product being sold online has met any basic standards for safety,” Consumer Reports told Business Insider in an email.

A recent Consumer Reports investigation found that several bicycle helmets being sold by Amazon were not certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission — a certification that is legally required for helmets to be sold in the US.

The seller is a no-name brand.

Noah Berger/Reuters

Reviews aside, no-name brands alone are a key indicator of junk items. While Amazon does carry a variety of household names also found on store shelves, many of its sellers are not name brands. Buyers should be wary of these sellers, even if they boast decent reviews, especially for tech items.

“You should stay away from purchasing no-name electronics on Amazon,” Joanna Stahl, CEO and founder of Go2Practice, previously told Business Insider. “While some products may be authentic, others are low-quality knock-offs and can ruin your iPhone battery, shock users, or even catch on fire.”

Additionally, Kiplinger reported that off-brand electronics “don’t have the reputation and reliability that come with name brands.”

“As such, you run the risk of purchasing sight unseen a poor-quality product with a short lifespan,” Kiplinger wrote.

Aside from electronics, ordering name-brand beauty products from a no-name seller is usually a sign the items may be counterfeit.

The deal seems too good to be true.

John Zeedick/AP Photos

Many Amazon scams start with prices that are “too good to be true.” Both James Thomson, a former Amazon executive, and Ryan Robison of the Robison Group detective agency warned MarketWatch that low prices are the most important indicator of faulty or counterfeit items.

“Almost always, the incentive for people to buy [suspect goods] is that they’re cheaper,” Thomson told MarketWatch. “But the reason they’re cheaper is because they haven’t been tested and certified.”

These cheap, untested, and uncertified items are certainly not worth the risk — from both a financial and a safety standpoint — and recognizing extremely low prices as a red flag will help prevent you from ordering junk items in the future.

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