Have you heard of the latest Amazon catalog purge? If so, then you might have more than a few closed toy listings. But toys may only be the start. Here’s what you need to know about product compliance on Amazon.
The reason Amazon gave for this change was trying to comply with current safety standards for under 12s. And it was also seen as a way to address counterfeiting. But there were some peculiarities in the way this change was implemented:
Over a month later, the forums were still overrun with complaints from sellers. And around that time eCommerceBytes reported that the issue was getting out of hand. The scoop was toy sellers were fed up and switching to other platforms.
Since then, closed toy listings have become the norm. Even now, when sellers receive a PCR and try to check their listings, they are sent to an ominous ‘Dogs of Amazon’ 404 error page.
But what caused this massive Amazon catalog purge, and what does it all mean?
Product Liability Vs. Product Compliance on Amazon
Before we go on to explain what’s happened, why, and what the outcome might be, it’s important for our readers to understand a few basic concepts:
- Product liability is about basic consumer safety expectations protected by law.
- Product compliance is about safety and quality certification for businesses.
- Safety standards change all the time. And certification requirements change with them.
Amazon’s General Product Liability Requirements
Product liability makes it so that suppliers are held responsible if their products cause harm.
It can be so taxing that manufacturers recall perfectly safe products. They do so out of an abundance of caution. Just look at IKEA’s ever-changing list of product recalls.
A product liability case is pretty cut-and-dried. If an item is flagged up due to risk of harm or injury, it would quickly become legally unsellable- by any retailer, no matter what. It doesn’t need to be proven (in court) to be unsafe. A buyer’s claim is enough to set the ball rolling.
Ever since it started selling products other than books, the safety requirements Amazon had in place for sellers were lax.
But in Aug. 2020, the State of California was working on a new law, AB-3262, which would have made Amazon legally liable for third-party product safety.
In Nov. 2020, the CSC ruled that Amazon is not shielded from liability.
What does this mean for sellers?
The BSA has been updated to reflect the fact that “both parties” (Amazon and the third-party seller) are responsible for product liability.
And sellers with $10,000/month in sales for 3 months in a row must hold a certificate of insurance.
Who is liable for product safety and to what extent might be up for debate.
But the fact of the matter is that Amazon now recognizes at least some liability.
So, it has every reason to come up with stringent restrictions for every category, not just toys.
Amazon’s New Product Compliance Requirements for Toys
Product compliance must be proven.
And it must be proven by the seller.
It involves a series of conditions that must be met if a specific batch of the item is to be sold by a specific seller.
So, product liability versus compliance are issues dealt with separately by Amazon.
Let’s say there’s a product (safety) liability issue. Amazon will send a spreadsheet. It needs to be filled out with proof that the seller can take legal responsibility (e.g. liability insurance).
If there’s a product (safety & quality) compliance issue, then Amazon will suspend the listing and urge the seller to make an appeal. Because this is a potential customer experience issue, Amazon will need proof that buyers get what they pay for (e.g. licenses and certifications).
It’s important for sellers to thoroughly read and understand Amazon’s PCRs.
It’s easy to mistake one type of request for the other.
And sellers might also mistake a PCR for the usual IP suspension warning.
Countless sellers complained on the forums that Amazon won’t accept their documents.
In some cases, it’s understandable. They don’t prove that the item fulfills US safety and quality requirements.
Here are some of the documents Amazon will not be satisfied with:
- Proof of purchase like invoices, receipts or bills of sale. It doesn’t matter if they were issued by the manufacturer, the brand owner, or an authorized reseller.
- Resale certificates or letters of authorization from the manufacturer or the brand owner.
- Proforma invoices, bills of lading, UPC codes.
- Letters or other documents that show the product was supplied in good faith.
So, what will Amazon be satisfied with?
Whatever the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) deems sufficient proof.
And you’ll find out exactly what that is for your particular product. Just look it up in the official toy safety and compliance guide.
Why the CPSC?
It’s an independent regulatory agency set up by Congress in 1972 to address the issue of product safety. It regulates virtually every consumer product made in the USA or imported here.
And here’s what it has to say:
The Children’s Product Certificate (CPC) is proof that the item complies with ASTM F963-17, the industry standard for toys.
Today, this standard applies to all children’s toys manufactured or imported since Feb. 28, 2018.
There are a few key points to remember when it comes to toy compliance:
- Even if a toy was made decades ago, it must come with a CPC if it was brought into the USA on or after Feb. 28, 2018.
- Amazon may expect you to have proof of periodic testing if the toy was still being manufactured after Feb. 8, 2013.
- A bill of lading may show that you imported the item after Feb. 28, 2018. But Amazon may still expect to see proof that the item complied with safety and quality standards when it was manufactured, and does so even today.
- Even toys exempt from third-party testing, such as those made by registered small batch manufacturers, must be CPC certified. In-house CPC tests will be needed.
- Even though CPC is only required with toys for under 12s, the ASTM standard applies to all toys for under 14s. So, Amazon might still ask for a CPC if the toy is for 12-14 year-olds.
- Even if the toy doesn’t come with batteries, magnets, or any other components that might cause harm, a CPC will be required.
- The CPC can be any format. But it must contain a unique and specific description of the product, the safety rules that apply to it, and testing details. It also includes contact data for the manufacturer, the importer, the lab, and the company that keeps a record of the test. You’ll find CPC samples on the official page.
- If your listing is old and there are errors in it, Amazon may not reinstate it even if you provide supporting documents. For instance, you may need to add a CPSIA (choking hazard) warning to the listing. Note that there’s a new CPSIA field that requires you to specifically select “no_warning_applicable“, if your listing doesn’t need the warning.
- Amazon is suspending ASINs, not SKUs. If you have several SKUs for the same item, your certificates will be sufficient proof for every SKU.
- Every seller must show proof of compliance. There’s no point in hoping some other seller will give Amazon the documentation before your deadline expires.
- Amazon may choose not to accept a CPC issued by the manufacturer or an importer. The legal requirement is that the specific batch you’re selling (and every listed SKU in it) has been tested; not the product, as a whole.
Once you know which rules apply to your product, it’s time to think about obtaining the certificate.
As a seller, you might need to obtain the CPC yourself, but that’s rarely the case. You shouldn’t need to commission, create or file a CPC with the CPSC, if:
- The (domestic) manufacturer or the importer keeps a record of CPC test results provided by an approved lab. And they can share it with you.
- The product was made and imported prior to Feb. 28, 2018, and is not subject to the periodic testing requirement (i.e. production stopped before Feb. 8, 2013).
- You are a small batch manufacturer (SBM), exempt from third-party CPC testing. But in-house CPC testing is still needed, along with lead testing at a CPSC-approved lab.
- You imported it to the USA from a small batch artisan. Then the SBM relief also applies to you.
If none of the conditions above apply to you and you can’t obtain the initial CPC results, you can pay a third-party testing facility to provide the test results. Note that they will not issue a CPC document for you or file it with the CPSC. Drafting the document is up to you.
Please click here for the official list of CPSC approved third-party CPC testing laboratories.
Note that commissioning an approved laboratory to test your product will cost several hundred dollars.
But writing the CPC in a word processor and filing it is free.
The Problem with This Amazon Catalog Purge
Aside from the CPC, Amazon may have other requests.
It might ask for an external Certificate of Analysis (COA) for ingestible and topical products, to show they don’t have germs or heavy metals.
Sellers with a GMP certification would have normally done this in-house.
In her interview for BuyBoxExperts, Rachel Johnson Greer of Cascadia Solutions shares her experience of compliance checks. She says Amazon first started carrying out these evaluations on imports a decade ago. And back then, it took them about 30-45 minutes per product.
Now Amazon wants a seller’s COA checks to be carried out by a third-party lab within a tight deadline. And it wants regular reevaluations. That’s the highest standard of certification, but also resource-intensive.
So, it’s likely to change the entire online retail industry.
Clearly, Amazon is going above and beyond.
It’s setting product compliance demands that are far more stringent than basic US federal requirements.
But it’s perfectly entitled to do so, especially if this new rule will still be in place a decade from now.
Unfortunately, many sellers won’t be able to cope with these new demands.
Not if CPSC-approved labs don’t make adjustments for them.
Here are just a few of the problems sellers might soon be faced with:
- There aren’t enough testing facilities for everyone to have their tests done on time.
- Some sellers might only be able to do part of their testing externally.
- It’s up to sellers to make sure all the tests are carried out by an approved Third-party sellers are independent indi… More lab.
- Test reports are not standardized for labs from the same company, let alone the state.
- Large vendors might be able to switch to a Reasonable Testing
- Program (RTP) and test less often, but small sellers don’t have that luxury.
How to Avoid Having Closed Toy Listings
After reading all this, you might find that making an appeal for your closed toy listings isn’t worth it. Or if it is, it might take some time. But there are ways to prevent any further trouble.
Here’s how you can stave off a toy listing suspension:
- Work with a good lab and find out about all the (mandatory) regulatory requirements for your product.
- Try to fulfill any voluntary requirements they might mention.
- Complying with age-specific safety standards and quality standards will minimize the risk of having your listings closed simply because a buyer made a claim.
- Make sure a product is and has been legal to sell from the start of the test production run.
- Keep your insurance policy up to date and make sure it’s comprehensive.
- If you sell $5,000+/month, get all the testing you can right away. Doing it after the listing is suspended can take over a month, and that’s time and money you might not have at your disposal.
That’s all there is to say on closed toy listings, for now.
While you’re here, why not check CPSC requirements for some of the other types of products you sell on Amazon? After all, this Amazon catalog purge might be only the beginning. It can’t hurt to know what’s in store, from a product compliance perspective.
Melanie takes an active interest in all things Amazon. She keeps an eye on the latest developments and keeps Amazon sellers up to speed.