Amazon Has an Exploding Product Problem

Photo:  Sean Gallup , Getty Images
Photo: Sean Gallup , Getty Images

While it’s no secret that Amazon has a history of hosting unsafe products from third-party sellers on its platform, a recent CNN investigation found that the company’s own AmazonBasics line might be just as hazardous based on customer reviews.

CNN reporters identified more than 1,500 reviews about AmazonBasics electronics and appliances from U.S. customers since 2016 that complained about the products bursting into flames, melting, causing electrical malfunctions, and other safety-related issues. The reviews covered more than 70 items and described horrifying scenes of batteries exploding, car chargers sparking electrical fires, and in at least one case, a paper shredder mysteriously turning itself on and blowing up in a “fireball.”

More than 10% of the reviews analysed by CNN concerned products catching fire, and nearly 200 customers described damage to their homes or possessions. Nearly all were “verified purchases” — meaning Amazon confirmed the customer actually bought the product on its marketplace — and several included disturbing photos of the charred aftermath.

Amazon originally launched AmazonBasics in 2009 and sells more than 5,000 items under that line from furniture to kitchen utensils and electronics. Shortly after the investigation went live, Amazon released a blog post detailing the vetting and quality control processes for its AmazonBasics products, which includes annual reviews and working with ISO/IEC 17025-accredited third-party firms to develop and maintain its testing protocols.

“We partner only with suppliers who meet our supply chain standards, and those suppliers undergo additional vetting by Amazon through a series of manufacturing and quality audits, including reviewing factory quality management systems and product quality controls,” the company said Thursday.

But that hasn’t stopped reports of products melting, sparking, or posing other safety hazards from piling up for years, and some of the items involved remain for sale on Amazon to this day. According to CNN, roughly 30 items with three or more reviews of this nature are still on Amazon’s marketplace.

In one particularly alarming case, a voice-activated AmazonBasics microwave that a customer said caught fire “began sparking and smoking” as soon as it was turned on by researchers the outlet enlisted in its investigation. Their testing found that a flaw in the microwave’s design could allow debris to collect behind a panel covering its internal heating device and potentially ignite. Despite this and dozens of similar complaints about the microwave posing a fire hazard, you cant still buy it on Amazon right now. When reached for comment, Amazon told Gizmodo that it’s “confident that the AmazonBasics Microwave is safe to use.”

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“The appliance continues to meet or exceed all certification requirements established by the FDA, UL, FCC, Prop 65, and others for safety and functionality,” a company spokesperson said via email Thursday, adding that “safety is a top priority at Amazon.”

Over the last eight years, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has received at least 10 reports about AmazonBasics products that mention issues similar to those in the reviews analysed by CNN. And yet, Amazon has only issued two official recalls of AmazonBasics products, one in 2018 after 53 reports of portable power banks overheating (and causing chemical burns in at least one case) and one in 2019 after 25 reports of space heaters overheating, burning, or sparking. In several cases CNN came across, items with several reviews complaining of safety issues were quietly discontinued with zero notice to customers who may have already purchased the item.

[CNN]