Are the Amazon Merchants hurting Amazon.com?

Amazon.com seems to have a goal of becoming the “search engine for anything you want to buy”, but is that really a good thing for their users?  For those of you who don’t use Amazon regularly, in addition to the products they sell themselves their website lists items for sale by merchants other than Amazon (called Amazon Merchants), as well as used items available from individuals and merchants.  All of those third party sellers have greatly expanded the product selection on Amazon.com, but it has also made the buying process on Amazon.com a lot more complex.  Amazon.com became successful by providing the best overall buying experience on the Internet, but now that they are so dominant have they forgotten that?

As an example, I recently purchased this Schwinn Roadster Tricycle and the process took longer than it should have.

Schwinn Roadster Tricycle Product Page

That's a sweet trike! I really want an adult-sized one of those, but I'll just have to dream about that for now.

That’s a pretty standard-looking product page.  This item comes in three different colors and you can select each of them to flip between the different versions.  The trike is also available via Amazon Prime (which means free 2-day shipping for me) and is in stock.  Nice! But maybe I’d like it in red.

The red version looks even cooler!

The red version is unfortunately not available from Amazon directly.  The price is still pretty good but an Amazon Merchant likely has completely different shipping options.  In this case, very different.

Buying Options for Schwinn Trike in Red

It’s $15.99 shipping for the default option Amazon presented, and the two other options listed are pretty radically different.  Even people with pretty good mental math skills would have trouble doing that math to determine if $87.53 + $15.99 shipping is a better choice than $102.95 with free shipping (it’s not).  That’s assuming you would know at a single glance that $93.85 + $21.00 shipping is worse than the other two options, but even that still takes a moment of thought.  Also, all three of these options are priced significantly higher than the blue version of the trike sold directly by Amazon and you have no idea how long it might take you to receive the product from any of these third-party merchants.  When purchasing an item online, any bit of friction can turn you off and there is enough complexity to this buying process that it would confuse most potential buyers.  If you click on the little “10 new” link to show you all of the buying options, things can get even more confusing.

A few of the buying options on Amazon.com for a Schwinn Tricycle

Those are all ways to buy the tricycle  brand-new.  That last one is the cheapest option yet, but $55.00 shipping? Are Santa’s elves delivering it directly to my door personally??
Another item I searched for recently on Amazon.com provides an even crazier example.  I needed to buy a replacement battery for a Hexbug Nano and the battery is listed as an “LR44”.  I think to myself, “No problem!  Amazon will have it!  They have everything!”, and I am not incorrect.


Wow, so many options! A 50-pack for 5 bucks??


That is only the first 9 results of 293 that come up when you search for “LR44 battery” in the electronics section on Amazon.com (click the image to get a larger version that’s actually readable).  There’s a huge range in pricing with a 3-pack for $4.24 and a 50-pack for $5.47 (with other seller options as low as $0.89 for 50).  The 50-pack even has free shipping via Amazon Prime (Amazon handles the fulfillment for this merchant) and has 4-star rating.



That sounds pretty good!  How could I go wrong with that?  Clicking through to the reviews…


Hmm.  Well, 26 out of the 50 batteries worked normally.  That’s still a pretty good deal, but there’s more.



Even better!  50 exploding batteries for only 5 bucks!


I’m still a big fan of Amazon and I order an embarrassing amount of stuff from them, but I think these examples clearly show they need to do a better job of exercising quality control over their third-party merchant system.  Problems like this really hurt the customer experience.

About the author

Dallas Kashuba