When shopping at Amazon, you may have seen the words "Fulfilled by Amazon" next to some of the things you buy. You will hopefully not notice anything different about the shopping experience, but you can come up with problems.
Amazon is not just an online store ̵
Over 80% of the products sold through Amazon are not purchased from Amazon but from an Amazon Marketplace seller who pays Amazon to list their product. The numbers are even more crazy when you look at the products listed on Amazon, not just sold. Of the 350 million plus products, Amazon only sells 12 million of them directly, not books, media and wine, the rest being sold by marketers.
Even if you have never noticed that you bought from a marketer before you bought, the odds are yours.
Fulfilled by Amazon
The reason why most people do not realize that Amazon is a marketplace like eBay generally releases it all the pits and bumps. Sellers have two options:
- They can list their products on Amazon and, when an order comes through, pack and send it themselves.
- They can list their products on Amazon and bulk send a number of items to an Amazon store. When an order comes through, the Amazon packs workers and sends it as an Amazon product. This is fulfilled by Amazon.
For sellers, Amazon is the big advantage that Amazon meets everything. They do not have to run their own store, handle payment processing, shop with a carrier, unpack things or customer care. For a small fee, Amazon does it. Sellers sometimes refer to Amazon Fulfillment as "FBA".
For customers, the advantage is that they get the same, regular Amazon experience, including things like Prime, free shipping and the like for another 338 million products that Amazon does not sell directly. Most people, including me, do not even notice when they do not buy directly from Amazon. The package arrives at your door just the same.
How to Spot an Amazon Marketplace Seller
While Amazon does not trump it from the rooftops when you buy from a Marketplace seller, they also do not hide the information. Here is an official Amazon list.
And here is one for a marketer who uses Fulfilled by Amazon.
Over on the right side, under "In stock", Amazon lists the seller and the sender.
Marketers who do not use Fulfilled by Amazon are even easier to discover. The buying process is different.
The problem with fulfilled by Amazon and Amazon Marketplace
Fulfilled by Amazon and Amazon Marketplace is not without problems. With tens of thousands of vendors already on the platform and a system designed to make it easy for new to join, Amazon cannot and does not carefully review and police any seller or item. This has led to a large number of scammers and bad actors.
Our own editor-in-chief Chris Hoffman bought a mini-computer to be able to use as a media center for his TV. While the hardware was solid, it was shipped with a pirated version of Windows. When he wrote a review calling out the seller, they reported their comments and Amazon removed them and prevented him from sending more reviews. This is not the behavior of a seller who is on the level.
SanDisk makes some of the best SD cards and other storage devices. We are huge fans of their stuff here at How-To Geek. Unfortunately, they estimate that up to a third of the SanDisk memory cards ever sold are fake. And of course some people buy these fake cards from Amazon.
There are dozens of additional strategies that poorer sellers use, from hijacking legitimate knockoff product lists to selling things they don't even have and just ending with money. Amazon does nothing when people start complaining and then it is often too late. While Amazon will always repay people with its A-to-Z warranty, you still have to deal with the trouble of being bluffed.
How to avoid bluffing on Amazon
Since Amazon has heard more of the online market, it is becoming an even better target for scammers. Amazon is trying to solve the problem, but it's still a big issue. There is always a risk that you will be deceived when you buy from an Amazon Marketplace seller.
With that said, I do not recommend running and canceling your Prime membership. Most of the time you will be fine, especially if you exercise some care. If what you buy is fulfilled by Amazon or else from a third party seller, check out the list and reviews. If everything looks good, go straight away, but if you see some red flags, you might be able to buy from somewhere else.
For more on discovering scammy sellers in the wild, check out our full guide.
How to avoid fake and scammy Amazon Sellers