Every month, I have a 'what I need to re-stock on from Amazon' day. This month, it was time to replace my water filter, so off to Amazon I went. I searched for 'water filter', scanned through the first page of results (because who goes to the second page ... seriously) and found what appeared to be a winner.
Amazon Best Seller: Check
Amazon Prime: Check
Price Point: Surprisingly low (but how?)
Usually, the lower the price, the happier I am. However, ever since I wrote about price gauging and what seemed to be suspicious Amazon activity, I've been particularly interested in exploring anything that raised an eyebrow, even if the price was favorable to a consumer. So, I loaded up on the coffee and got to work.
It might sound like a conspiracy theory worthy of Chinatown, but don't break out your tinfoil hats just yet. Look at the Waterdrop water filter. It's a hot product from an Amazon Top 500 seller, a company called EcoLife Technologies LLC. But, it's totally going against Amazon's rules.
The Epic Policy Contradiction
Last year, Amazon added strict requirements for water filters sold on its platform. The e-tailer said it would suppress any item listings that didn't fulfill its standards. Any suppressed item Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) was liable to be destroyed or returned at the seller's expense.
Each product "must be certified to at least the NSF/ANSI-42 standard (including Material Safety, Structural Integrity, and System Performance)." The key point here is "System Performance."
Here's where things get interesting. If you look at the NSF's website, you'll find that EcoLife's products don't adhere to Amazon's System Performance standards. As quoted on the NSF's site:
"Conforms to the material and structural integrity requirements only."
Does this mean that Amazon is selling us water filters that are underperforming? Not necessarily, no, but I do know that Amazon apparently let this company slip through their filter (pun intended).
Oh, but the fun doesn't end there. I did a little more research and found some surprising facts. First. EcoLife Technologies LLC is registered in both California and Colorado (the official website says they are in California).
Okay, not a big deal -- but I also found out that EcoLife gets their water filters imported from China through a company called Qingdao Ecopure Filter Co., which produces EcoAqua filters. Further, there's a UK company called Waterdrop Filters whose website is registered to someone at VYAIR, another manufacturer which sells EcoAqua filters on Amazon.
What's going on here? Well, it's a possibility that EcoLife isn't from the US and is just using the system for their own gain. The NSF site shows that EcoLife has a Nevada area code, a Colorado address, but that the facility is in China. It's also likely that EcoLife is both the manufacturer and seller as there's not enough markup to indicate reselling.
Don't get me wrong. I love Amazon and all its great deals. But I think criticism should be given when it's due and such curious behavior shouldn't go unnoticed. It's not the first time, either. Last year, I chastised Amazon for blaming its algorithm when it allowed sellers to hike up water prices during Hurricane Irma.
Others have criticized the platform for wooing Chinese vendors which produced counterfeit goods. A t-shirt designer named Matthew Snow found that 15-20 sellers in Hong Kong and China were duplicating his products. To fight this, Snow was required to "test buy" all 1,500 counterfeited items and send them, along with his legitimate items, to Amazon for testing - something which would've cost him $40,000.
What I'm trying to say is this:
A company as big as Amazon needs to enforce their protocol better. They need to make sure all sellers are playing fair and adhering to the same standards. They can no longer turn a blind eye to such offenses. Both consumers and sellers should be aware of the policy and what is being done to actionably reinforce collective best & fair practice.
I've reached out for an official comment from Amazon and will keep this post updated with their response accordingly.