The listing on Amazon described it as a “4 in 1 Baby car seat and Stroller” and featured images of a popular brand called Doona, including a photo of the US President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, with hers. Listed for $299, this copycat was $200 cheaper than a real Doona. It was also potentially dangerous for children.
The car seat broke into pieces in a 30 mph crash test commissioned by CNN, failing to meet the basic standards set by US regulators. Video of the test shows the toddler dummy twisting as the car seat fractures and slides forward, with plastic pieces that have broken off it flying through the air. In an identical crash test scenario, an authentic Doona met federal requirements, with the car seat remaining in one piece and in place around the dummy.
Dr. Alisa Baer, a pediatrician and nationally certified child passenger safety instructor, reviewed the test results and said in a real crash such a car seat failure could put a child in “grave danger,” and lead to injuries to a child’s chest, neck or head, including a traumatic brain injury.
CNN bought the copycat Doona and had it crash-tested at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute as part of a months-long investigation into the sale of counterfeit and patent-infringing children’s products on Amazon. Seven different business owners told CNN their products were being actively targeted by counterfeiters using Amazon’s marketplace for third-party vendors. The businesses said Amazon put the onus on them to report suspicious listings and that this often amounted to a game of “whack-a-mole,” in which new listings appeared almost as soon as flagged ones were taken down.
Under current US case law, Amazon is not liable when third-party products sold on its site directly infringe on intellectual property or have safety defects. The liability lies with the third-party seller. This is fundamentally different from how the law treats brick-and-mortar retailers like Target or Walmart or even your corner grocery. If you find a product at a physical store that infringes on your trademark, or you buy something defective there, you can sue the store even though they didn’t make the product.
Counterfeits are a problem for many ecommerce platforms, not just Amazon, but Amazon is the world’s largest ecommerce platform and its dominance is growing. According to an estimate from data firm eMarketer, Amazon controls 37.7% of US ecommerce sales and that share is expected to grow. Many of the brands that spoke to CNN told us they can’t afford not to sell their products on Amazon. As an Amazon spokesperson said to CNN in a statement, “our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products.”
Amiad Raviv, the commercial manager of Doona, said the company has found more than 40 Amazon listings this year that contained fake versions of its products or versions that infringed on its intellectual property. Doona flags the listings they are concerned about to Amazon, which then removes them. According to Raviv and the other business owners CNN spoke with, this piecemeal process means listings are often online for several days, leading to a significant window when consumers can buy the potentially dangerous product.
The imitation Doonas are sold through Amazon’s website or app, but not by Amazon directly. According to Amazon’s 2018 annual report, 58% of Amazon’s sales came from its millions of third-party sellers, many of whom ship directly to consumers. Many legitimate brands, including Doona, sell products through authorized third parties. However, items purchased this way may never be checked by Amazon employees or pass through an Amazon warehouse.
“A lot of people on the Amazon platform think that because it’s on Amazon, it is a genuine product. And that’s actually really not the case,” said Raviv.
The product CNN bought was listed by a seller called Strolex and shipped from China. All US car seats are required to be certified according to NHTSA standards, but this seat did not have any US certification labels. On the Amazon listing, it claimed to have European certification, but when it arrived it was missing a required European certification label and the European registration number in the instruction manual was a copy of Doona’s.
Baer examined the car seat before the crash test and pointed out several things she saw as red flags. The word “always” was misspelled “aiways” on the anti-rebound bar, the seat featured European warning labels instead of American ones and a safety label was sewn through the webbing of the child harness straps, which she believes could potentially weaken them.
The Strolex listing disappeared from Amazon shortly after CNN ordered the seat, but the seller Strolex remained on the site though with no active listings. When reached by phone in China, a representative of Strolex said in English “my products are safe,” but refused to give his name or answer any other questions.
The results of the crash test were sent by CNN to Amazon for review. A week later, Amazon sent an email to customers who bought the product, warning them of a safety issue and saying it “may not be a genuine product.” The email urged customers to stop using the product immediately and offered a full refund.
Amazon told CNN safety was a top priority, but also that sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s “high bar” for the quality of products. “We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations and have developed industry-leading tools to prevent unsafe or non-compliant products from being listed in our stores,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Alex R. Hernandez Jr. represents clients injured due to dangerous products, call today.