One of the largest businesses in the world, Amazon, makes up 77% of all supplement sales online. This percent is larger than the five biggest vitamin sellers combined. However, since many are controlled by third-parties, online supplement legitimacy has grown controversial.
The history of the mismarketed supplement on Amazon is long-lived. Hundreds of articles began emerging about fake products as early as 2013. In June 2020, NPR discovered over 100 dietary supplements illegally marketed as antiviral medications.
Mismarketed supplements come in a variety of forms, including those that:
- Wrongfully record doses of active ingredients.
- Include unlisted ingredients or ingredients by the wrong name.
- Lack of at least one major active ingredient.
The most commonly mislabeled supplements on Amazon range from bodybuilding supplements and CBD products to herbal and dietary vitamins. The goal of supplements is usually to augment or increase heath relative to personal goals, but poorly manufactured supplements often produce adverse, even dangerous effects.
Nearly 5,500 health incidents were reported to the US Poison Control Center over the past year. Vitamins have been known to negatively affect vital organs such as the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. Worse, overdoses and other forms of supplement poisoning have increased by 35% in less than 25 years. The issues associated with vitamin and supplement use are only increasing, and the industry is not slowing down.
The supplement and vitamin market is one of the most thriving industries worldwide. It is projected that the global market for dietary supplements will surpass $27 billion dollars by 2027. It is safe to assume that the market for supplements — whether they are high quality or not — will only continue to grow over time.
From a business point of view, controlling the 58% of third party vitamin sellers on Amazon’s platform is tricky. Many dishonest businesses are familiar with loopholes in the legal and digital business systems, leading to exploits that include:
- Reselling supplements that were not approved through quality control.
- Falsely claiming to be located inside of the US to avoid consequences.
- Paid for reviews that claim a poor quality supplement is safe for human use.
Tricky business practices make it extraordinarily difficult to purchase safe supplement products through Amazon. This revelation pushed the company to take action, although not as quickly as most had hoped.
Amazon’s Project Zero launched in 2019 in order to combat false advertising and poor business practices listing supplements online. The program utilizes a program that crawls Amazon search listings to identify suspicious, fake, or dangerous products. Unfortunately, the program requires opting-in by small businesses, reducing reach and identification capabilities.
A year later in 2020, Amazon debuted a pilot program to vet new businesses on a live basis. It is hoped that the program will identify poor quality supplements before they hit the market, but the full extent of the program has not yet been tested.
Until better circumstances surround the Amazon supplement industry, it will be important to choose only verified, safe sellers. Look for supplements that follow USDA regulations, possess signs of high quality, and are free from red flags. Until then, this infographic may give further insights.