It may be known as the “everything store,” but there are some things, in fact, that Amazon does not sell. The ecommerce giant maintains a list of restricted product categories that ranges from weapons such as firearms, to booze and tobacco products, to pets, to kite strings for the niche sport of kite fighting. And as you get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, you should also know that list includes fireworks.
It’s true that laws restricting fireworks sales have eased in recent years, and you can even buy them online from certain websites. But the US Postal Service and carriers like UPS won't ship most fireworks. And while Amazon is building out its own delivery network, the company officially “prohibits the listing or sale of explosive devices and products that contain explosive materials,” including fireworks and sparklers. (Although you can buy A Serious Guide to Selling Fireworks, if you so wish.)
That doesn’t mean fireworks have never made it onto the ecommerce site before. Last spring, a user on Amazon’s forum for third-party sellers posted several links to fireworks and sparkler listings, all of which have since been deleted. The company encourages users who see prohibited listings to report them. Amazon declined to comment about its fireworks policy to WIRED.
The list of items Amazon prohibits is diverse and eclectic. A lot of the products singled out for restriction pose inherent safety risks to consumers. For example, Amazon also bans the sale of “water walking balls,” those inflatable, human-sized hamster toys that people use to walk across lakes or pools, which the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned can lead to suffocation or drowning. The risks of fireworks are particularly well documented. The CPSC estimates that emergency rooms treated 9,100 fireworks-related injuries in 2018 alone, with more than half of those occurring during a one-month period around the Fourth of July. (CSPC offers tips for using fireworks safely on its website.)
Items far less dangerous than fireworks—such as bear spray—have caused multiple accidents inside Amazon warehouses, where workers are sometimes required to move and pack hundreds of items an hour. Last year, the ecommerce giant received dozens of reports from the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety alleging its packages violated regulations required by the US Department of Transportation, according to CNBC. The company recently began building specialized warehouses exclusively designed to house hazardous goods.
Accidents can be also caused by the way manufacturers choose to package their goods before they arrive at Amazon. The company began fining third-party sellers who fail to adhere to its packaging safety requirements, and it works with other sellers to optimize how their goods are made in the first place.
Could Amazon ever change its fireworks policy? Sure, theoretically there’s always a chance, but in reality it would be tricky. On top of the risks and regulations mentioned above, another challenge would be ensuring that every Roman candle and Catherine wheel was manufactured safely. Amazon is an open platform, and the company doesn’t independently verify the legitimacy of everything on its site. Amazon has repeatedly been criticized for selling counterfeits and other unsafe items. While Amazon has successfully argued the platform is not liable in other consumer safety incidents (remember hoverboards?), the company would presumably want to avoid being tied to any accidents from faulty or counterfeit fireworks. When CPSC looked at imported fireworks with US Customs and Border Protection last year, they found that 67 percent of the tested shipments contained items that violated federal regulations.
For now, if you’re looking for some goodies to celebrate the Fourth of July, you’ll need to purchase them from another retailer in a state or city where they’re legal. And if you do get ahold of some, use them safely.
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