Selling on Amazon can be an incredible business opportunity but, as with any undertaking, it still comes with risks.
One of the big risks with Amazon is that they have the final say in whether or not you actually get to sell your products on their platform.
Many Amazon sellers live in fear of having their account suspended, flagged or being completely banned from selling on the Amazon marketplaces ( check out the three common sellers' mistakes that lead to the Amazon account suspension)
A growing fear of recent years is not that Amazon will close your account entirely but that they will flag individual products for HazMat review overnight, putting all sales on hold until Amazon is convinced your product is not a dangerous good.
For many sellers who have gone through the ordeal of a HazMat Review, the inspection was not only a complete surprise but they also found the process confusing, a bit unpredictable, and a huge blow to their sales.
One of the most surprising facts about the more recent HazMat Reviews is that they have affected sellers who have been selling on Amazon for years without a problem.
This is, undoubtedly, an extremely frustrating situation that leaves many sellers wondering what is to be done.
While it remains a largely unpredictable process in many regards, there is quite a bit of light that we can shed on HazMat Reviews to help make a difficult situation a bit more manageable.
By understanding and following the information we share here, you can increase your chances of avoiding a HazMat Review in the first place and ensure that you can get back to business as usual as soon as possible if Amazon ever decides to flag your products for review.
What is HazMat?
The first mystery to tackle is what HazMat actually stands for.
Thankfully, this is a simple mystery to solve as HazMat is the term Amazon uses to identify dangerous products that may contain hazardous materials.
Amazon has a vested interest in finding and restricting products from their platform that could jeopardize the safety of their customers and employees alike.
According to Amazon, these dangerous goods are defined as “substances or materials that may pose a risk to health, safety, property, or the environment while storing, handling or transporting because they contain flammable, pressurized, corrosive, or otherwise harmful substances.”
These can be items that may be harmless when stored on shelves at home or in the store but that could become dangerous if exposed to the constant movement and changes in temperature and/or pressure common to the transportation, storage, handling, and even labeling of goods that occurs throughout the FBA process.
As Amazon points out, if a dangerous product were not identified and were allowed to pass through the FBA system, it would expose Amazon “employees, carriers, and customers to potential health and safety risks.”
When you ship products to Amazon’s warehouses, you are guaranteeing that all the products in your shipment comply with any legal requirements and that all the information you have provided for those products is complete, correct, and current – especially in regards to their safety.
If you provide incorrect information, your products could be blocked from sale or you could lose your Amazon selling privileges entirely.
This is not something that Amazon treats lightly. In fact, if your product is deemed as an unfulfillable dangerous good upon arrival at a fulfillment center, Amazon may throw out the product at your expense.
While much of Amazon’s HazMat policy sounds rather reasonable, the real concern most Amazon sellers have with HazMat Reviews are their increasing prevalence and their tendency to pop up in cases where there is little basis or concern that a product actually contains a hazardous material. So…
Why Are HazMat Reviews Becoming More Prevalent?
As powerful as Amazon may seem, they still have to answer to many different institutions.
They must keep their own policies up-to-date in accordance to the changing policies of numerous different insurance, carrier, health and safety policies involved in their operations.
For instance, they may need to meet one condition to comply with the insurance that covers their warehouses, another to ensure the safety of workers from the diverse carrier services they use to deliver products to customers, and yet another to abide by government regulations.
And then there are the civil fines that have been proposed against Amazon in the past for shipping hazardous products.
In 2016, the FAA hit Amazon with a $350,000 penalty for a shipping violation from a 2014 incident in which UPS workers burnt their hands on a leaking Amazon package of Amazing Liquid Fire.
Before that, Amazon had received penalties for improperly labeling and/or failing to file paperwork for a shipment of corrosive rust remover and a product used to clean air conditioners that contained a flammable gas.
In an attempt to correct such mishaps, Amazon has had to crack down on merchants.
Currently, any FBA product that may contain even the tiniest hint of a hazardous material must undergo review.
Amazon constantly updates their HazMat specifications to maintain compliance and continuously checks all sellers’ listings to ensure that they meet those specifications.
If anything is off, Amazon prefers to err on the side of caution.
These constant checks and dynamic policies explain why products that may have passed inspection in the past may now be flagged for review. They also explain the increasing number of HazMat reviews – more policies, more scrutiny, more reviews.
If you are notified that your product is “Under HazMat Review,” do not panic.
In general, this simply means that Amazon needs more product information from you to properly classify your product and ensure that it meets all safety specifications.
It may take some time to work out, but if you are prepared, it won’t take as long or cause as many problems than if you were blindsided by the issue.
Which Goods Are Susceptible to HazMat Review?
The short answer here? Anything.
Amazon even admits that their list of example products “does not contain every potential dangerous good in each category.” And the list they’ve created already contains a wide array of goods – many of which you would never imagine posing a threat to anyone.
From apparel to automotive to books and from beauty and personal care to baby products to office supplies, nothing is safe.
While it is a bit difficult to come up with a reason that an eBook would qualify for a HazMat Review, there are some categories and specific products that are more commonly targeted than others.
For example, the Health and Beauty sector is a popular category for sellers but it is also one that has experienced a strong crackdown from Amazon as the ingredients in each product are scrutinized to ensure compliance with the ever-changing HazMat requirements.
Health and Beauty products come with some extra shipping challenges as well, seeing as they are often liquids, gels or semi-solids whose composition could easily be affected by exposure to temperature and pressure changes.
Products can also spoil or be damaged, increasing complaints and returns from customers.
For these reasons, the Health and Beauty sector is Amazon’s top priority when it comes to reviewing products for HazMat compliance.
And then there are the items that Amazon specifically lists as dangerous goods.
Some of these items Amazon will only accept in limited quantities. They include:
- Flammable gases
- Non-flammable, non-toxic gases
- Flammable liquids
- Flammable solids
- Organic peroxides
- Toxic substances
- Corrosive substances
- Miscellaneous dangerous substances
At the same time, Amazon flat-out prohibits certain goods from FBA:
- Explosive substances
- Toxic gas
- Substances liable to spontaneous combustion
- Substances dangerous when wet
- Infectious substances
- Radioactive material
If you believe your product may contain even a trace of a hazardous material, contact your supplier and check whether or not your product is regulated by any of the regulations listed here.
The supplier must provide you with a safety data sheet (SDS) for all regulated products (except for cosmetics and batter products). You are required to provide this SDS to Amazon (see below).
In summary, Amazon will conduct a HazMat review for any FBA product that poses a potential risk at fulfillment centers or that may need extra attention during shipping because of the nature of the product and its ingredients.
What To Do If Your Product Is Under Review
With no product in the safe zone, it is wise to be prepared for what could happen if your product is flagged for a HazMat Review.
If Amazon has concerns about your product, they will contact you via your Seller Account, as well as through email.
They will explain which product is under review and give you a timeframe in which your review should be completed.
Expect to receive a message similar to this:
“Product Under Dangerous Goods (Hazmat) Review
This product is under dangerous goods (Hazmat) review, which can take up to four (4) business days. If the product is FBA-eligible, you will be able to create a listing at that time. You can also provide additional classification information.”
While Amazon usually promises that your review will be completed within 3-4 business days, there are numerous reports on seller forums of reviews taking anywhere from 30-60 days.
This is less common with new product listings, but seems to be a recurring theme among merchants whose products have been flagged after selling on Amazon for quite some time.
Either way, the best way forward is not to worry about Amazon’s timeframe but to focus on what you can control.
You will need to create a Plan of Action, an individual case for your product that allows you to reason with Amazon and persuade them that your product is safe for storage and transportation.
Part of this plan will likely included a completed SDS (Safety Data Sheet).
The SDS should provide overwhelming evidence from the manufacturer of the product’s composition, nature and history.
The SDS will also properly classify your dangerous goods, outline the correct handling and disposal measures for your good if it were to leak or spill, and confirm that your product is a non-regulated good.
Amazon safety data sheet should also be updated within the past five years and match your product listing. The supplier information must be included and all 16 standard sections must be completed.
If Amazon’s concern is with how your product will respond to the transportation environment, you can also provide evidence from transportation agencies and authorities that have previously dealt with the product.
You should also provide a complete list of all materials and ingredients used in your product. Amazon wants to know every possible risk.
You want to have an arsenal of evidence at your side to support your product.
There is a chance that you will not hear anything back from Amazon.
After the 3-4-day timeframe, try uploading your product to your shipment again.
If the product does not go through and the process is taking longer than expected, contact Seller Support for an update on the status of your case (and let them know that you have not received a response).
What To Do When Creating a New Listing
If you are creating a new FBA listing, your product will automatically pass through a procedure that checks your item for HazMat requirements.
In the listing creation process, Amazon will directly ask you: “Is this product considered a dangerous good or hazardous material regulated for transportation, storage, and/or waste?”
If your product is regulated as a dangerous good or hazardous material, respond “Yes” and provide the specifics on which regulation applies.
If your product is not regulated, respond “No” or “Not Applicable.”
Do not provide a false answer! Even if you answer no, Amazon reserves the right to flag your product down the road if it notices something is off.
If you answer yes, the screening process will begin. It is much better to go through the screening process before you’ve listed (and launched) your product than after.
Provide accurate information to ensure that your product is properly categorized and not blocked for sale.
Do not assume that just because you are offering a product that is already available on Amazon that your product will pass inspections. It all comes down to the ingredients and materials that go into your specific product.
However, as we mentioned earlier, the 3-4 day timeframe Amazon quotes for the HazMat Review is usually met in the case of new listings.
Be prepared to provide additional information for products that utilize batteries (whether they come included with the product or not), as well as any product that may be regulated as a dangerous good.
This resource from Amazon will guide you through how to answer the questions about batteries, including if your product uses batteries that are “sold separately.”
You will also be required to list more information if your product carries lithium batteries since they are considered a dangerous good. The lithium content should always be supplied by the manufacturer.
You may need to provide a safety data sheet (SDS) as explained above to show evidence of product information and documentation. Amazon may also request the Flash Point of a product, which determines a product’s flammability.
For products that are regulated as dangerous goods but exempt from SDS requirements under current legislation, you will need to provide an exemption sheet.
This applies to batteries and products that are delivered with batteries, finished cosmetic products regulated as dangerous goods, and products not regulated as dangerous goods when notified by Amazon to do so.
This step-by-step guide will explain how to fill out the exemption sheet.
How To Prepare For a Potential Review
When it comes to HazMat Reviews, the best plan is to follow the scout’s motto and “Be Prepared.” No matter what product you sell, there is always a chance that it could be flagged for review.
You have already begun the process of informing yourself by reading this article but you should also work to determine on your own if your product is at risk of being flagged for HazMat. Here are a few more resources to continue your research and preparation:
- Read Amazon’s Hazardous Materials Identification Guide that we have referred to numerous times throughout this article.
- Check for any FDA recalls, regulations or alerts before you order a product.
- Obtain a sample product to review ingredients and materials first-hand.
- Review the restricted items list provided by the USPS.
- Become familiar with the products on Amazon’s HazMat list.
- Get all the information and reports from your supplier to fill out the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). That way, if you are flagged, you’ll have all the information ready to send in.
As a serious Amazon seller, the best approach when it comes to HazMat Reviews is to prepare for the worst.
The more evidence and information you can provide to back up your product, the easier it will be to show Amazon that your product is safe for both storage and transportation and the sooner you’ll be back to business as usual.