An investigative report indicates hundreds of consumers have experienced problems with AmazonBasics, complaining the private label electronics sold by the online retailer Amazon overheated, caught fire, exploded or caused property damage, raising questions about whether adequate steps are being taken to address risks or respond to issues.
According to a CNN investigation published on September 10, at least 1,500 reviews associated 70 products sold under the AmazonBasics label warned of potential safety issues since 2016. In almost 200 cases, the devices reportedly caused property damage, such as burned walls and damaging cellphones.
Affected products included surge protectors, charging ports, microwaves, USB cords and other electronics items. At least 30 items with three or more reviews where consumers complained of fire hazards were still for sale at the time the report was published, despite Amazon being made aware of the situation, according to the investigative report.
CNN noted that at least 11 other AmazonBasics products were no longer for sale, and some appear to have been removed after the network began reporting on the issue. In at least four cases, the product pages were deleted from the site entirely. However, there have only ever been two AmazonBasics recalls announced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), leaving many potentially dangerous products in homes nationwide.
While Amazon indicates it investigated at least eight products highlighted by CNN investigators, the company determined all of them met adequate safety standards.
Two of the products that caught fire included a microwave that burst into flames after a child tried to heat up a macaroni and cheese cup, which they had done numerous times before, and a USB cord. CNN sent both to be investigated by University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE).
While the USB cord was too damaged to analyze, when investigators plugged in the microwave, it immediately began sparking as though something metal were inside. Investigators determined that grease could become trapped behind a panel covering the heating device inside the microwave, and that the panel’s design was a potential fire risk.
In some cases, AmazonBasics products had more than one percent of reviews including fire or safety warnings from consumers, which is extremely high for electronics products. Comparable products tended to have rates closer to 0.07%, according to the investigation.
In response to the story, Amazon published a blog post on September 10, attempting to reassure customers about the safety of AmazonBasics products, and even touts the fact that it has only recalled two products as a feature, even though that may signal inadequate monitoring and response to known issues.
“Once products are manufactured, we work with suppliers and third-party labs to verify that each product meets both mandatory standards set by regulators and voluntary requirements set by voluntary standard organizations, as well as our quality bar, before making them available to customers,” the blog post states. “This testing includes as many as 180 different safety, regulatory compliance, and quality tests. We also verify up to 250 different requirements, including chemical analysis, physical and mechanical use, flammability, and general labeling, depending on the intended region of distribution.”
In January 2019, Austin Parra filed a lawsuit against Amazon over damages caused by an AmazonBasics Apple Certified Lightning to USB Cable.
“On or about January 12, 2017, the plaintiff was using the aforementioned charger cable when …some type of electrical short/arc occurred, causing the charger cord to heat up and ignite a piece of upholstery causing the plaintiff serious personal injuries and losses,” the complaint (PDF) notes.
Parra told CNN the cable caught fire on his chair while he was sleeping, and he suffered burns as he carried the chair out of the house to prevent the entire house from burning down.
Amazon settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.