How can Amazon mislead in their listings legally?

As it’s grown larger and larger, Amazon’s listings have become less and less accurate. Product weights, quantities and price per unit are given the disclaimer that they may not match what you receive and shipping prices are sometimes blatantly lied about (FREE SHIPPING in a listing becomes ‘once you add more to your cart to make a $35 minimum order’ after you add the item to your cart). Taxes are now collected in many states, so Amazon’s beholden to some state laws. In a b&m store most states’ consumer law requires the store to honor signage and/or pay a penalty to the consumer on top of that when a pricing error is found after purchase. Amazon’s responses to errors in pricing and product details have been essentially ‘buyer beware and you can return it at a loss to you if you’re not satisfied’, including items listed and fulfilled by Amazon.
So is it legal for Amazon to have less culpability than b&m stores or have they simply never been forced into that same culpability by legal forces? Would the Amazon behemoth comply or would they move to a ‘safe haven’ instead?

In my experience, Amazon will eat the cost of a return if the item was substantially misidentified in the listing. In fact, they are far better about things like that than almost any other company I have interacted with.

The other things you mentioned just seem like petty nitpicking.

Yeah, Amazon has awesome customer service. I’d be surprised if they didn’t give you free return shipping if you told the the issue. And their “free super saving shipping”, once you read it one time, you know what that means.

But yeah, their listings can be inaccurate, especially listings put up by third party sellers, but a lot of theirs are miscategorized or have the wrong photo or something too. Part of the reason for that is that they have random people on Mechanical Turk do some of it.

I thought that was a myth made up by cranky customers trying to force hapless retail clerks into selling something at an erroneous price. But my retail experience is fairly out of date and was only limited to a few states—any particular cite?

I think there’s an asterisk (free shipping*), and it’s always been standard for Amazon and other online vendors to have a minimum purchase requirement for the free shipping. They don’t want someone to order ten separate $5 orders rather than one $50 order.

Amazon has never had totally free shipping with no strings. There’s always an asterisk/fine print.

Yeah it’s mostly a myth. In some places there are laws for specific circumstances, such as barcode scanners in supermarket. And many stores will honour a price when there’s been an error, or at least give a discount on the real price, even though they don’t necessarily have to. But generally speaking, no one is legally obliged to lose out when there’s been a genuine mistake.

I just went to Amazon (and signed out of my account, as I have Amazon Prime), and pulled up an item. The upper-right-hand corner of the screen shows the following text in a box, above the “Add to Cart” button:

My understanding as well. A price listed on an item in a store is invitation to treat. There’s no obligation to sell at that price.

Though as the wiki notes, a store that systematically and knowingly makes offers that they have no intention of filling might be liable for fraud.

First, the tax thing is not Amazon’s fault. They fought the state/fed governments hard, and lost in many of them. I am now taxed as of Jan 1 or 2.

Free shipping: the $35 (previously $25) Super Saver shipping has always seemed obvious to me, although I’m usually logged in with Prime now. But Amazon does have a new way to ding you on shipping: Add On Items, which ship free if you have $25 of non-Add On items to buy. It’s usually small things like groceries or household items (I think I first encountered it with a child safety cabinet lock (but it’s for a jerk cat)).

And if they collect taxes on behalf of a state, does it automatically follow that they have to adhere to other laws in that state??

Yeah, but they warn you under the item’s top description and in the “add to cart” box that $25 worth of qualifying items are required and give you a link in both sections to the details on that.

Re Add-on Items, I buy my ginger chews from Amazon and when the item changed to add-on, the price dropped considerably. I like the add-ons, and it’s very simple to set up an add-on wish list then buy the lot when the tab reaches $25.

Edited for spelling

When former Governor Jennifer Granholm was the state’s Attorney General she pursued consumer laws that held stores to the price on signage or labels when they were scanned; unlike many states Michigan required labels on many products until just last year. JC Penney was a particularly egregious offender and there were several years in a row where Granholm displayed a table full of merchandise purchased at Penneys that scanned at a higher price than marked. The law was put in place in the late 90’s, IIRC when the signs appeared at stores telling shoppers they had that right (I can picture Kmart and Meijer having those signs specifically). I used it once at Borders and once at Meijer; others can call it nit-picking, I call it keeping my money and punishing a store that tried to take more of it from me than I agreed to give them.
No, I don’t think that charging taxes in a state obliges them to automatically follow that state’s laws, I pointed out one way in which they follow state’s laws and suggesting they did so b/c they were legally forced to do so; I wondered if that was the only reason they’d follow any state’s laws.
I’m a savvy Amazon shopper so I know they charge for any shipping on an order under $35 now, some sellers do not (I got a Samsung phone case w/ free shipping in September, for example) and a non-savvy person might take an Amazon listing at face value. Thanks for the hint about Mechanical Turk, ** and of course there’s Subscribe and Save**; that explains some math I’ve run into on unit pricing on Amazon.
I make great use of Amazon’s services but I’m starting to see some growing pains as they get bigger and bigger.

ETA, I think the Add on items are only free shipping on a $35 order, no?

I believe they’re free shipping with $25+ if you have prime, or $35+ otherwise.

Now I’ll tell you my secret to get free shipping with less than the minimum. I wouldn’t dare do it often, but I’ve done it once or twice. You just include a video game or something else with a release date far in the future, and then they’ll ship your other stuff first, and after it’s shipped, you cancel the future release. It’s not even hurting them because they just end up shipping it with my monthly Subscribe & Save order.

I’d like to see a screenshot of what you see here.

When I visit Amazon, it says:

“FREE Shipping on orders over $35”

The “on orders over $35” text is slightly smaller, and in black text, but it’s on the same line immediately following the Free Shipping text. I don’t see how you could possibly misinterpret this or find it misleading. Are you seeing something else?

They neither should have fought nor is it any but the buyer’s “fault.” The loophole in out of state sales tax is long overdue for closure.

I fail to see how this is “dinging” you on shipping. Add-Ons are small, low-profit items that probably make no business sense to offer under Prime shipping by themselves; I don’t blame Amazon a bit for making them free-shipping only with a certain size of order. You can buy the same item for the same or sometimes even a slightly lower price if you want to pay the shipping.

Wanting to buy every $3 item at an Amazon price, without sales tax and shipped free, is just a tad unreasonable. IMVHO.

About that free-shipping minimum, here’s a neat little helper tool. You put in how much you need to spend in order to get free shipping and it returns items that match that amount.

Amazon Filler item Finder

Yes, in the most recent instance there was a new tool below the listing for a Toastmaster waffle maker that shows similar items and in the price info below there was a price of 21.99 and FREE SHIPPING. I put it in my cart and on reviewing the order saw the $35 minimum that was required for that free shipping. I paged back to the listing and it still said FREE SHIPPING. After I deleted the item from my cart Amazon asked me to share feedback on this new comparison tool and share I did.

Thank you for that tool, Rhythmdvl! Very handy and bookmarked now.

Link? Screenshot?