One of the issues that online retailers face -- particularly ones that allow third party sellers to promote products on their platform -- is that they may (unintentionally) sell products that are offensive or otherwise inappropriate.  

As The New York Times reported today, questions are being raised about why a number of online retailers are selling t-shirts and other products that seem to celebrate the attack on the Capitol earlier this month.  For example, on Amazon right now, you can buy a "Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran" t-shirt.  Facebook had pages for various sellers of shirts featuring the phrase, "MAGA Civil War -- January 6, 2021."  And other smaller sites are selling the shirt as well. 

We've blogged on this type of issue a number of times over the years -- such as when Redbubble sold Auschwitz-themed merchandise, Groupon sold boots in a variety of colors, including the color "[n-word] brown," and Reditt ran advertising for a dating site for white people. 

These kinds of incidents are an important reminder for online retailers to review their policies and procedures to ensure that they've got proper processes in place to prevent these issues from occurring and to allow them to promptly address them when they come up.  Some of the things to consider include: 

  • Do you have clear policies in place about prohibited content?
  • Do you have a process in place to update those policies as needed? 
  • Are you regularly training relevant personnel (e.g., sales, moderation) about how to comply with those policies? 
  • Do the terms or agreements applicable to third party sellers include those policies and provide strong remedies if the sellers violate those polices?
  • Do you have proper human and automated review processes in place to vet content before it appears on your site? 
  • Do you have an easy method for consumers to flag inappropriate content and do you have sufficient personnel to review the concerns and address them promptly?
  • When larger issues do come up, do you have procedures in place to quickly gather relevant stakeholders and react? 

Consumers hold online retailers to a very high standard -- and when retailers sell products that are inconsistent with their values, they are quick to call them out.  Ensuring you've got the right policies and procedures in place -- and that you're able to address problems quickly -- can go a long way toward building a strong relationship with consumers and avoiding being an (unwilling) participant in the promotion of racist, sexist, and other inappropriate products.