Amazon may not be the first place you think of when it comes to shopping with small businesses, but that has changed in recent years.
The internet behemoth has made it easier for third-party sellers to join the platform, which you may appreciate, especially if you’re a Prime member.
But how do you know when you’re actually buying from a small business? How do you know if that business is located in the United States? And how can you make sure as much of your money as possible gets to the small business owner?
Here are a few things you should look for when it comes to shopping small through the internet’s largest retailer.
How to Ensure You’re Buying From Small Businesses on Amazon
You have a few different ways to determine which company you’re actually buying from and whether your money is being used to support a small business.
Identify the Seller and Where They’re Located
The first thing you’ll want to check is the seller. You’ll want to make sure the seller is located in the United States, which means they’ll be subject to domestic safety standards.
To find this information, start by clicking on the product page. Links to the seller’s page can either be found beneath the product description or beneath the “Add to Cart” and “Buy Now” buttons on the right sidebar. You’re looking for a link that reads “Sold by _____” and includes the seller’s name.
Once you’re on the seller’s page, you’ll be able to find the business’s name and address, including where the business is located. If the business is listed in the U.S., you’re ready for the next steps in the vetting process.
You’ll often see that the seller’s name is not the same as the brand’s name. That’s because a lot of third-party vendors will sell a small business’s product on Amazon, often at a markup.
Check for a Website or Social Media Presence
Not all small business owners are digitally savvy. That said, if they’re selling online, they’ll likely have a website, online reviews or some type of social media presence.
One of the first things you might find in your online search is the company’s address and phone number, along with the website. You may also find the business address and phone number listed in the footer of the website, or under the company’s ‘Contact Us’ information.
If the website has a store locator tool, you can also use that to help you verify the company’s legitimacy.
If the business doesn’t have a website, look for them on Facebook. You’ll likely find contact information like the business’s address and phone number there. (Few businesses have this kind of presence on other social media platforms.)
Check Business Reviews Outside Amazon
Amazon reviews are not supposed to be fake; Amazon threatens legal action against those who attempt to rig the system. In reality, though, fake review schemes remain an ongoing problem for Amazon.
That means it’s possible you could buy a five-star product that hasn’t been tested for safety or a product from a foreign company posing as a U.S.-based small business. Or you could just end up buying from a legitimate small business with horrendous customer service.
To avoid this, look up the small business on review sites such as Yelp or the Better Business Bureau. By checking multiple review sites, you’re more likely to find any patterns that raise red flags. If the company has a ‘D’ rating with the BBB or persistent complaints about defective products on Yelp, you may want to rethink your purchase.
Check Business Registration
Businesses have to be registered with the state, though the specifics of registration requirements vary. If you can find the business registration, you’ve gathered one more piece of evidence about the business’s legitimacy.
Next, find your state’s searchable business registrations. These records are provided by the office of each state’s Secretary of State (SoS). It should be as easy as doing an online search for “[your state] SoS business registration search.”
Search the state registrations for the small business in question. If you get a return, click on it to expand the information, and see if the listed business address matches the address provided by Amazon. If it does, you’ll know the state has checked out the business’s paperwork.
Check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission
One advantage of shopping with a small business registered in the U.S. is that you can track any business violations they may have incurred domestically. A simple way to ensure the small business’s products haven’t been subject to safety recalls, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)’s database.
Alternatives to Shopping on Amazon
If you want to support small businesses but don’t want to sleuth around the internet to confirm that the business you’re thinking about buying from is legit, you have a couple of other options.
Buy Directly from the Small Business
Amazon charges fees to list and sell items, cutting into small business’ profit margins. If you’ve done all the research to vet a company, you might as well buy directly from them.
Often, items are cheaper when you order directly from the small business, sometimes even when you account for shipping costs.
Buy from a Big-Box Store
Amazon isn’t a big-box store, even though many of us think of it that way. If you can’t purchase the product directly from the small business, it may be carried by Amazon’s in-real-life competitors. Think Target, Walmart, etc.
We’ve found these stores to have higher standards for the third-party vendors listed on their website. This allows you to support the same small business without quite as many safety concerns.
Brynne Conroy is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.