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If you regularly buy online from Amazon, you’ve surely come across the brand AmazonBasics hawking all sorts of products across a wide array of categories. There are AmazonBasics charging cables, dumbbells, grills, and curtain rails. It’s a lot to take in. What makes it even more confusing though, is that despite carrying the name, they’re not exactly official Amazon products like the Kindle or Echo. And they’re not all up to the same standards.
What is AmazonBasics?
AmazonBasics is one of the company’s private-label brands. Think of it as the online retailers answer to Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand or Walgreens’ own-branded drugs. This means Amazon doesn’t actually make the products, but purchases them from large manufacturers and has its own label and packaging put on them.
By buying in huge quantities and keeping costs low, the company can charge a large markup and make more profit than they would by selling the same products by third-party brands. For example, even if AmazonBasic’s USB-C-to-Lightning cable is a little cheaper than Anker’s equivalent, Amazon will make a bigger profit when you buy theirs because they sell it directly.
And AmazonBasics is not the only one: Amazon has a few hundred different private brands, with more than 20,000 different products. But it’s hard to pinpoint a number. Unlike offline retailers, Amazon has unlimited shelf space, which means they can sell as many different private-label products as they want to compete directly with small, independent sellers. (If you also care about the ethics behind the company you’re buying from, it’s worth noting that Amazon has long claimed that they don’t use internal sales data to compete with third-party sellers, which appears not to be true.)
Having such a wide range of products in different categories makes AmazonBasics’ supply chain incredibly varied. The list of suppliers is 51 pages long and spans the globe, which means that quality standards may be inconsistent—pick any two AmazonBasics products at random, and your experience may differ greatly between them.
Proof of this is the report of AmazonBasics electronics catching fire. While this is always a risk with this type of product (both Apple and Samsung have had to issue product recalls in the last few years), a recent CNN investigation found that AmazonBasics gear seems to do it at an alarming rate, and some of them remain available for sale.
With so many different products sold under the same label and manufactured in so many places with what are possibly widely varying parameters, it’s hard to know what you’re really buying—and if it’ll be any good. Fortunately, there are some tips you can follow to save you some headaches.
Keep it simple
The best AmazonBasics product I’ve ever bought—and will continue to buy—are dog poop bags. The thick black polyethylene is great at keeping my hand and my pup’s smelly gifts fully separated, and the accompanying dispenser is the only one I’ve ever used that hasn’t got shaken loose or broken. I also really like these resistance bands, and have them lying all around my home.
But poop bags and resistance bands are really simple products and not a lot can go wrong with them. If there’s a manufacturing defect, my hand might get dirty or a band could wear down faster than I’d like. In the worst-case scenario, nothing will explode and nobody will get hurt.
It’s the simple products like these that AmazonBasics really delivers on. With so few (or no) moving parts, you can be assured they will be up to the job for a lower price than the alternatives. If you’re looking for something more, you might need to look elsewhere and consider other products.
Avoid electronics (for now)
Batteries, cables, chargers, and other electric gear are some of AmazonBasics’ biggest sellers. But for the time being, and until it’s clear what measures the company will take to solve the situation with the exploding appliances, it might be best to avoid them—especially anything you plug in.
On top of the potential fire hazards, Amazon has not been doing a great job at responding to these issues. Despite dozens of reports, some products that have been deemed dangerous are still for sale, and according to CNN, they’ve only ever recalled two products.
Budget constraints can make electronics from AmazonBasics irresistible, though, so If you’re still considering buying one, we suggest you look through the reviews. Stay alert for any mention of fire, sparks, flames, and destruction, and if you find anything of the sort, paying a little more for a safer product will always be a good idea.
Look at the alternatives
AmazonBasics products are heavily promoted on Amazon and frequently appear at the top of search listings. But they’re rarely the only products available.
Before smashing that “Buy Now” button, it’s worth quickly comparing the AmazonBasics version with the top competing products. It will regularly be the best option price-wise, but not always. Scan the features, look through the reviews, and consider the price difference in the long term.
Set your expectations appropriately
Take this $60 AmazonBasics espresso machine. According to coffee expert James Hoffmann, it’s just not capable of making a passable cup of coffee: “It is a waste of time, a waste of money.”
It’s bad, but most importantly, it’s equally as bad as other cheap espresso machines. Doing a minimum amount of research, users will realize Amazon hasn’t developed something great and decided to sell it at a tenth the price of a great espresso machine—they’re just selling something low quality to siphon sales away from other bad espresso machines.
Developing their own products allows Amazon to make more money by cutting out the middlemen. They might pass a small amount of the savings on to the customer so they can undercut their competitors, but rest assured, there’s no altruism to it. Because of their price and the stellar placement of these products in the platform, AmazonBasics products are not designed to give customers incredible value at low prices, but to make these items work with the algorithm and sell as much as possible.