17 Best Bong Bags – No matter what your budget!
So you’ve finally invested in a beautiful new bong and now you need a way to safely transport it to your favorite toking spots. Luckily for you there’s a whole slew of bong bags that were created to help you do just that! There are so many bong bags on the market with varying styles and levels of protection. How do you possibly go about choosing one? In this article, we’ll help you research and find the perfect bong bag for you to protect that favorite piece.
Cali Crusher – 12 in Smell-Proof Duffle Bag with Locking Zipper – $54.99
The Cali Duffle Bag allows you to travel in style while protecting your bong in a discreet, smell-proof case. These padded duffel bags are safe and scent-lock bong bags so you can discreetly tuck away your bong. This smell-proof pipe case comes in black and resembles a camera bag. It comes with a combination lock and contains three padded compartments.
Why these Bong Bags are our staff pick!
- Weather-resistant material
- Hand and adjustable straps that lock into place
- Combination lock
- Three storage compartments to accommodate your whole stash
- Totally 100% smell proofing
- Large enough to carry a decent-sized bong
Dime Bags – Duffle Tube 17in – $49.99
Dime Bags’ Duffel Tube brings discreet to a whole new level; it looks just like a gym bag. This padded dime bag duffel offers incredible protection at an affordable price – just $49.99 . These protective bong bags can serve as a glass pipe case, a dab rig case, or a waterpipe case, and they even have extra pockets for maximum storage. These bong bags tick all the boxes: durable, convenient, and discreet.
What we love about these dime bags!
- It comes with five cushioned interior pockets and two exterior pockets
- It’s discreet
- It can fit almost any type of portable water pipe comfortably
- Affordable without sacrificing quality or protection
Dime Bags – Pouch 7in – $13.99
The 7” Pouch by Dime Bag is your perfect daily stash holder. These bong bags are conveniently sized so that it fits nicely in your purse, backpack, laptop case, or even the pocket of your cargo shorts. While its size is convenient, its minuteness makes it better suited as a spoon pipe or smaller waterpipe case. Depending on the size of your rig, this could also serve as a useful dab rig case. It comes with one interior zipper pocket and an exterior, flap-covered pocket, perfect for a lighter or tools. It can hold and protect a 5” pipe or smaller. While it isn’t a smell-proof pipe case, it does come with a smell-proof pouch in which you can put anything, preventing others from being tipped off to what you’re toting.
What we love!
- It’s made from an environmentally-friendly blend of hemp and recycled polyester
- It makes an excellent hippie purse as you can use it to store your stash and even your essentials like money and ID
- The small size means it fits just about anywhere you’d need it to
- It could make a good wallet too if you don’t need it for your stash
- The price! This cushioned bag is by far the cheapest option without having to sacrifice quality
Smokesafe – Travel Hard Case – $44.99
The Smokesafe Travel Hard Case is the perfect protective vape carrying case that offers excellent protection for your glass bong, dab rigs, water pipes, steamrollers, mouthpieces, stems, grinders, and all your tools so long as they don’t exceed 12” x 4.5”. The hard outer shell of this case makes it the perfect glass pipe case, adding a firm shield of protection. It comes with a customizable foam interior, allowing you to make compartments to securely nestle each item in your stash safely. However, if you’re looking to hide your stash case in another bag, this isn’t the bag for you.
What we love:
- Durable and highly protective hard outer case – a step up from bong bags on the safety level
- Customizable foam interior so you can make your own perfect case
- Super protective foam nestles your glass bong and other pieces safely
- Reasonable price
- Resembles a hard briefcase or instrument case for discreet carrying
Smokesafe – 5” Mini Smell-Proof Hard Case – $18.99
Your gear isn’t going anywhere in this bad boy! Photo: @Amazon
This hard, smell-proof case works perfectly as a protective glass pipe case, dab rig case, vape travel case, or the perfect stash kit, containing everything you need to have a smoke session on the go. This case is air-tight, water-proof, and smell-proof – the holy trinity! The exterior is made of tough composite plastic to protect your pieces against drops and blunt force trauma. The air-tight sealing gasket locks water from entering and damaging your stash and keeps smells from escaping, protecting you from detection. The rubber seal also helps to keep those odors in the case.
What we love:
- Pocket-sized case is convenient for travel
- Hard outer shell provides extra protection, think of it like dime bags with a shell
- Easy storage for a ready-to-go smoke kit
- Extremely affordable
- Smell-proofing keeps you safe from detection
Vatra – Grenade 6 – $17.95
Stylish and protective, this case is, if you ask us, a no brainer. Photo: @vatra_
This style of the Vatra case makes it a beast in a herd of bong bags. The hard-shelled, textured outer layer provides excellent shock absorbancy and is easier to grip. The interior is lined with egg crate foam to hug your piece tightly and protect it from any damage. This is a smaller case, so it’s more ideal as a vape case, bubbler case, or small dab rig case.
What we love:
- Tightly hugs your piece in egg crate foam for added protection
- Textured outside adds extra protection as well as a stylish appearance
- Small size makes it easy to fit in any bag or pocket
- Comes with a keychain ring for convenience
NeverXhale Smokepack Travel Laptop Backback – $35.99
This backpack can fit all your goods in it! Photo: @Amazon
This protective backpack is one of the best smoke kits available. You can not only store all of the components of your stash in these bong bags, but also your laptop, notebooks, sunglasses, pens, and whatever else you need. It comes fully equipped with a laptop sleeve section, a front section with multiple storage compartments, and three removable and interchangeable padded storage compartments for your pipes.
What we love:
- Stylish and discreet backpack design; no one will ever know a glass bong might be inside
- Many storage compartments for added protection and organization
- Interchangeable and removable pipe cases
- Perfect for school, travel, or hiking/camping
Skunk – Smell-Proof Combo Lock Sidekick – $44.99
This Skunk case won’t let any smells leak out. Photo: @goodvibesoldsmar
The Skunk Smell-Proof Combo Lock Sidekick by Vatra Cases is a high-end, smell-proof protective bong bag – they’re dime bags taken up a notch. This Skunk bag resembles a lunchbox and comes with patented smell-proofing and high-quality cushioned protection. It comes with a combination lock to keep your stash safe and odor filters to keep you from detection. The interior of the odorless bag comes with velcro dividers that make it easy for you to customize your storage space. The bag’s smell-proofing even comes with a money-back guarantee.
What we love:
- This scent lock bag is entirely smell-proof
- Discreet and stylish look
- Thermal lining, rubber backed nylon, and anti-tear protective netting keeps your possessions safer longer
- Exterior pocket for additional storage
- Waterproof zipper
Skunk – Smell-Proof Combo Lock Sling Bag – $59.99
The stylish, discreet way to travel with your stash. Photo: @vatra_
This bong bag is perfect for on-the-go stash storage. It conveniently slings over your shoulder, making it the perfect bag for an afternoon hike or day by the lake. It comes with Vatra Cases and Skunk’s patented smell-proofing to keep your bag a neutral smell zone that comes with a money-back guarantee. The Sling also comes with a ton of storage options inside and outside the bag. The bag also comes with adjustable shoulder straps and a combination lock.
What we love:
- 100% smell-proof safe
- Combination lock
- Easy to carry with tons of storage – great for hikes!
- Protective padding sure to keep your breakables safe
RYOT – Smell Safe Carbon Series Safe Case Large – $68.99
Perfect for pipes, this smell-proof case can go anywhere. Photo: @ryot_official
The RYOT Carbon Series Large Safe Case is a hardshell case using SmellSafe technology to keep you under the radar. In addition to being extremely protective and equipped with heavy-duty zipper pulls and antimicrobial padded walls, it comes with a rolling tray/dab mat to make smoking on the go even easier. The only downside to this case is that its size and stiffness make it difficult to be stashed in any other bag; you’ll have to carry this case on its own. The price may also put some people off from it, but it’s worth every penny as it provides excellent protection.
What we love:
- The heavy-duty, ultra-tight zips keep the smell from leaking out and any moisture from getting in
- Removable dab mat/rolling tray
- 100% smell proof pipe case
- Much more protective than average dime bags
Skunk – Smell-Proof Travel Pack Case – $34.99
Where would you adventure to with your smell-proof Skunk bag? Photo: @vatra_
This bag so closely resembles a toiletry kit that you may mix the two up. But this toiletry bag carries much more important essentials; your stash kit. This bong bag is made to fit just about anywhere discreetly and easily, making it great for day-to-day use, traveling, or even hiking/camping. As with any Skunk bag by Vatra Cases, you have a money-back guarantee on their patented smell-proof design. This case is durable, convenient, and can handle all your travel pipe case needs.
What we love:
- The size; it’s so easily stored in just about any bag and is very flexible
- The money-back guarantee on the smell-proof design
- Rubber-backed nylon, anti-tear protective netting, and weather-resistant zippers makes this an incredibly durable case that can withstand just about whatever you throw its way
RYOT – Smell-Safe Carbon Series Slym Case – $23.99
Don’t forget about protecting your accessories, too! Photo: @ryot_official
This smaller pipe bag is designed more for your spoons, vapes, dabbers, and other smaller pipes rather than bongs or water pipes. It’s small and comes with a hard clam-shell that’s covered in a durable canvas. Its SmellSafe technology and moisture seal zipper help keep moisture out and the smell in. However, should you need to reactivate the carbon lining, you can do so by putting it in the dryer for just about five minutes.
What we love about it:
- It’s easy to reactivate the carbon lining if you feel like it’s lost it’s pizazz
- The case is durable and the hard clam-shell adds an extra layer of protection
- Lockable zipper
- Its small size makes it easy to store just about anywhere
Skunk – Smell-Proof Go Case – $15.99
Your glass pipes are secure in this portable, smell-proof pouch. Photo: @Amazon
The GoCase is the perfect small, on-the-go smoke kit available on the market. It’s incredibly affordable at just $15.99 , durable, and is guaranteed 100% smell-proof safe or your money back. While this glass pipe case is small, it’s perfect for keeping everything you need for a quick, on-the-go smoke session in one small, easy, and convenient carrying case. This case can fit in the palm of your hand for easy holding or in just about any pocket in your backpack or purse for easy storage.
What we love about it:
- Its size makes it perfect for when you need minimal supplies within easy reach
- 100% smell-proofing with a money-back guarantee
- Strong and durable rubber-backed nylon and anti-tear protective netting
- Waterproof and sealing zipper to keep the odor in and moisture out
Black Leaf – Padded Bong Case – $39.99
This is a terrific, albeit simple bong case that provides significant protection as a glass pipe case. Its durable, hard-shell covering outside helps to minimize potential damage and risks of damage while the soft plush interior pads work to keep your bong cushioned, safe, and protected. The lid of the case even comes with elastic straps that allow you to more securely strap your bowls and downstems in place. These bong bags come in two sizes: small and large. Part of what lost this bag points for us and landed it the last place on this list is its rigidity and size along with its non-discreet look; just about the only thing you’re going to mistake this bong case for is an instrument case.
What we love:
- Its durability – this glass pipe case will certainly get the job done of protecting your precious cargo and for a long time yet
- Two carrying handles so you can choose the most comfortable way for you to carry it
Skunk Bags – Smell Proof Combo Lock Rogue Roll-Up Backpack – $94.99
This stylish bag is perfect for on-the-go! Photo: @vatra_
Skunk’s smell proof combo lock rogue roll-up backpack is a very discreet and effective bong backpack. With it, you can rest assured your bong is safe and secure without being overly obvious. Between having tons of space and a lockable zipper, you really can’t go wrong with this protective backpack.
It offers 100% smell protection through its patented activated carbon technology and silver antibacterial linings. This high-end, odorless backpack is not only top of the line in features, but also in appearance. Its sharp and sleek look will keep anyone from guessing the contents inside. It even comes with thermal lining and anti-tear protective netting.
What we love!
- 100% smell proof, guaranteed
- Waterproof sealing zipper
- Sleek, discreet look
- Combination lock
- Convenient bong bags that sling over your back to join you on wherever your journey takes you!
Vatra Cases – 12” Zip & Draw Padded Pouch – $29.99
The Vatra padded pouch is a great companion. Photo: @firepiffdankstank
This plain and simple padded drawstring bag with a zipper makes an excellent nickel steamroller case or pipe pouch. This Vatra case has a zipper running up the side to allow you to comfortably nestle your pipe in the case with a drawstring on top, allowing you to cinch it closed tightly, protecting your precious pipes. This bong bag offers a cylindrical padded exterior and an interior pocket.
What we love:
- Conveniently sized for easy storage and easy hiding
- Side zipper allows for easy placement of pipe and allows waterpipes to stand upright
- Patented tubular padding for ultimate protection
Vatra Cases – 6” Matrix Pouch/Bag Combo – $15.99
This Vatra bag has a pocket for everything. Photo: @vatra_
This Vatra case is designed very similarly to a golf bag. The Matrix bag has a side zipper pocket for all your lighters, papers, bowls, and other small-sized accessories; a bottom zipper pocket for easy storage of grinders and a stash pouch; and a large main compartment that’s tube-shaped and perfectly sized for your favorite vape, water pipe, or hand pipe. With so many different storage spots, you can keep all the components of your stash safe and in one place.
What we love:
- Discreet and stylish design
- Many separate pockets make it the perfect ready-to-go smoke kit
- Separate compartments make for damage-free, organized storage of all your pipe pieces and smoking tools
- Affordable price – you won’t find another case this nice for this price
Bong bags provide necessary protection for the bong or vape you invested in. Whether you’re looking for a high-quality, odorless bag, dab rig bag, bong bag, vape bag, or hippie purse, we’ve got you covered. We hope this list will help you find the perfect protective carrying case for you that matches all your needs. All of these bags provide the following to varying degrees.
- Smell-Proofing Protection
- Affordability (the prices vary, but none will break the bank)
- Made from reliable distributors
Do you have a favorite bong bag, or maybe you have questions about what we listed here? Drop us a comment below!
Written by: Megan Medeiros | Cover Photo by: @bongbag.cl
Megan Medeiros is a freelance writer and editor in Harrisonburg, Va. She’s been working as a cannabis writer for the past two years, mostly following the legal climate of marijuana, especially in areas like California, Colorado, Oregon, Canada, and other legal areas. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and is hoping to go back for her master’s this upcoming semester.Each bong is different, but the desire to get it safely from point A to point B is universal. Check out our list of the best bong bags!
How We Investigated Banned Items on Amazon.com
Have you read this article yet? You may want to start here.
Amazon’s Enforcement Failures Leave Open a Back Door to Banned Goods—Some Sold and Shipped by Amazon Itself
The online giant bans products related to drugs, spying and weapons, but we found plenty for sale; one of the items bought on the site left a grim trail of overdoses
June 18, 2020 10:00 ET
Share This Article
Amazon has reaped billions of dollars through the expansion of third-party sales in the past several years, boasting about it in a recent letter to shareholders. But at the same time that it has dominated e-commerce, media reports have highlighted Amazon’s struggles to suss out bad sellers, pointing out its failures to catch counterfeit or dangerous products on the platform.
The company bans nearly 2,000 items for sale in the United States, an ever-expanding list of restrictions organized into 38 categories of rules that cover products from skincare and supplements to assault weapons and human organs.
For this investigation, we sought to answer two key questions: How well is Amazon policing banned products in its U.S. marketplace—and could we find any for sale? We focused on five categories of Amazon’s prohibitions related to weapons, criminal activity, and spying, and crafted a list of 279 prohibited items that were searchable. Many of these items appear to be legal to sell but are barred by Amazon’s rules.
View our Work
We found nearly 100 listings of banned items for sale, including some multiples from different sellers for the same type of product. (When there were many listings of one type of product, we did not document every last one, but rather chose a few.)
Five of the banned products were sold by Amazon itself, not a third-party.
Among the prohibited items we found: AR-15 parts, compounds that reviews showed were used as injectable drugs, and equipment used to make potentially deadly counterfeit pills and for the dangerous process of butane hash oil extraction.
After we contacted Amazon, all but 16 of the banned listings were removed. Company officials declined to comment on how the banned items evaded detection or to provide information on how many had sold before the listings were deactivated. They did not provide any comments on the banned products we found that they sold directly to consumers.
And they declined to explain why the company chose to leave up some items: products named in their prohibitions, products primarily used for ingesting drugs, which meet the definition under federal law for drug paraphernalia, and gun parts and gunsmithing tools that we confirmed with a weapons expert.
Amazon spokesperson Patrick Graham said in a written statement that sellers are responsible for following laws and Amazon policy, and that the company has “proactive measures in place to prevent suspicious or prohibited products from being listed and we continuously monitor the products sold in our stores.” (Read more in the Amazon’s Response section.)
Some third-party sellers of banned goods avoided certain words and misclassified items, presumably to skirt enforcement. In some cases, we typed the exact language of Amazon’s restriction into its search engine and found prohibited items, suggesting some of its automated tools are not working in concert with its prohibited items enforcement.
As a test of Amazon’s safeguards, The Markup attempted to list banned items for sale from a personal Amazon.com account in New York. We successfully listed two items that were prohibited on Amazon.com yet legal to sell under New York State and federal law: an armorer’s wrench for use on an AR-15 and a 10-round AR-15 magazine. We used the manufacturers’ photos, and bypassed filters by using a universal product code (UPC) that we bought online for one item and by avoiding certain keywords for both.
Amazon’s shortcomings in policing its marketplace have been documented by numerous media exposés.
A Wall Street Journal investigation last year found more than 4,000 problematic items for sale on Amazon.com, including products that were “declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators.” The newspaper compared Amazon to a flea market: “It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, many of them anonymous, many in China, some offering scant information.”
Additionally, The Wall Street Journal has detailed what happens when customers get hurt by products they bought through Amazon, finding the company dodges responsibility by arguing in court that it’s not responsible for what people say on their site under the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
Also last year, CNBC found expired food and baby formula on the site, and The Washington Post discovered forbidden CBD products. In 2014, The Atlantic reported that when customers searched for digital scales, Amazon.com’s purchase recommendations offered them baggies, rolling papers, and grinders—“a field-tested kit for starting an illicit business.”
The Markup sought to advance the coverage by looking specifically at products tied to potentially illicit or criminal behavior and weapons, seeking to understand more about how well Amazon polices its own restrictions—and protects the public.
We focused on five of Amazon.com’s restricted product categories related to weapons, criminal activity, and spying, as they appeared on Jan. 16, 2020. Some of these pages have since been updated:
Some of Amazon’s restrictions are very specific, but others are vague, making them more difficult to detect with certainty. To avoid ambiguity, we focused our search on items that met the following criteria:
The restriction was clearly defined and without vague caveats (e.g., we did not look for items where some were allowed but rather for those where all were “prohibited”).
The product was identifiable and not overly broad (e.g., we looked for Kung Fu stars but not “other dangerous weapons”).
The banned item can clearly be distinguished from permitted listings (e.g., prohibited bolt pins for guns were too similar to other pins, so we excluded them).
Amazon’s restrictions around drug paraphernalia mandate that items cannot be “primarily intended or designed for use in: manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance,” which we took to include marijuana, given federal law and that the company specifies some marijuana paraphernalia among its prohibitions. Along with the specific items named by Amazon, The Markup also included other common drug paraphernalia as defined in federal drug paraphernalia law, including crack pipes and straws marketed for use to inhale substances and sniffing spoons, both of which can be used to ingest cocaine.
Pipes were tricky because the company allows pipes for tobacco use. It’s impossible to prove that the pipes for sale on Amazon.com at any given time are for marijuana use, so we eliminated marijuana pipes from our test. Crack pipes, which are distinguished by the Drug Enforcement Agency as those with a synthetic rose in the cylinder, were clear enough to include.
In regard to pill presses, Amazon expressly prohibits those used to “imprint a pharmaceutical drug name or identification number onto a tablet or pill.” We considered all pill presses and molds that can take a pharmaceutical imprint die to be in violation.
We also grouped synonyms and redundant items on the restricted products list as a single item.
We did not check for prohibited items that would require outside information from government agencies, laboratory testing, or detailed inspection to determine if the listing violated Amazon’s rules.
Our final list contained 279 banned items to search.
We searched for these products primarily during two sessions: one week in February 2020 and two weeks in April 2020.
We conducted our searches using both Amazon.com’s search engine and Google’s search engine (specifying that results must appear on Amazon.com). We searched for each banned item multiple times, using slang, synonyms, brand names, and other search terms. Often, Amazon.com’s search engine returned results using the exact wording from its restrictions.
Since many sellers sought to disguise the items, we confirmed how the items are typically used by reviewing customer feedback, photos, and outside sources, such as YouTube videos of hash oil extraction and gun assembly. We frequently visited outside websites that sold gun parts to compare what we were seeing on Amazon.com to what we knew was the real thing.
We also sought outside confirmation on the two compounds we found that reviewers said they had injected. The World Anti-Doping Agency designates one (TB-500) as a “prohibited substance,” and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency warned athletes that the second one (BPC-157) is not approved for human use.
In some cases, we noticed several different listings for a single type of item. Rather than include each one, we selected a small sample from the top search results to include in our findings.
|Total prohibited items searched||279|
|Item searches with nothing found||222|
|Item searches where we found at least one listing||57|
|Listings found (includes multiple listings of same type of item)||97|
Each suspected prohibited listing was independently verified by both journalists working on the story. And, in the case of gun parts, we confirmed that each of the items were not expressly permitted for sale on Amazon (many are explicitly allowed on Amazon’s restricted products list), and the final list of items we found was double-checked by two weapons experts. All told, we documented 97 listings for products on Amazon.com that we determined meet the criteria of the company’s prohibitions. In some cases, we documented multiple listings for the same type of item and counted each of those individually.
The found products, listed under the company’s categories, are:
Hazardous and Dangerous Materials
- Caps for toy guns
- Projectile flares
- Military-style gas masks
- Nitric acid
- Liquid mercury
- Mercury switches
- Toy crossbows
Drug and Drug Paraphernalia
- “Legal steroids”
- Homeopathic teething products
- Compounds reviewers were using as injectable drugs
- Butane hash oil extractors
- Crack pipes
- Dab kits
- Wired cigarette papers
- Nitrous oxide crackers
- Bullets with attached mini spoons to ingest substances, which can include cocaine
- Straws to ingest substances, which can be used for cocaine
- Smell-proof dime bag
- Products to defeat drug tests
- Pill presses and molds
- Iodine (more than 2.2%)
- Coca Leaves
- Marshmallow leaf
Explosives, Weapons, and Related Items
- AR-15 vise blocks
- AR-15 armorer’s wrenches
- Heat shields and handguards
- Charging handles
- AR-15 grips
- Door breachers
- Magazine extensions
- Magazine couplers
- Muzzle brakes
- Pistol stabilizing braces
- Receiver wedges or buffers
- Sling plates
- Collapsible stock
- Firing springs
- Knives disguised to look like harmless items
- Sap hats
- Billy clubs
Lock Picking and Theft Devices
- Concealed handcuff keys
- Lock picking guns
- Lock picking sets
- Training locks
- Tubular lock picks
- Master keys
- Sensormatic detachers
- Bugging devices
- Hidden AV cameras
- Hidden audio recorders
|Category||Items found||Listings found*|
|Explosives, Weapons, and Related Items||21||36|
|Drugs & Drug Paraphernalia||18||31|
|Lock Picking & Theft Devices||9||10|
|Hazardous and Dangerous Items||7||12|
*Includes multiple listings of same type of item
After conducting hundreds of searches, we had a better understanding of how sellers of banned items avoid detection. Most simply left out certain words or intentionally misspelled or misclassified items. For example, we found a pill press labeled as a candy maker and bongs sold as vases.
Even when mislabeling a listing, many sellers used accurate photos of the banned product.
Several products had been for sale for months—even years. At least eight were designated “Amazon’s Choice,” and at least 39 were shipped from Amazon’s own warehouses. Five of the items were marked “ships from and sold by Amazon.com.”
Offensive and Other Controversial Materials
Early on in the reporting, we examined Amazon.com’s restrictions around offensive and controversial materials, which prohibit the sale of products that glorify violence or child abuse or are associated with hate groups. We were easily able to find items that broke Amazon’s rules: a child’s bed set with the alt-right meme Pepe the Frog with a swastika on its stomach and swag tied to the white supremacist groups Volksfront and Identity Evropa. It wasn’t clear if any of these products actually sold. The listings were live for months until we provided Amazon with links, and they were removed.
We ultimately decided not to include those items in our data findings, in part because they do not fit our criteria for specific products, and because they presented a different kind of harm.
To find out what safeguards Amazon has in place to stop prohibited items from posting in the first place, we explored the seller portal.
We registered as a seller, choosing the $39.99 per month “professional” account. This was a new account that had no history of selling on the site.
When we started creating a product listing for a bong, Amazon.com’s interface suggested categorizing it with vases in home decor, where other third-party sellers had listed bongs. Not only was Amazon failing to catch these listings, but it was also recommending miscategorizations in violation of its own rules. We did not complete the process of publishing the bong listing.
We later created listings for two prohibited items: an AR-15 armorer’s wrench and a 10-round AR-15 magazine. Both items are legal to sell in the U.S. and New York State but explicitly prohibited on Amazon.com.
Amazon requires universal product codes, UPCs, or other global identifiers when uploading items for sale. When we used the correct product names and correct codes from the manufacturer’s website, Amazon’s guardrails correctly identified the product as banned and blocked the listing from going live.
Next, we changed the title and description of both items to omit the keyword “AR-15” and miscategorized them so they would appear in an unrelated part of the product catalog. We continued to use the real manufacturer names, product photos, and description. The wrench was approved by Amazon’s system and published; the magazine was not approved.
We then purchased a new UPC code for the magazine, and when we used it, Amazon allowed us to list the magazine for sale. We were able to place both items in a different, personal shopping cart. We then took down the listings before anyone could make a purchase.
It’s important to note that Amazon knew little about us as sellers other than our failed attempts to list banned items, yet still allowed us to list the items with these workarounds.
The company declined to comment on most of the items we found, nor would it provide information on how many of the banned items were sold. Dozens of the prohibited listings were taken down in a matter of days after we contacted the company. Some of those we later removed from our final numbers because, upon review, they didn’t strictly adhere to our methodology.
“If products that are against our policies are found on our site, we immediately remove the listing, take action on the bad actor, and further improve our systems,” Graham, the Amazon spokesperson said.
He said that the company was taking “appropriate action on the bad actors that evasively listed them.”
However, after Amazon provided this statement, The Markup found many of the sellers that were in violation continued to sell banned products, including Lead and Steel, which sold banned gun accessories, and and another company that sold compounds that reviewers were injecting. When we asked Amazon about this in follow-up questions, those storefronts disappeared from Amazon.com.
The dataset sent to Amazon included 16 listings that the company never removed. Of those, we decided to remove 10 from our final dataset: two weed grinders, a silicone pipe and a weed grinder set, a “same day detox” product, nitrous oxide canisters, and gun parts and tools that are potentially permissible under Amazon’s rules.
The company declined to comment on why some prohibited products were being shipped from Amazon’s warehouses, nor would it speak to how banned items became listed as “Amazon’s Choice.”
Graham denied that injectable drugs were for sale and said the listings we found were for “chemicals that were clearly marketed as being for research use only and not for human consumption.” He added that the company would nevertheless be “restricting them going forward.” Amazon removed the specific listings we sent the company, but at the time of publication, other listings for these compounds could still be found on Amazon.com.
Graham declined to comment on why the company’s search engine returned results when we entered the exact wording of the prohibition, nor would he comment on why the sellers’ tool suggested erroneous categories. He said it’s the responsibility of sellers to correctly list their products and follow the rules.
Earlier this year, a company executive told Congress that the company is shoring up the slippage of of “counterfeits, unsafe products, and other types of abuse” by requiring sellers of certain items to be preapproved, partnering with brands to pull counterfeits, and performing “proactive scans to identify safety risks.”
“As a result of our proactive efforts, in 2019, we blocked over 2.5 million suspected bad actor accounts from entering our store and more than 6 billion suspected bad listings from being published in our stores,” Graham told The Markup in an emailed statement that had previously been given to Congress.
Amazon is failing to stop banned items from being sold by third parties on its site—and even selling some banned items itself direct to U.S. customers..
We documented nearly 100 instances of Amazon’s failure to detect problematic listings before they post, allowing a back alley to its marketplace where items related to criminal activities, weapons, and drug use are openly sold.
We found sellers can easily shroud listings enough to evade automated detection by Amazon’s filters while still making the banned items findable for customers—often through Amazon’s own product search engine. We were able to list two banned items ourselves using this method. In some cases, Amazon’s sellers’ tools suggest miscategorizations.
In five cases, the listing was marked as “ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” Some banned items from third parties shipped from Amazon’s own warehouses, and the company promoted a handful of the banned items we found as “Amazon’s Choice.”
Support The Markup
Your contributions help us investigate how powerful institutions’ use of technology affects our society. Please donate today!It wasn’t that hard; Amazon’s own search and recommendation tools led the way ]]>