Amazon Issues Refunds for Unverified Eclipse Glasses -- Update

By Daniela Hernandez and Laura Stevens Features Dow Jones Newswires

Online retailer Amazon.com Inc. started issuing refunds to consumers who bought certain brands of eclipse glasses after reports that counterfeits were flooding the market.

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On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will traverse 14 states in the continental U.S., and most of the country will be able to see at least a partial eclipse. Staring at the partially covered sun without protective gear can cause vision loss, according to scientists.

"Out of an abundance of caution and in the interests of our customers, we asked third-party sellers that were offering solar eclipse glasses to provide documentation to verify their products were compliant with relevant safety standards," Amazon said in a statement. It kept offers from sellers that provided documentation, and removed the others. Customers of sellers that didn't provide documentation were notified last week of the refund.

While Amazon directly sells some merchandise on its site, it has increased its reliance on third-party sellers in recent years. Those sellers now make up more than 50% of units sold on the site world-wide.

Dozens of models of glasses to view the eclipse are being sold in stores and across the internet for as little as $1 a pair. Tens of millions have been sold in recent months. The glasses must meet strict safety standards.

The demand has given rise to counterfeit and substandard products, say manufacturers and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which warned on its website of "unsafe paper solar glasses being distributed."

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Some of those were being sold on Amazon, according to NASA and the American Astronomical Society. The online retail company removed suspect items, it said previously. Last year, Amazon filed lawsuits t argeting sellers allegedly listing counterfeit goods on its website, and it has instated programs to better protect brands.

The Amazon eclipse-glasses refunds have ignited confusion and increased demand for verified products, according to manufacturers and consumers.

On Aug. 12, Amy Webb received an email from Amazon alerting her that the company had "not received confirmation from the supplier" of her eclipse glasses that it had "sourced the item from a recommended manufacturer." The email, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, advised: "DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse" and that she would get a refund in 7-10 days. Returning the glasses she purchased wasn't necessary, the email read.

The American Astronomical Society lists on its website 12 brands it has independently verified to meet international safety standards. The organization also recommends several vendors that sell verified products. The seller from which Ms. Webb purchased her glasses wasn't on that list, which isn't exhaustive.

Ms. Webb, 42, who heads communications for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, plans to travel to Missouri from her home in North Little Rock to view the total solar eclipse with her husband and two young children. She ordered a 10-pack of glasses for $13.95 from Amazon earlier this month.

She searched on Amazon for new glasses, but said they were "very expensive" -- some more than $100, she said. She said she is now relying on a friend who ordered a 100-pack.

Bartlett, Tenn.-based American Paper Optics, whose products have been verified by AAS, says customers who bought glasses from its authorized resellers on Amazon have received refund notifications from the retail giant, even in cases he knew "for sure" the sellers had provided proper documentation, according to Robert Ellison, the retail sales director for the eclipse-glasses manufacturer.

"Everyone's in the dark," Mr. Ellison said.

Mark Margolis of Reseda, Calif.-based Rainbow Symphony Inc., which is also AAS-verified and sells glasses on Amazon directly to consumers and through resellers, has had a similar experience. Even consumers who didn't buy on Amazon are sending emails asking if his company's products are safe, he said.

Both companies say they're "overwhelmed," fielding hundreds to thousands of inquiries about the refunds. Both were worried about the long-term effects on their reputations and businesses.

"Sellers that provide the appropriate safety documentation will not be responsible for the cost of any refunds," said Amazon spokesman Erik Fairleigh.

Write to Daniela Hernandez at daniela.hernandez@wsj.com and Laura Stevens at laura.stevens@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 14, 2017 17:48 ET (21:48 GMT)