Mitchell Owens recently discovered that mysterious entities were selling bulk orders of Dum Dums lollipops on Amazon for a couple of bucks less than the price charged by his company. Owens, who runs e-commerce operations for Spangler Candy Co., was concerned the sweets could be potentially dangerous counterfeits. So he placed an order from one of the Amazon merchants. A few days later a 500-pack of lollipops arrived on his doorstep. They weren’t counterfeit and—strangely—had been shipped directly from Walmart Inc.’s Sam’s Club.
Owens had stumbled upon a price-arbitrage scheme on Amazon.com Inc.’s imperfectly policed online marketplace. The hustle works like this: Sellers, often guided by how-to tutorials on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, scour the internet for products with lower prices than on Amazon. Then they post the items on the web site, wait for someone to place an order, purchase the product from another retailer, have it shipped directly to the customer and pocket the difference. The rogue Amazon merchants are selling everything from breath mints and cereal to baking powder and feminine hygiene products.