Last month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (the “CPSC”), through its Small Business Ombudsman team (the “SBO Team”), published its safety guide for online sellers. The SBO Team is touting this new publication, the Online Sellers’ Safety Guide (the “E-Commerce Guide”), as a “guide [that] offers e-commerce business owners various resources and information, including helpful FAQs, to help them make, import, or sell safe and compliant consumer products."1 The introduction of the E-Commerce Guide comes at a time when the CPSC is ramping up its enforcement efforts.2 As Foley previously reported, late last year, Chairman Hoehn-Saric stressed that “companies should be on notice that the agency will be even more aggressive in the future” and the CPSC will pursue “significant civil and potentially criminal penalties."3 In this world of strict consumer product compliance, the CPSC is now offering a lifeline to small businesses that may help large businesses as well. As e-commerce is increasingly the primary platform for the sale of consumer products, the E-Commerce Guide provides more clarity and insights into the CPSC’s compliance and enforcement efforts.
The E-Commerce Guide includes a common e-commerce safety issues list, a reseller’s information center, and a regulatory robot. The E-Commerce Guide also includes a FAQ section. First, the common safety issues section details frequent safety violations that the CPSC staff has seen over the last year along with the corresponding laws and regulations governing those violations. For example, there are multiple links to the requirements for the sale of children’s products, including regarding tracking labels and certificates of conformity. Following that list, the CPSC provides “business guidance . . . to educate [sellers] on the applicable requirements” for each of the common violations. The second section, the reseller’s information center, includes a reseller’s guide to selling safer products, a reseller and thrift store FAQ section, and a CPSC notice regarding the prohibited sale of recalled products.
Finally, the regulatory robot is a step-by-step, interactive tool aiming to provide clarity on what consumer laws apply in different situations. The “robot” asks a series of questions that build upon each other, eventually producing a report that includes links to applicable statutes, standards, regulations, CPSC videos, or other agency requirements, including referring to other federal agencies when those agencies have jurisdiction.
The CPSC states that the E-Commerce Guide is designed for small businesses that sell products directly to consumers online, small importers or drop shippers bringing products into the United States, and/or resellers of secondhand goods in online thrift stores or other third-party platforms. However, the tools and laws discussed are helpful to more stakeholders than small businesses and the E-Commerce Guide can undoubtedly serve as a good starting point and helpful resource for all consumer products businesses that participate in the e-commerce marketplace.
In this difficult regulatory environment, it is important for all consumer products companies who are involved in e-commerce to stay current on their regulatory compliance obligations with a clear understanding of the laws, regulations, and standards at play. With its E-Commerce Guide, the CPSC is seeking to help; however, it can also signal less patience with non-compliance where the CPSC has endeavored to make knowledge of the applicable laws, regulations, and agency guidance more accessible.
1 CPSC Small Business Newsletter (Feb. 7, 2023).
2 See Foley Manufacturing Industry Advisor, Erik Swanholt and Kristin McGaver Sikora, The CPSC Promises Higher Civil Penalties and More Aggressive Enforcement (Sept. 1, 2022), https://www.foley.com/en/insights/publications/2022/09/cpsc-higher-civil-penalties-aggressive-enforcement; see also Foley Manufacturing Industry Advisor, Erik Swanholt and Kristin McGaver Sikora, CPSC Takes First Step to Expand Enforcement (April 21, 2021), https://www.foley.com/en/insights/publications/2021/04/cpsc-takes-first-step-expand-enforcement.
3 Foley Manufacturing Industry Advisor, Erik Swanholt and Kristin McGaver Sikora, The CPSC Promises Higher Civil Penalties and More Aggressive Enforcement (Sept. 1, 2022), https://www.foley.com/en/insights/publications/2022/09/cpsc-higher-civil-penalties-aggressive-enforcement.