Colman’s Mustard, TA National Trading and Amazon Business: Juxtaposing Questionable Merchant Practices With Awesome Customer Service

I like to cook. Sometimes for a lot of people, usually colleagues and clients. Because of this, I often buy things like spices in wholesale quantity.

I recently decided to make a bulk purchase of Colman’s Mustard. Sixteen ounces of the insanely spicy, concentrated dry powder is likely more potent than a canister of the namesake gas that was the scourge of the Great War, or, perhaps, it was even the foundation of it.


But a recent purchase of Colman’s via Amazon Business (using our corporate account) was a reminder that there are some unsavory merchant practices lurking in the shadows of the digital commerce world. And TA National Trading, the merchant in question in this case, either made a bad mistake or intentionally attempted an old trading company trick that is more common in the third world (unfortunately) than something we usually see in developed countries.

And what’s the trick, you ask?

It shipped a product, which could not be returned based on the firm’s specific merchant policy through Amazon, with a “good by” date of June 2016, but with the knowledge that the recommended expiration would only became apparent upon delivery and opening of the package. (It was not mentioned when shopping.)

Typically, Colman’s mustard has a shelf life of 18 months. So this item would have been most likely sitting for well over a year in some warehouse and then perhaps purchased as distressed inventory (but was not marketed as such) by TA National Trading, then to be sold via Amazon with a return policy that would essentially “stick” a buyer with a distressed asset at full wholesale price.

Of course, this could be an innocent mistake. But it’s a poor business practice regardless given the “no return” policy.

Fortunately, Amazon Business has exceptional customer service. A five-minute chat session with a representative, opened through our business orders section, not only resolved the matter with a full refund, but the representative also promised to check into the situation so it would not happen again with the merchant in question.

Bravo, Amazon Business. You more than did your job and proved to me (and our firm) why the model is disruptive overall.

But the bigger question the scenario raises is whether or not the marketplace model that Amazon Business is based on — in which either Amazon or third parties are the merchants depending on the situation — is a replacement for traditional distributor models in specific industries in which established buyer-supplier relationships result in trust between parties. In the food service distribution and wholesale business, US Foods, Sysco, independent cash and carries or Costco would not risk relationships by selling distressed inventory at full price. Some might offer it at a discount, mind you, with full disclosure, but never in such a manner as explored above.

What’s my most important takeaway?

As companies look to use Amazon Business for specific bulk or wholesale orders, they should know the B2B behemoth has their back, but that individual merchants selling through the giant might not. And unlike Colman’s Mustard when used in proper dose, none of us in the B2B procurement world has time to cry when letting the power of marketplace models substitute for established one-to-one vendor relationships where trust and full disclosure is a given.

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