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Banned From Amazon: The Shoppers Who Make Too Many Returns

22 May 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Even Amazon.com Inc. has its limits.

The e-commerce giant bans shoppers from the site for infractions such as returning too many items, sometimes without telling them what they did wrong.

Amazon has cultivated an image as a customer-friendly company in part by making it easy for shoppers to send back items they don’t want. The site’s lax return policies have conditioned consumers to expect the same treatment from other retailers, adding to pressure on brick-and-mortar chains. But shoppers are finding out there are some customers Amazon has determined aren’t worth keeping.

Nir Nissim received an email in March notifying him that his account had been closed because he violated the company’s conditions of use agreement. “You cannot open a new account or use another account to place orders on our site,” Amazon wrote.

. . . .

The 20-year-old, who works at an ice cream shop in Israel, said he had a $450 gift card balance that he could no longer use. “I contacted them almost every day for a week or two,” he said.

. . . .

“We want everyone to be able to use Amazon, but there are rare occasions where someone abuses our service over an extended period of time,” an Amazon spokesman said. “We never take these decisions lightly, but with over 300 million customers around the world, we take action when appropriate to protect the experience for all our customers.”

. . . .

Shira Golan, 23, said she spends thousands of dollars a year on Amazon, buying everything from clothes and shoes to groceries and toiletries. She said she has asked for refunds in the past on clothing and shoe orders, some of which she says were damaged or the wrong items. “I didn’t think it was so significant especially considering how much I buy,” she said.

Earlier this month her account was shut down without explanation, she said. The actuary, who lives in New York City, said she called and emailed the company to learn a reason for the closure. On May 10, she received a response saying she was terminated permanently because she “reported an unusual number of problems” with her orders. “I didn’t get any warning,” she said. “If I knew this would happen, I wouldn’t buy clothes and shoes on Amazon.”

. . . .

Retailers lose billions of dollars annually because of return abuse or fraud, which includes behavior such as requesting a refund for items that are used, stolen or bought somewhere else. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that chains such as Best Buy Co. and J.C. Penney Inc., have hired a third-party firm called Retail Equation to develop a “risk score” on each customer for the purpose of policing returns.

According to former Amazon managers, the company terminates accounts for behaviors including requesting too many refunds, sending back the wrong items or violating other rules, such as receiving compensation for writing reviews. Cases are typically evaluated by a human after algorithms surface the account as suspicious, they said.

It tends to happen when “you’re creating a lot of headaches for Amazon,” said Chris McCabe, a former policy enforcement investigator at Amazon and now a consultant at EcommerceChris LLC.

. . . .

“If your behavior is consistently outside the norm, you’re not really the kind of customer they want,” said James Thomson, a former senior manager at Amazon and now partner at brand consultancy Buy Box Experts.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


16 Comments to “Banned From Amazon: The Shoppers Who Make Too Many Returns”

  1. Oh, look – a mainstream media company trying to slam a modern tech company with a spurious story.

    That’s a surprise.

  2. You would think, that if Amazon were suspending perfectly innocent people, this there would be more first-hand stories of this happening to average people. Everyone I know who buys from Amazon seems to have no trouble at all. I wonder why that is?

  3. Surprise, surprise. Someone who has been ripping off a retailer denies they have been ripping off the retailer.

  4. A while back, my husband’s Amazon account got hacked. The person first requested returns on a bunch of items my husband had ordered and received months and months prior. When Amazon responded by giving his account a gift card for the amount requested, the thief turned around and ordered super expensive shoes with the balance. All this happened in the middle of the night. My husband woke up and had to deal with the mess, reporting it to Amazon, canceling the thief’s order, etc.

    Now, if that kind of thing happened to us, I imagine it’s happening more and more and more. Amazon, taking the sledgehammer approach, just bans all the accounts, hacked or not. So there’s shenanigans going on that nobody is talking about.

  5. Yawning at The Wall Street Journal’s ADS yet again.

    Like the ‘warehouse abuse’, if these are the few you can find I am unimpressed. Those few out of how many millions? Really?

    Though it does put things in perspective. When we hear cries of Amazon not shutting down a scammer fast enough – or catching an ‘honest’ author or three in the net, out of how many millions of writers/titles on Amazon.

    Tempest in a teacup (unless of course you happen to be ‘one’ of the few affected …)

  6. Maybe they’ll catch the occasional serial returner of my ebooks, where you can watch them progress thru a series, one returned ebook at a time.

    • Don’t you just love those people? You’d think they’d be an easy catch for Amazon, but they’ve been getting away with that one for years.

    • I was going to bring this up. I think all authors have seen this pattern.

    • As distressing as this is, they can return the book but they can’t return the sales rank boost.

      So at the very least, you do get something for it, even if it’s annoying. (The experts say to publish frequently enough that returns get lost in the underflow. This is probably good advice, and I repeat it to myself often.)

  7. The shoes & clothes thing reminds me of something I heard about a while back where Amazon was going to let you order clothes, try them on, and then send them back if you didn’t like them, all as an intentional part of how it was meant to work. Ah, wait, I see that’s a thing now, Prime Wardrobe. Seems odd that they’d ban people for returning clothes and at the same time have a system in place for trying on and returning clothes.

    I can understand Amazon banning people’s accounts for excessive returns if they want to, but first, they don’t ever describe what is meant by “excessive returns”. I hardly ever return e-books but tried to do two in one day once and it wouldn’t let me, so apparently in that case, 2 was excessive, despite having maybe returned a couple out of 800 previous books. And according to the article, they give people no warning that they’re approaching the threshold. “Not customer friendly” is a mild way to describe, “Look at our amazing return policy, but if you return too many (no, we won’t tell you how many is too many), we’ll ban your account and you can never use Amazon again. :-D” And second, if someone has a gift card balance, it’s just flat out stealing not to refund it to them if you ban their account and give them no way to use it. No matter the reason. That’s theft.

    • “I can understand Amazon banning people’s accounts for excessive returns if they want to, but first, they don’t ever describe what is meant by “excessive returns”.”

      They don’t for the same reasons they don’t tell writers what will trip the scam/cheat filters, no need to give the scammers the rules/limits to the game.

      • Welcome to TEGWAR.

      • By that logic, all laws should be secret and hidden. No need to give criminals the rules to the game. Never mind if it ends up with people with no unlawful intent getting sent to prison.

        • Ah, but this isn’t a ‘law’ and if you don’t like how they do business you don’t have to buy/sell there.

          Like many a little shop with the sign stating ‘we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’, they don’t need to lay out ‘why’ they’d like to not see you again.

          • I was commenting on the logic itself, and I think my point still stands. The logic you used to defend the policy is flawed, regardless of the company’s right to base their policies on logic or on anything else.

            And I think recent lawsuits that have made quite a few headlines have sort of proven that, sign or not, small businesses *don’t* have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason they choose (even though I think they should).

  8. Amazon has cultivated an image as a customer-friendly company in part by making it easy for shoppers to send back items they don’t want. The site’s lax return policies have conditioned consumers to expect the same treatment from other retailers, adding to pressure on brick-and-mortar chains.

    I have a couple of comments on this paragraph. The first is the word “lax.” I would have said “generous” which totally changes the tone of the sentence. Words do matter.

    The second is generous return policies are not new. I worked for Sears a number of decades ago, in two different stores and two different departments.

    The first time, I worked in the housewares department. I was told that the only person who could deny a customer’s request to return something was the store manager. We were taught to try to discourage spurious returns, but we could never use the word “No.”

    I had a man try to return a well-used tea kettle because it was “defective.” It was obvious that the only thing wrong with it was a huge build-up of scale from hard water. I tried to tell the man how to remove the scale, but he insisted he wanted a new tea kettle. I got my boss, who also tried to reason with the man. The problem escalated all the way to the hardlines manager, who granted the customer’s request, probably because he didn’t want to bother the store manager for a minimal amount of money.

    The second time, I worked in the boys department. At that time, they guaranteed that the knees on their Toughskins jeans would never wear out. You wouldn’t believe the condition of the pants that came in for replacement. We even had customers ask if they could exchange the ragged jeans for a pair in the next size. After a couple of years, Sears changed the wording on the guarantee to the knees wouldn’t wear out before the rest of the garment.

    I have no idea what Sears’ return policies are now (and it probably doesn’t matter since they continue to close stores), but they had similar problems with customers who abused theirs.

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