An Open Letter to Amazon Regarding “Amazon Sellers”

August 13, 2004

Dear Amazon;

I’m posting this here mostly because of the difficulty in establishing a conversation with anyone there—if one uses any of the “complaint forms”, you can enter a dialog with all of the whitespace edited out, and you receive a reply that says “don’t reply to this, go back and use the form.” Which pretty much precludes being able to have a dialog with a single individual who might follow the discussion enough to pass the message along.

Over the past 45 days, I’ve had four occasions to make purchases from “Amazon Sellers”—you know, those links you promote on items found (or not found) that say “XX New and Used from $YY.YY” Sometimes, those are the only results a user gets when the item is something you’re not stocking.  Other times, it’s an item that I don’t really mind if it’s used (as long as it’s in good condition), and occasionally, the price difference itself is overwhelming.

So in any event, I occasionally buy from the “Amazon Seller.” I do this (rather than going to E-Bay, as one alternative) because I assume that Amazon is establishing a business relationship with the “Seller”, and that you have screened them for at least minimum requirements of performing a business-like transaction.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Of the four items I’ve purchased this way recently, one arrived quickly, and exactly as advertised—making me quite happy. 

The second one never arrived.  Even though it was from a name (another bookseller) that I have purchased from in the past (either via Amazon Sellers or Half, I don’t recall), it just never showed up—I received no correspondence beyond the acknowlegement of the order.  When (after six weeks) it never arrived, I used your “contact the seller” service, and received a bounce message indicating that it was undeliverable.  I contacted Amazon with the details, and you refunded my money. 

Not a big deal.  These things happen, and you made it right.

The third order appears to be in transit, in good time—the seller has kept me well informed, and I’ve got a good feeling.

The fourth item, which I ordered several days ago, bothers me a lot.

A day after placing the order, the seller contacted me, from a Hotmail address, to tell me that he or she was an “International Student”, and being “Under 18” was unable to open a bank account—so could I please send them a money order for the amount.  The amount that had already been collected from me by Amazon.

My assumption was that this individual was either a) pretty clueless, or b) attempting to scam more money.  I suspect that most anyone who has done much online purchasing would have come to the same conclusion.

I replied, indicating that the payment arrangements were between them and Amazon (who already had my money), and that they either needed to ship the item, or contact Amazon and cancel the deal (freeing me to purchase from someone else).

A day passed without further communication, and I sent a “feedback message” to Amazon with the text from both messages, asking them to confirm with the seller that the item was on its way, or canceling the order, and more to the point, whether they did any screening of their partners to insure that they were of legal age, and had the ability to actually fulfill a transaction.

Shortly thereafter, I recieved e-mail from the seller indicating the item was on its way, which I also sent to Amazon’s feedback as a follow-up, and indicating that I was willing to wait for a time.

After this, I received a reply from Amazon’s customer service, indicating that they were glad I was willing to wait, since this was well within the shipping timeframe specified.  There was no response to the issue of the seller being underage, or the way the transaction was conducted.  Not even a “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we will look into it” (which I would have been satisfied with.)

Instead, I felt that it rather strongly suggested that “I was the asshole” for making an issue out of this, when it’s well within the shipping timeframe for the item.  Never mind that I would have been perfectly willing to wait, had the seller not e-mailed me and essentially informed me that unless I paid twice, it wasn’t getting sent. 

This does not give me a warm feeling.  If I’m willing to do “amateur hour” purchases (and I sometimes am), I’ll go to E-Bay (which I sometimes do), and probably spend less. 

If I make a purchase through Amazon, I’m doing so because I’m depending on them to insure that the transactions are preformed in an “Amazon-like” manner, and I’m willing to pay for that extra assurance.

Sure, hiccups happen.  But they shouldn’t happen in two of four orders placed in the last six weeks.  When they do happen, I expect to hear at least a token expression of concern—at least send me the “bedbug letter”.

Further, I also understand the value of watching feedback ratings and number of ratings, but again, this isn’t what I tend to consider most when I’m considering placing my purchase through Amazon—if I feel like I have to give a lot of weight to the feedback, then I might as well be on E-Bay.

In fact, I think the next time I want to purchase something from an individual, that’s probably where I’ll go. E-Bay. It is what it is, of course, but just checking back through my transactions there, I’ve had exactly one problem in nearly 100 purchases on E-Bay.  Which is quite a bit better than my results with Amazon Sellers lately, unfortunately.


– Chuck Lawson

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7 Responses to “An Open Letter to Amazon Regarding “Amazon Sellers””

  1. Corwin on August 14th, 2004 11:51 am


  2. Chuck Lawson on August 15th, 2004 11:58 am

    A man of few words, I see.

  3. rimone on August 16th, 2004 12:56 am

    thank you for this very lucid piece, chuck.

  4. Nitallica on October 9th, 2004 6:25 pm

    Thank you for posting your letter.  I myself have had issues with ordering from Amazon sellers fairly recently and feel better after reading about your experiences.  It seems that Amazon’s “seller” services, formerly before Amazon bought them, have depreciated exponentially ever since being bought.

    I myself was a seller for at one time, and remember being exasperated because I felt I was jumping through hoops just to sell some old paperbacks!

  5. Angela on July 16th, 2005 2:42 am

    That was an awful story! I am a seller on Amazon.Com and have recently opened a blog called sellersatamazon. I would love to post your story or at least a link to your story on my blog. I just started the blog 6 days ago and we have already had 1000 hits with no advertising. I would also like to post this article on the seller’s soapbox at the amazon discussion boards. Trust me, there are LOTS of bad sellers on Amazon.Com. It is as bad as Ebay. There are sellers that sell imports and bootlegs, there are sellers that sell electronics and never deliver the items (many of which are plasma TVs and such). It is very important for people to look at the feedback. I know that you stated that you would rather deal with ebay if you have to research the seller’s history, but, eventhough Amazon is getting better, they are not too picky on who they let sell there. It is only when a seller has been a seller for a few weeks and customers like you complain, does Amazon do ANYTHING. If you let me post this on my blog (and discussion boards), it will get plenty of attention from the 900,000 sellers and affiliates that earn a living off of Amazon.Com

  6. Mary on August 9th, 2005 7:21 pm

    I agree with you completely . I recently had my first nasty experience with an Amazon seller. I myself am a seller, but on a very small level. I give my customers the highest level of service. It’s unfortunate that other sellers don’t feel they have the same obligation.

  7. Kathryn on August 31st, 2005 4:36 am

    I think this is a well written letter of the reality of Amazon.

    Unfortunately, Amazon seems more focused on bringing in dollars however they may at the cost of relationship with both the buyers and their sellers. There is a lack of consistency in the application of their own standards and a general malaise that if you have a problem it is YOUR problem, not theirs. At times they will even say as much.

    I am a small seller on Amazon. I have been accused of Identity Theft and personally attacked by very threatening feedback that Amazon did nothing about even though they could have easily educated the buyers that I did not have access to the information and in the second incident that they do not tolerate such abusive behavior.

    Yet, it is a challenge to compete with sellers who are known entities that advertise their profits go to charity when they have been proven not to be a registered charity. Others are obvious frauds who when caught reopen under another name.

    Amazon would do well to attend to supplier issues instead of site bells and whistles.

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