May 232015
 

amazonI first ordered from Amazon.com in 1999. I’ve done it about 700 times total. That’s nearly weekly for 16 years.

I’m a longtime Amazon Prime member. I have an Echo, a Fire Phone, and four Fire tablets in the house. Best I can tell, I’m maybe two years out from reaching six figures spent with Amazon.com.

I’m a big fan.

And the reason is simple: Amazon.com has never let me down. Not once. I’m amazed that an operation so large can perform so consistently well for me, delivering exactly what I ask for over and over. On the rare occasion that I’ve had an issue, I’ve always been made whole, cheerfully and efficiently.

I praised Amazon.com recently on a ZDNet.com thread, and got some static from a guy about Amazon.com banning customers. I’d never heard of that before, but yeah, it’s a thing. The language in the email varies a little, likely based on the responding Amazon.com employee, but this is how it reads:

Hello from Amazon.com.

A careful review of your account indicates you’ve experienced an extraordinary number of incidents with your orders and corresponding shipments.

In the normal course of business, the occasional problem is inevitable. The rate at which such problems have occurred on your account is extraordinary, however, and cannot continue. Effective immediately, your Amazon.com account is closed and you are no longer able to shop in our store.

Please know that any accounts related to yours have also been closed. If you were to open a new account, the same will result and it will also be closed. In the event that you attempt to do so, we will not accept the return of any additional orders, nor will we issue further refunds in connection with any future orders. We appreciate your cooperation in refraining from using our web site.

If you require additional assistance, or have any concerns, feel free to contact us directly at cis@amazon.com.

Please do not contact regular Customer Service again, as they will no longer be able to assist you.

Best regards,

Account Specialist
Amazon.com

This seems to be the more common scenario. There are also people getting banned for ordering high-demand items, such as new video game systems, using multiple sock puppet accounts to skirt quantity limits. The email address in that case is qla@amazon.com.

It’s hardcore, too. If this happens to you, you can work it up the chain and plead your case till the cows come home and Amazon.com won’t back up a millimeter. This is no mere shot across the bow. You’re nuked, buddy.

Needless to say, people are unhappy about it when it happens to them. Goodness knows, I would be. Amazon.com has been a standard play for me for more than a third of my life. If they broke up with me, then yeah, I’d have a lot of retooling to do.

Now the precise criteria for triggering this action are unknown, but presumably there is a computer algorithm that decides you are consistently unprofitable and likely to continue to be so. Get over that line, and adios.

What’s prompted me to dedicate a post to this is how irrational people get concerning how they think Amazon.com should or shouldn’t behave. A corporation tries to act in its own best interest. Folks get up on plane talking about turning away loyal customers and what-not, but that’s exactly the point. In these cases, Amazon.com has decided that losing a customer, plus all of the associated potential bad PR, is still worth it compared to keeping that customer.

You can be certain they did not do so lightly.

I am happy with Amazon.com. Presumably, Amazon.com is happy with me. But I have no illusion it’s for any other reason than that I’m profitable. Amazon.com doesn’t think I’m cute or charming. We’re not BFFs. We’re in a mutually beneficial business relationship.

To me, it’s the same thing as people being outraged that “General Electric paid no income tax last year!” or whatever. If there’s a path through the tax law that enables such, then GE has a responsibility to find it. GE does what’s good for GE. Amazon.com does what’s good for Amazon.com.

Surprise at such is woefully naive.

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 Posted by at 12:01 am

  15 Responses to “On Amazon.com banning customers”

  1. I wanted to talk a little more about what it takes to get banned in the post proper, but it was getting so long as it was.

    In the narratives you’ll find hither and yon, generally the initial reaction of the bannee is one of shock, dismay, and utter surprise at the fact that their perceivedly normal shopping habits had led to such. A little digging typically uncovers that they were doing something like repeatedly ordering a large number of similar items to compare them, then returning all but one for a refund. Or, they would have unreasonable expectations for Amazon.com packing practices (for example, repeatedly ordering a collectible book and rejecting it for a minuscule bent corner or similarly trivial damage). There are trade-offs with online shopping, and a certain sort of person really ought to use bricks-and-mortar stores for certain kinds of purchases.

    I don’t generally buy something from Amazon.com that I’m not certain I’m going to keep. Therefore, the handful of returns I’ve undertaken over the years have been exchanges of damaged or defective merchandise, not refunds.

    The outrage often seems to be that the customer hasn’t done anything expressly forbidden by Amazon.com’s terms, so it’s unreasonable. I even read one guy saying something like “I ought to be able to do 20 returns a day if I want to.” Sure–and Amazon.com is well within its rights to respond by removing your ability to do that.

    Whether a local shopkeeper or the biggest online merchant in the world, successful businesses do not fire customers lightly. It is, however, sometimes necessary. Use your noggins, folks!

  2. Some people just have unreasonable expectations. I think it relates to the whole entitlement attitude that many people walk around with.

    • Good call, Julie!

      • Yes – but it’s Amazon (not the customer) that’s at fault for these expectations getting set in this way. Amazon has repeatedly made it known that the customer is at the center of everything they do as a business, so when a customer has an issue – no matter how trivial it may seem – their first reaction is to reach out to the company that’s positioned themselves as a fix-it-all-type of entity in hopes of finding some reasonable resolution. What I see as the harshest part of this reality is the lack of warnings being disseminated to the customer BEFORE the account is abruptly shut down. It seems like they could likely save a lot of face – and likely even more revenue – if the customers that were nearing this threshold were given an opportunity to remedy the situation.

        Anyways, bottom line is there’s mutual culpability and Amazon seems to be simply passing the buck and allowing their formerly loyal customers to be left out to dry – irate and fuming.

  3. I agree with Julie. Also, Amazon isn’t the only one that does this. A friend of mine was banned from making returns at WALMART. If you make too many returns in a short period of time, they lock you out from making more returns. That’s whey they ask for your phone number when you make one. They are keeping track.

    Reading the Amazon letter – I know dishonest people will also make all sorts of claims about things not arriving, or arriving broken and wanting replacements at no charge. They’ll start taking advantage and I would imagine that if Amazon thinks you are swindling them…they’ll do what they have to to protect the business.

    They aren’t going to willy nilly ban a good customer. That would be silly.

    • Wouldn’t know about Wal-Mart. Haven’t been for a couple of months, and that was the first time in a really long time. Tried it sustainedly for a couple of weeks, and they disappointed me in a big way on just my third trip back. I believe I likened it at the time to taking a slutty ex back. Kind of tough to be incredulous when she cheats on you again…

      But, yeah. Amazon. No worries. What a remarkably consistent customer experience I have there. Really, at this point it’s mathematically anomalous how good it is.

  4. While I understand your support of Amazon, I recently had my account closed for “having another closed account”…… I wrote to them saying I have never had another account, there response was, “We apologize for the mistake, you did not have another account, but we see you made a return of usable merchandise 2 months ago and violated our policies regarding excess returns”

    The items I returned were part of an order for a rafting tube which arrived damaged. If I did not have the tube, I did not see a need to keep the pump and rope which I purchased for the tube. I did not even take the tube out of the box as the box was almost sliced in half (which also appears to have knicked the rope). I returned everything and there seemed to be no problems from before the 4th of July until the random email last week after Labor Day. I really think they messed up and closed my account by thinking it was associated with some other closed account only to realize their mistake and search for a reason to close it. I have been using amazon since purchasing college text books from it in the late 90’s and had returned one item before this July 4th (A 3 pack of cereal which looked to have rat bites on the box and into the rice krispies treats cereal). According to my account that return was in 2013. I see little recourse from this, but it is upsetting as I always thought Amazon would be there for me as I have been there for it.

    • Seeing this makes me sick to my stomach. Covering up a mistake by creating hardships for a customer is by no measure of the phrase a “best practice”

      For shame, Amazon. For shame.

  5. I just got the warning email from amazon, now i’m buying more from other places online, somebody stole 2 orders the same day from my door and the next day i get this warning. It’s my money if amazon doesn’t want it, it’s a big web out there everybody else wants it and will take it with a smile. I have 3 fire tv’s sticks, a fire phone, prime member for 4 years, I have bought everything i could from amazon but now I will cut back to only the greatest of priced items. I’ve bought 3 uv filters for cameras and 2/3 were empty just a case no filter and I’m scared to send them back because it’s somehow my fault. I’ll shop at the competitors for now.

  6. I just got my account closed on Amazon. I think I’m a bit the opposite of all the other experiences I’ve read in terms of reaction. I saw it coming, and I know it’s my fault, and I should have adjusted the the way I was utilizing the return system for Amazon. If anything the only issue I see is the fact that Amazon says people are violating policy, but there is no written policy about the amount of return frequency allowed. If they were to say something about it, I think a lot of customers would stop abusing it. I received an email more than once that my account would be looked at because of excessive returns. The only reason I didn’t change my actions was because when I responded the account specialist told me that my account was not in jeopardy of being closed and to continue with my normal practices. I think I misinterpreted what the specialist meant. I think it did not mean I should go back to making excessive returns, but should adjust myself and for now I’m not in jeopardy. Really, it’s my fault.

    Other than that the only gripe I have is the fact that Amazon who is the “most customer centric company” in the world has no systems in place for a person to get some kind of good explanation from a real person over the phone. All you get is generic scripted emails regardless of what you say. I asked about the policy, and got a generic email. I then asked another question and got a different version of the same email.

    • Brian, thanks for sharing your experience.

      I do know that it’s been part of Amazon.com’s business model from the very beginning to make it exceptionally difficult to get a person on the telephone. I’ve not had any beef with this practice because as I’ve said, I’ve never had a single problem with customer service. But I could see that it would be frustrating if I felt like I wasn’t getting resolution with their electronic comms.

      • It’s an interesting business model to have for the “most customer-centric company in the world”. They appear to have fantastic customer service, until there is a real problem like this. They’ve set it up to close people out, not have to deal with them again, and to not allow their voices to be heard. It’s not very customer oriented, but it’s cold and effective. The good part is, they only appear this way to those who’s accounts are closed, therefore it works perfectly as a front for those who have accounts still open. In other words to those who have open accounts amazon is their god, to those who got closed, amazon is the worst company in the world. It’s great way of doing things, because to us who are closed we can’t shop their anyways so our opinion is null. It felt great however to close my amazon store card and visa card. 90% of my purchases were impulse buys and in the long run I’m very happy Amazon stunted my buying addiction. Their 2 day prime service creates online shopping addiction for a lot of people in my opinion.

        • Hi Brian,

          Wondering how many returns you were doing per month or the % of it? I’ve been doing a lot more returns since I became a prime member and haven’t yet got an e-mail, but who knows. Maybe it’s a buy to return ratio they calculate?

  7. I think a class action suit is needed. There is a complete lack of due process AND since they dont give you back any of your giftcard dollars or Prime membership in refund seems they are getting a better deal.

  8. The fact that they will close your account without explanation and then refuse your refund of prime membership or gift card balance is something to consider…………..

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