Amazon Power User Excommunicated

Amazon has carved another notch in its belt, adding one more customer to what it has called a “tiny fraction of cases” of people guilty of making too many returns.

The company banned Greg Nelson, a computer programmer, from shopping at the site because he returned 37 of 343 items purchased, The Guardian reported last week.

The returned products were damaged, faulty or not as described, Nelson asserted, but Amazon demanded a more detailed justification for the returns before it would consider lifting the ban.

On top of having his account closed, Nelson lost access to unspent funds trapped on gift cards, he said, which struck him as questionable from a legal perspective.

The computer programmer had been a “fervently loyal fan” of Amazon since 2002, he told the paper.

Although he acknowledged that Amazon must protect its business, he found the company’s actions in banning him to be “totally egregious.”

A Matter of Policy

From fine art and collectibles to game downloads and gift cards, Amazon offers specific return policies depending on the category. However, nowhere in its return policies does the company mention limits.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has closed an account on the grounds that an unspecified limit on returns had been reached. Katy Kilmarton lost unused balances on her gift cards and had her Amazon Prime membership canceled early this year after she returned 30 items out of 112, The Guardian pointed out.

While these cases appear to be rare, they might do more harm to Amazon than good, sugested Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“By almost any measure, the cost of absorbing returned items is minimal compared to the Internet’s ability to transform bad publicity into brand damage, especially if a mere ‘tiny fraction’ of Amazon customers is involved,” King told the E-Commerce Times.

Head On

More brand damage may be one of the last things Amazon needs right now.

The company already has been “running on a brand deficit” as a result of the 2015 New York Times piece that told of long hours and a brutally competitive work environment for Amazon employees, noted Trish McDermott, cofounder of Panic Media Training.

“Customers, like employees, are Amazon stakeholders, and their perception of the Amazon brand is important to the company’s overall success,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “Care must be taken to weigh any forward-facing practices against the potential brand buzz, positive or negative, they may generate.”

Regardless of how much truth there is to the claims of Amazon banning customers over excessive returns, such reports could cause high-volume consumers to loose faith in the company, noted McDermott — and that is where messaging becomes critical.

“Amazon’s reluctance to speak to the press can contribute to the negative buzz a policy like this generates,” she said. “What is the definition of excess? Is the company more or less favorable to certain types of returns? Will I be banned if my daughter’s bathing suit doesn’t fit correctly?”

If there truly are legitimate reasons and hard metrics on discerning bad luck from abuse, then Amazon needs to offer customers transparency.

“Address the reasonableness of your customer base. Be frank and unapologetic,” said McDermott.

If there is a problem with the return policy, it’s best to address it as soon as possible, she said, and Amazon has to remember that “no comment” is indeed a comment.

“I would like to see the company getting in front of communications like this,” McDermott added. “I think Amazon’s customers would too.”

Rate Your Experience

Many consumers already feel that they’ve been wronged by a retailer at sometime or another, observed Pund-IT’s King. Those feelings arise from cases ranging from the receipt of poorly crafted products to policies that marginalize customers.

“The move to e-commerce has exacerbated that situation, with some online retailers making it difficult or impossible for clients to engage directly with a company representative to clarify or settle disagreements,” he pointed out. “In short, I expect most consumers would side with the customer in this case, rather than Amazon.”

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

1 Comment

  • I think that every company in retail loses money on returns. After all its not their fault a product they sell does not live up to some people’s expectations. I know some people who buy cheap but have very particular expectations. They buy something on a whim but then become disenchanted with it. Even though the basis of the product works as sold. No defects, no damage. Just not what the customer expected. What people like this does, is leave the rest of us facing shorter warranties, reduced return time. Or even more questions about returns. Maybe the problem is, Amazon really does make it too easy to return something. Another blog had a comment that Best Buy does a similar targeting of habitual returns.

    Personally I think what Amazon should do is two things. One is monitor frequency of a product return and remove that product from sale if it is deemed a poor quality. Two, allow a shorter refund period and give Amazon credit for longer period. 30 days seems rather long to decide if you like a product or not. I think 14 days is reasonable, and give credit or exchange for anything beyond 14.

    I think sometimes people get buyers remorse for whatever reason. But to me that is not enough of a reason for a store to refund. In the end they rest of us pay a price for these actions. Such as restocking fee’s, paying freight for return and raising fee’s like Amazon Prime.

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