At least as far as its investors are concerned, Amazon can do no wrong. However, some customers who've been banned from shopping on Amazon's website, sometimes for seemingly arbitrary reasons, are starting to speak out, demanding more details about why they were suddenly cut off from a service that had become increasingly intertwined with their daily life, according to an expose published Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal.
In a report that we imagine will only strengthen President Trump's zeal to push back against the company's growing influence, users shared similar stories about being cut off from the company's service, sometimes losing access to hundreds of dollars in company credit.
Others accused Amazon of clearly ignoring the stated reasons for their returns (for example, one user said they requested reimbursement for a product that was ordered but never shipped).
@amazon - wow, great customer service, so personal and caring! Do u even read my return reasons (like 6 purchases in the last year...and that’s too many?) and a replacement for something I NEVER rec’d. #BadCustomerExperience #onlineshopping #Horrible #ShopLocal #BoycottAmazon pic.twitter.com/2DY1qHmFka— Claire Bochner (@cmbochner) April 17, 2018
Nir Nissim, a 20-year-old Israeli, said he received an email in March notifying him that Amazon had closed his account, purportedly for violating the company's user agreement. "You cannot open a new account or use another account to place orders on our site,” Amazon wrote, according to an email he supplied to WSJ.
Nissim was furious because he said he had a $450 gift card balance with Amazon at the time he was banned. After calling customer service every day for two weeks, and even going so far as to email CEO Jeff Bezos, he said his account was finally reinstated.
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.
Eventually a customer service agent told him that his account had been closed due to his return activity. Mr. Nissim said he has returned just one item this year—a computer drive—and four items last year. He sent more messages to protest the ban, including one to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. An Amazon employee—responding on behalf of Mr. Bezos—notified him he was reinstated.
"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."
Amazon declined to disclose how many customers it has banned, but did tell WSJ that customers should contact customer service if they believe they've been banned by mistake.
Others said they spend thousands of dollars a year on Amazon - only to be banned for making a few returns of negligible value.
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."
Of course, at a time when retailers profits are being squeezed by the competition from Amazon, more retailers are investing money in preventing return abuse by identifying high risk customers. For example, Best Buy and JC Penney have hired a third-party firm called Retail Equation to develop a "risk score" that formula that can be used to rate customers on the risk that they'll abuse the return system.
I buy a TON of stuff on @amazon. Once in a while I return something, always for a legit reason, and I always tell Amazon why. I just got this form email from Amazon during the Super Bowl. Pretty offensive, and quite uncharacteristic for them. Amazon customer service slipping? pic.twitter.com/Zm4dyqEQxl— Steve Lookner (@lookner) February 5, 2018
According to Amazon managers interviewed by WSJ, the company bans people for initiating too many refunds, sending back the wrong item or other violations like accepting compensation for a review. In short - users tend to get banned when they "create headaches for Amazon," as Chris McCabe, a former policy enforcement investigator at Amazon and now a consultant at EcommerceChris LLC. Marking an uncommon reason for a return could also result in a ban. For example, if a customer says the item didn't match the description when everybody else who returned the item said they simply didn't want it.
Another banned user described the process of being banned from Amazon - which includes losing access to its video and music streaming services, as well as other perks of Prime - as "dizzying and disorienting."
"You don't realize how intertwined a company is with your daily routine until it's shut off," he said.
"Most people think Amazon is extraordinarily generous, but that's until you realize you have crossed the line."