Monday, June 14, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Amazon Ships $7,000 Empty Camera Box

Jaron Schneider (via Hacker News):

A photography duo from Alamosa, Colorado recently ordered a Sony Alpha 1 camera from Amazon as an investment in their business in a transaction that they report cost them more than $7,000. But instead of receiving the new camera, the two only found empty boxes.

[…]

Worse, Chiles found that Amazon insisted that the package had been properly delivered, verified, and refused to issue him a refund. When speaking to an Amazon representative, his problems were dismissed.

[…]

Chiles says that he and his wife have proof that the package was not correctly delivered, as the UPS tracking label lists the weight of the box as just two pounds. The Sony Alpha 1 box weighs 3.22 pounds according to official listings[…]

Apparently, this was shipped directly from Amazon, not a Marketplace seller.

ageitgey:

My recommendation is to skip Amazon for anything expensive or at high risk of shipper theft/fraud. Your customer experience will not be the same as when they lose a $10 package. They will treat you like a criminal no matter what your past history with Amazon is.

sbarre:

As others have also said, doing a chargeback risks Amazon closing your account permanently.

So if you’re prepared to take that risk and never buy from Amazon again, sure.. go for it..

But given the centralization of vendors this can have bigger downsides than upside.

Previously:

13 Comments

Charging back to Apple also results in them closing your account. I know someone whose young kid racked up a bunch of in-app charges in a game on the kid’s new iPad (the parent _should_ have known better not to use the parents’ account tied to the parent’s credit card and the kid’s finger print, but the iPad doesn’t make those risks clear when setting it up). Apple refused to refund so the parent had the credit card company reverse the charges. Apple then shut down the parent’s account, which is a life-halting experience. This is definitely a very scary thing about big tech and overall consolidation. Those big companies have no reason to concede anything to small time consumers.

Kevin Schumacher

Whether it's a company that's big or small, I don't think "I charged back and now they closed my account" is really something that should be particularly controversial. If you do a chargeback, you're costing them money, and they have no reason to think it might not happen again.

I understand there are serious implications when the account is an Apple ID, for example. But if the business is refusing to issue a refund, whether the reason is "legitimate" or not, I'm not sure what people expect to happen if the consumer forces the issue with a chargeback. (And no, chargebacks are not necessarily inherently valid. Credit card companies will often side with their customer--American Express notoriously so, with what I believe is the most generous chargeback window across any card issuer--because they're more concerned about keeping the customer charging and generating interest and other fees than they are about the business.)

@Kevin It seems like there’s an obvious middle ground where the account (most of which is unrelated to this particular transaction) keeps working but you can’t charge anything else.

Kevin Schumacher

@Michael Maybe that is the answer. But it's still a customer who has caused a problem for the business, and I think we get into a very slippery slope if we're saying businesses of a certain size should be forced to do business with customers with which they do not want to (outside of protected classes, which I don't think "chargeback initiators" should be one).

Would your answer be different if the consumer sued Apple to recoup instead of pursuing a chargeback? Should a business be forced to continue working with a customer who sues them, outside of the legal process?

I think the answer is probably closer to the consumer has the ability to get all of their data out of the company at the time their account is closed. The customer doesn't have an inherent right to use an Apple device (or Google Docs, or whatever), so as long as they get their stuff back, I think that's a more fair middle ground. Everything else (apps, movies, etc) is licensed and not owned, so it's not really the consumer's, anyway.

Kevin Schumacher

To clarify, in my second paragraph I meant, should the business be forced to continue working with the customer outside of the context of the legal system, not if the customer sues them outside the legal process (not sure what that would even mean).

There are proper legal channels to contest a transaction and get your money (even though the outcome is uncertain, of course).

A chargeback just reverses the payment, not the transaction, so now you legally owe them money. They could even come and collect it.

"But it's still a customer who has caused a problem for the business"

But before that, it was a business that caused a problem for the customer.

"we get into a very slippery slope if we're saying businesses of a certain size should be forced to do business with customers with which they do not want to"

Once these businesses reach a certain size, they're often no longer optional. Closing down somebody's Apple or Google account could easily result in completely upending their life. There has to be some form of legal protection that prevents companies from first scamming their customers out of thousands of dollars, and then just completely screwing up their lives if they to recover the money the company essentially stole from them.

Amazon stole 7000$ from these people. They recovered that money. Amazon then decided to punish them by closing their account. There is no possible interpretation here where we should just shrug and say "it's still a customer who has caused a problem for the business."

When exactly did we decide that the rights of multinational corporations are more important than the rights of actual human beings?

We're already on a slippery slope here, but we're rapidly sliding down the wrong side.

Kevin Schumacher

> But before that, it was a business that caused a problem for the customer.

Then why is it a problem that the account is being closed? Why should the customer want to continue to do business with them? They got their money back, so they were made whole. At that point, the customer is basically arguing that the business was breaking the law by refusing the refund. So then the customer's response should be "I definitely want to keep buying from/using the services of this company that I think broke the law"?

> Closing down somebody's Apple or Google account could easily result in completely upending their life.

Yes, it could. But then if a person is at the stage where they're having to do a chargeback to recover what they feel is rightfully theirs, I'm not sure what else they'd expect the outcome to be.

> from first scamming their customers out of thousands of dollars

For the record, the "scam" (your word) that I was discussing is a kid buying IAP that his dad didn't want to pay for. Then use parental controls. Then maybe don't set it up so your kid has fingerprint access (the kid's, not the parent's) directly to your credit card. Then maybe suck it up and yell at your kid to not do it again.

The dad had to take the affirmative step of putting his credit card on the account. If he didn't have any questions--or did but didn't ask them--about what could possibly happen as a result of that (like, gee, can my kid use this to buy stuff), then I think that's on him.

It's like how my roommate put the knives away in the relatively new knife block I bought in such a way that they're scraping against each other. I ask him not to do that. He says OK, but btw he's not at fault because he didn't understand how the knife block works, but in the two months since I bought it had not stopped a single time to voice that lack of understanding.

> Amazon stole 7000$ from these people.

No, Amazon charged them for a product that they thought they were shipping to them (unless you're claiming that the company with a trillion-dollar valuation is also running a scam where they intentionally ship empty boxes for $7,000 cameras to people and then refuse them refunds). They refused to issue a refund initially, then changed their mind. Should it have taken escalating to ECR in this case? No.

But at the same time, how many people claim packages were lost that were delivered, or packages that contain expensive items were actually empty? The expectation should be that Amazon makes the right call, of course. In this case, seems like that would be easier than how it played out. But it's not always so clear-cut, like how the box here was underweight. In those cases, who's lying and who's telling the truth? Is Amazon supposed to eat the cost every time someone claims they were shipped an empty box, because even if 99 out of 100 people claiming that are scammers, the 1 that is not a scammer might have to fight harder for a refund and take alternative measures (chargeback, lawsuit, whatever)?

> Amazon then decided to punish them by closing their account.

Actually, no, they didn't, unless it's completely missing from the article. And the subjects of the article didn't do a chargeback, either. I was responding to the first commenter here opining on Apple closing the account of a person who did a chargeback.

> There is no possible interpretation here where we should just shrug and say "it's still a customer who has caused a problem for the business."

I mean, there is exactly that interpretation. Yes, the business caused the first problem, and they didn't do a refund for whatever reason. So the customer did a chargeback and got their money back. So now they caused a problem. Then what? Then the customer is entitled to continue using Amazon for the rest of their life because...? And that still doesn't answer the question of WHY the customer would want to continue doing business with Amazon (or Apple, or whoever).

> When exactly did we decide that the rights of multinational corporations are more important than the rights of actual human beings?

When did we decide that both sides shouldn't have rights?

And what human rights? To have an Apple ID? To have an Amazon account? None of those things are rights, nor should they be. Should Twitter also be forced to let Florida Republicans say whatever the hell they want, as in the law that was just passed there? Is having a Twitter account also one of these human rights?

What if Amazon says in one of these situations, "Oh, man, you're right. We made a mistake. Here's a refund. No need to do a chargeback, it's already back on the card. And by the way, we're closing your account"? So the business fixed their mistake directly. They didn't "steal" anything. But in that case, by accepting a customer's order once, they are on the hook to continue accepting orders for the rest of time?

What if a customer orders 10 times from Amazon, and every single package is stolen from wherever it's delivered to, and Amazon refuses to do refunds after package number 5? Customer does chargebacks and wins them (because the credit card company doesn't care, or customer has an especially good "story", even then it's not Amazon's fault) and then Amazon closes their account. Your view is that Amazon should be forced to continue sending orders into the void for the rest of time?

At what point does the business' right to refuse service kick in, and at what point does it stop? At what size does the business just become part of the public sector? Because that's essentially what you're advocating here; the public sector must work with everyone, pretty much no matter what.

"Then why is it a problem that the account is being closed?"

Because they may very well be dependent on Amazon.

"And what human rights? To have an Apple ID? To have an Amazon account? None of those things are rights, nor should they be"

Why not? It's not unusual to have laws forcing private service providers to provide services in places or to people they would otherwise not, if these services are deemed important enough.

Did you think about the questions you raised, and whether they could have reasonable answers?

Maybe there's something between "continue sending orders into the void for the rest of time" and "closing the account"?

Maybe there's something between a private company that does whatever it wants, and a government service? In fact, all private companies are somewhere between those two extremes. There are no fully unregulated private companies. That would be organized crime - and even they pay taxes, so they don't quite qualify, either :-)

@Kevin

But it's still a customer who has caused a problem for the business, and I think we get into a very slippery slope if we're saying businesses of a certain size should be forced to do business with customers with which they do not want to (outside of protected classes, which I don't think "chargeback initiators" should be one).

It’s a hard question because both sides should have rights, and it may not always be possible to determine which is the victim. But there’s a huge asymmetry because some of these companies are so large and their industries so consolidated (almost like utilities), so that denying service can be catastrophic for the individual whereas the business really doesn’t care if they lose that customer. Amazon’s warehouse messes up a camera order, so you can never have access to certain books/e-books? If you’re unlucky enough to have a billing dispute with both Apple and Google, you can no longer put apps on a phone? That just makes no sense. But, obviously, the customer isn’t always right and sometimes is even a bad actor. So, to me, it seems like the most fair solution would be to say the company cannot close the account and deny service, but the company is not required to sell you new stuff unless you make them whole. And then let the legal system work out who ultimately pays for the missing camera.

But then if a person is at the stage where they're having to do a chargeback to recover what they feel is rightfully theirs, I'm not sure what else they'd expect the outcome to be.

I don’t think this is common knowledge at all, which is the main reason I decided to write this post.

Old Unix Geek

@Kevin

You're assuming eggs can be extracted from an omelet.

Amazon is not a single thing. If it were just a shop, you might have a point. If it were a shop, it would go like this:

Shop made an error.
Shop was informed of that error with evidence.
Shop refused to fix their error.
Chargeback occurred.
Bad blood was felt by all but power was distributed equally.

That's ok because the customer's life is not intertwined with the shop. There may be multiple interactions, but each time it's a one time deal.

But Amazon doesn't just want to sell stuff, it wants to insert itself into our lives, because that makes it money. Hence "services" such as Alexa, 'purchases' of streamed movies, e-books, AWS, etc.

Services are different: people essentially invest in their service provider, in that they shape their lives around them, outsource various tasks to them, "purchase" digital things.

So now it's:

Customer invested in Service Provider.
Service Provider made an error.
Service Provider was informed of that error with evidence.
Service Provider refused to fix their error.
Chargeback occurred.
Service Provider retaliates disabling all services the customer now relies upon.

Now, because you trusted the service provider, they have power over you whether the mistake is theirs or not. That's not ok.

And to make matters worse, as Michael points out, we're ending up with very few service providers, further unbalancing the power dynamic. Power dynamics matter. In places where there is no choice, service tends to suck. Reminding me of a certain Mac 1984 advertisement.

Clearly it's better to either use Amazon's services, and not buy expensive things from them. Or not to use Amazon's services, and buy expensive things from them. Or avoid using them at all.

ProfessorPlasma

It’s a scary place where competition is not really existent. Right now you can purchase items on the NewEgg website and have it processed by Amazon without your knowledge. We really aren’t that far from a situation where Amazon can close an account and prohibit shipments to that address, removing wide swaths of vendors who rely on their marketplace. Scarier still is the fact that most e-commerce sites rely on Amazon for web hosting too. Most of my work web apps are hosted there as well. It simply isn’t possible for me to not use Amazon services. That sentence alone should be enough to make an antitrust argument, but I guess I can make the same statement about my ISP, so…

> And what human rights? To have an Apple ID? To have an Amazon account? None of those things are rights, nor should they be.

At some point, corporations become both so large (there's an Apple-Google duopoly on phones, and almost an Amazon monopoly on shopping), and so essential (it is increasingly difficult to live your live without a phone) that they are essentially utilities.

> Should Twitter also be forced to let Florida Republicans say whatever the hell they want, as in the law that was just passed there? Is having a Twitter account also one of these human rights?

I don't think Twitter has quite met that bar, and politicians in particular have plenty of outlets that will gladly propagate their thoughts, so no.

But if we were in even more of a tech dystopia, where traditional media were largely gone, and getting your voice heard effectively required either Facebook or Twitter? Possibly yes. But we're not. There's still newspapers, TV stations, podcasts, and so many more ways that are unrelated to either of those two corporations.

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