Attention Amazon shoppers (read: everyone): While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos may be literally getting richer by the second, there’s some bad news in store for those of us in search of cheap and convenient online shopping.
It turns out that Amazon’s famously super-lax return policy may not be so lax after all. The online juggernaut is now banning customers who make too many returns. For those of us who rely on Amazon for just about everything — groceries, clothes, and especially last-minute travel items and birthday gifts — this could spell serious trouble for the easy-to-buy, easy-to-return lifestyle we’ve all grown accustomed to.
(And grown accustomed to Amazon we have: The company is growing rapidly and massively, prompting what many observers have dubbed a “retail apocalypse” and creating a very modern quality-of-life scourge: city streets choked with delivery trucks.)
As The Wall Street Journal reports: “According to former Amazon managers, the company terminates accounts for behaviors including requesting too many refunds, sending back the wrong items or violating other rules, such as receiving compensation for writing reviews.”
But just what constitutes “too many refunds” is not explicitly clear. Take 23-year-old Shira Golan, who told the Journal that she spends thousands of dollars a year on Amazon. According to the article: “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.”
And yet, her account was inexplicably closed earlier this month; after calling and emailing Amazon, she learned that she her account was “terminated permanently” because she had “reported an unusual number of problems.”
“I didn’t get any warning,” Golan told the paper. “If I knew this would happen, I wouldn’t buy clothes and shoes on Amazon.”
Amazon is not alone in their blacklist policies — other major retailers are banning customers for making too many returns.
But, by design, there is something so ubiquitous and easy about Amazon. Or, at least, there was. As I write this, I have a busted stainless-steel water bottle — it arrived that way, I swear! — and a too-impotent-to-justify-its-price table fan waiting for me to schlep to the UPS Store. But now, such a workaday errand gives me pause: What if returning these items means a potential future in which I have to actually buy birthday presents in advance? Is it worth it to keep unimpressive items — ones we’d never would have bought had we seen them or tried them in actual stores — in order to guarantee we can watch future seasons of Mrs. Maisel and Transparent (both shows distributed by Amazon Prime)?
Amazon built its empire on being customer-friendly, so there’s something icky about this seeming bait-and-switch. It echoes how Google recently removed its “don’t be evil” mantra from its code of conduct — maybe these cute, convenient tech companies aren’t so cute and convenient after all. (If the “retail apocalypse” comes to pass, and there are no more neighborhood stores, what will shopping look like in a dystopian future in which there’s only Amazon and no returns?)
So instead of worrying about getting banned from Amazon, maybe we should all be a little more proactive: Yes, Amazon is hella convenient, and I admit I’ll probably still use it to send presents to relatives who live out-of-town. (Free shipping is hard to pass up!) But maybe let’s at least take some baby steps toward taking our business elsewhere.