Amazon Has An Honesty Issue

Amazon has been our retailer of first-resort for years: ordering using Amazon Prime is quick, convenient and (on average) tends to have lower prices. Even our TV and some of our kitchen appliances were originally bought using Amazon Prime.

Over the course of that time, there's inevitably been the odd issue with ordered items, but they were all resolved quickly and easily via the customer-service text chat (although finding that chat can be a bit of a pain).

Even as recently as a couple of months ago, if asked about Amazon and Amazon Prime, I'd have said that it's generally been a fairly positive experience.

In November, though, my opinion of Amazon changed pretty significantly.

We experienced an issue with a high-value item not being delivered and, since that, have been left stuck in a state of financial limbo. Despite initially accepting that there was an issue with the delivery, Amazon have not issued a refund and have even contested credit card charge-backs.

With the benefit of hindsight and a bit of searching online, it seems that this is something that others have been experiencing too, so I thought that it might be helpful to post about our experience (so far) as well as what I think that the underlying issues at Amazon actually are.


Contents

This has turned into quite a long post, although hopefully it's relatively easy to read through. All the same, for ease of navigation, here's a table of contents:


Background

Ordering and "delivery"

Before writing about the broader issues that I think Amazon have, I'll lay out the course of events:

  • On Nov 1, I ordered an Xbox Series X bundle, along with an additional controller (and charging pack) for delivery the next day (because, you know, Amazon Prime)
  • Two sets of packages were dispatched: the Xbox in one, the rest of the stuff in another, being carried by Amazon Logistics
  • Because it's a high value item, Amazon sent me an email noting that I needed to provide a one-time code to the driver on receipt
  • The My Orders page suggested that everything would be delivered "by" 14:30
  • At about 14:15 the doorbell went. I was downstairs so only took a few seconds to get to the front door, just in time to see a white van speeding off
  • There were several boxes (turns out my other half had also ordered some stuff), but no Xbox
  • Given I hadn't been asked for a code, I figured the Xbox was going to be delivered separately so looked in My Orders again: nothing showed as having been delivered and the tracking showed the driver as being 9 stops away. Weird, but maybe he was out of coverage?
  • About 18:30, whilst I was cooking dinner, the doorbell went again
  • Stood in our (now dark) porch was a driver, with a package clearly visible next to him - he wanted a code before he'd hand the parcel over
  • I provided the code, took the package and went back inside.

I initially went back to cooking dinner (because leaving food to burn on the hob isn't a great idea), but then figured I should check the Xbox before stashing it ahead of Christmas (which was very lucky - otherwise I wouldn't have found any of this out until weeks later).

When I opened the box though, I didn't find an Xbox, I found this:

Photo of the contents of the box: snickers chew bars, bounty chew bars, an air freshener and a box of flash detergent

Clearly someone had nicked it and filled the box with crap to make up the weight!

Personally, I felt (and still feel) that it was probably the driver - the way that the delivery of the other parcels had occurred was just plain weird. Drivers shooting off quickly isn't all that unusual, but this was fast even by their standards and the online tracking was way out .

Looking in my inbox, the "Your package has been delivered" mails for those earlier parcels didn't arrive until 16:41. Normally they arrive more or less immediately after delivery: Is that the result of delays in Amazon's systems, or did the driver not mark them as delivered until later to give himself cover for the time spent swapping the parcel out?

For those who are wondering, the driver requesting a code before handing over the parcel is consistent with the instructions that Amazon send to customers:

Screenshot of Amazons notification mail. The final paragraph reads: For security, the recipient of this package must provide this one-time password or last to digits of the delivery address phone number to driver in-person to receive the package. Do not communicate this password or your phone number to the driver over phone or intercom

Even if it occurred to the customer that they might need to, it's not possible to check the contents of the parcel first, because you have to give the code to even receive it.


Raising with Amazon

I hopped straight into the customer service chat, expecting that - like previous experiences - this would be dealt with reasonably easily.

Amazon's customer service, though, really needed things spelling out for them. I got transferred 4 times, sometimes immediately after the previous transfer.

Eventually though, I was told that Amazon needed a couple of days to investigate before they could replace or refund the item:

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. In it, I spell out to them why I think it's the driver and then they say they need to investigate which will take 24-46 hours

Although I'd have liked a resolution there and then, a couple of days wasn't a huge ask. At the time, I (somewhat naively) took that as a sign that Amazon were actually interested in identifying and dealing with the thief.

Unfortunately, a few days later, I'd heard nothing more from Amazon. I checked my access logs and found that no-one had even visited the link I'd provided for the photo of the box's contents.

So, I hopped back onto their live-chat.

This time, when I mentioned the photo, I was given a customer services email to send it to. A few minutes later, after the rep had checked my mail, they came back to me in the chat to confirm that they'd initiate a return

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. Having looked at my photo they say they can see that I've not received an Xbox and offer to initiate a return

I did have some concern about this though - that box was my evidence - I didn't want it returned only for Amazon to say "your return didn't contain an Xbox", so I asked explicitly if that was going to be an issue

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. I ask whether it's going to be an issue that there wont be an Xbox in the returned box and the adviser specifically says that it will not be a problem

I didn't have much choice but to take a leap of faith and, after all, Amazon are a multi-national retailer who care about customer service and their reputation, right?

My one remaining concern was how long it was going to take for the refund to come through - after all Christmas was approaching and I was currently short one (very expensive) present.

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. I ask how long a refund will take and am told 5-7 days upon receipt of the returned item.

Although a gift-card refund would be processed quicker, the timeline for refund to my card was reasonable. I didn't really want to buy the replacement from Amazon, after all, can you imagine the difficulties if the same thing happened a second time?

The adviser triggered the return process and I received an email with a QR code to take to the post office along with the parcel. The next morning, the parcel was on its way back to the mothership.

Upon dispatch, Royal mail provide a tracking code, so I can show that the package was delivered to Amazon on the 8th of November 2023.


Where's my refund?

A week later, I still hadn't received a refund, so I checked My Orders and saw that it hadn't yet been approved (but the interface suggested that it would be in the next few days).

That date came and went and every time that I checked, the projected date slipped back until, eventually, the interface flipped over to claiming they hadn't received the return at all.

It's since switched back to acknowledging receipt, but providing no estimation for the refund to be issued.

Screenshot of Amazon's refund status view, showing the item as received, but refund not issued

So, back into the chat I went.

At this point I was beyond frustrated, but it isn't right to abuse support staff, so I opened by explaining that I knew that it wasn't the advisers fault personally, but that I was absolutely furious with Amazon: it was 3 weeks since their delivery chain had stolen our item and I was still without refund, leaving me facing the prospect of having to settle a credit card bill containing something that I hadn't received.

The adviser apologised but said that the refund needed to go through additional approvals and wouldn't be authorised until 6th December:

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. CS adviser explains that because it's over 220 GBP in value it takes more than a month for the refund to be reflected on our account.

Worse than that, the 6th wasn't even when we'd get the refund, just when it'd be processed. They still wanted 14 days after that for issuance of the refund

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. CS adviser explains that because it's over 220 GBP in value it takes more than a month for the refund to be reflected on our account.

So, just to put Amazon's proposed timeline into context:

  • 01 Nov: order placed
  • 01 Nov: money taken
  • 02 Nov: box delivered
  • 02 Nov: Amazon delay things
  • 06 Nov: Return initiated
  • 30 Nov: Credit card statement issued/paid
  • 06 Dec: Refund to be approved
  • 20 Dec: Refund to be paid

In fact, the date of the 20th of December is actually me being being generous, because the adviser said 14 business days, so, in practice, we might not even have seen a refund this year.

Put simply, following on from one of their staff stealing our purchase, Amazon wanted us to remain in a state of financial limbo for the better part of 2 months, spending Christmas wondering whether we'd ever see our money again.


Chargeback

As much as I wanted to tell Amazon to GFY, I instead politely explained to the adviser that the timeline was unacceptable and that I'd be contacting my credit card provider to invoke a chargeback under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

I'd paid for the order using an American Express card, so I contacted them: Amex are fairly notorious for backing their customers, so I figured we'd be made right relatively quickly.

I logged into Amex's portal and found that filing a dispute is really simple:

  1. Find the relevant transaction
  2. Click the Dispute payment link
  3. Fill out a multiple choice form
  4. Upload any evidence (I uploaded copies of my chat with Amazon etc)

Once I'd submitted the dispute, Amex suspended the line item from my statement (so I wouldn't have to pay for something I hadn't received that month) and contacted Amazon to let them know the transaction had been disputed.

Two days later, on 23 Nov, I received an email from Amazon, with the following:

We are writing to let you know that the credit or debit card issuing bank has raised a dispute regarding the transaction below.

To help us resolve this matter, please reply to this email and explain the reason for disputing this charge.

You will find the transaction details below.

I'm sure they could have looked up my chat history if I directed them to it, but at this point I was feeling a little cynical and decided that it'd be better to lay everything out again, allowing it to later be referred back to if the need arose.

I sent Amazon a fairly concise email re-providing timelines as well as explaining that I'd filed a chargeback because Amazon's proposed timelines would have left me at a significant financial disadvantage over Christmas:

Screenshot of chat with Amazon support. CS adviser explains that because it's over 220 GBP in value it takes more than a month for the refund to be reflected on our account.

The response that I received from Amazon later that day was short and to the point:

We received your email. We are currently working with your card issuer to resolve this dispute.

Card issuers usually resolve chargeback disputes within 30 days, but sometimes it can take longer. If you need more information or wish to cancel any disputes, please contact your card issuer.

Although I was still feeling cynical, I took this to mean that Amazon would probably go back to Amex and accept the dispute apart from the £72.25 that I'd authorised them to take for the controller and battery pack.

I heard nothing from either Amazon or Amex for nearly two weeks, but such was my trust in Amex's reputation that I felt quite comfortable popping out to a trustworthy retailer and collecting, in person, an Xbox Series X to ensure that we could give the intended present (I did, however, make that retailer open the box whilst we were still in store, just to be safe).


Chargeback Failed

On the 6th of December 2023 I received a snail-mail letter from Amex, which noted that:

Snippet of letter from Amex: The merchant has now sent us a copy of the documentation for your reference. The merchant has provided proof of delivery

Amex were intending to re-apply the charge to my statement, putting me back on the hook to pay for an Xbox that I hadn't received.

What possible evidence could Amazon have provided in order to prove delivery of an Xbox that hadn't been in the box?

Snippet of letter from detailing response from Amazon. I highlighted a section which reads: The customer has successfully used this shipping address for 83 number of orders that were previously processed and weren't disputed. Please have the customer carefully review the order details.

Essentially, they hadn't - they'd simply suggested that delivery to our address has always been fine before and that maybe I'd messed up somehow?

It was astonishingly clear that Amazon's chargeback department either hadn't read my reply or had decided to ignore it.

What really concerned me, though, was that American Express clearly hadn't read the provided information either. If they had, it would have taken them all of 3 seconds to realise that what Amazon had said was completely irrelevant to the dispute, not to mention that Amazon had accepted that there was an issue in the customer service chats.

I picked up the phone, called Amex customer services and instructed them to re-open the dispute.

I explained that it was obvious that they hadn't actually investigated, that Amazon's chargeback department had emailed me after the chargeback was raised and that their response to Amex wasn't consistent with either my reply or the complaint itself. As a result, I was asked to upload copies of the email chain with Amazon.

At this point, I was really quite annoyed, so as well as uploading copies of the Amazon emails I uploaded a file called Attention_Amex.pdf containing a note to them explaining my displeasure at the closing of the dispute, pointing out why Amazon's response was obviously bunk and suggesting that they pull their finger out:

Snippet of note I sent to amex: Please investigate this dispute *properly*. Under s75 if the consumer credit act my agreement is with you, if you are unable to resolve this, please clearly state that this is the case as my next step will be to initiate legal action.

Still annoyed, that night, I also emailed Jeff Bezos ('cos why not?) to ask if he was aware that his chargeback department seemed to be in the habit of misleading credit card providers.

Which, brings us round to today.

Currently, I'm still waiting to hear back from Amex on the chargeback or (if by some miracle it happens) from Bezos on having set his team straight. In the meantime, I've been preparing for the possibility of taking legal action because I am not paying for an Xbox that wasn't delivered.


Analysis: The Real Problems

Modified version of the Amazon A-Z logo - I've inverted the arrow to turn the smile upside down. It looks like a sad face

Moving onto the analysis then.

It'd be easy to think that the biggest problem is that things are getting nicked from within Amazon's fulfillment chain.

As we'll quickly explore, though, I think Amazon's problems are much more severe and run much more deeply than that.


Amazon Like Playing Dumb

When I first contacted Amazon's customer support, I had to lay out in no uncertain terms that the item had clearly been nicked by someone on Amazon's side.

They were intent on treating it as a wrong-item received claim, which I didn't want:

  1. On the day, I was full of righteous indignation and ideally wanted the driver to be nailed to the nearest wall
  2. I was concerned that it being treated as a wrong-item return would lead to Amazon later trying to dispute the refund (don't I feel vindicated...)

In my second chat with customer services, I didn't push so hard on the "it's been nicked" front because I'd reached the point that I just wanted my money back and it seemed to be the path of least resistance.

The thing is, though, I should not have needed to explain it to Amazon's staff in the first place.

I'm no particular fan of Chat-GPT but even Bing's chat can figure out what likely went on:

Screenshot of a question being provided to Bing chat. It reads: Consider this: A consumer orders a high value item from an online retailer. Because it's high value, the retailer requires the consumer to communicate a one time password to the delivery driver on delivery - the package is marked as requiring this code. After receipt and provision of the code, the consumer opens the package and finds that their high value item is not in it - it's instead full of low value items such as chocolate bars. What do you think might have happened here? Screenshot of part of Bings response, reading: The consumer was a victim of an item not received scam, where the seller sent the correct item to the consumer, but the delivery driver or someone else intercepted the package and replaced the high-value item with low-value items. The delivery driver or the thief then used the one time password to confirm the delivery and avoid suspicion.

It's not like this form of theft is even particularly new to Amazon, it's even previously been covered by large publications:

A quick search online shows that social media is awash with customers complaining of stuff being stolen and Amazon's subsequent reluctance to issue refunds.

It follows, then, that Amazon cannot be unaware of the rot that exists within their own system, suggesting that they have consciously chosen to try and let customers carry the financial consequences of their corporate impotence.

Anecdotal reports suggest that this year is particularly bad for thefts of Amazon parcels, with drivers reportedly even being so bold as to photograph packages on people's doorstep before stealing them.

By not acting decisively to address the theft occurring within it's delivery organ, Amazon has fomented an environment where thieves believe that they can act with impunity.

This billionaire-owned behemoth's sloping shoulders and general ineptitude leaves their customers suffering through no fault of their own.


Advertising High-Value Packages

Amazon presumably implemented one-time passwords out of concern that high value items were going missing (and, presumably, to address some incidence of consumer fraud).

The problem is, those packages are now clearly marked as being of value - the need for a OTP screams to everyone in the delivery chain that "this" might be worth nicking.

That could never end well in an environment where taking packages is seemingly almost risk free for logistics staff.

I wouldn't be surprised, at all, if the introduction of OTP coincided with an increase in overall theft.

I'm sure that Amazon will have statistics, but given their apparent reluctance to record occurrences of theft as such, I suspect that their numbers don't accurately reflect reality. Even if they do, there's still the risk that some level of management is focused only on one metric (a reduction in recorded incidences of consumer fraud) to the exclusion of all else.


Management Driven?

It's not unusual, when dealing with a company, to find that your experience differs a bit based on the customer service agent that you get - people in front-line roles tend to each have their own approach to exploring and resolving issues (those differences are what tends to make people good at their jobs).

Reading about other's experiences with Amazon online, it's quite clear that Amazon would like us to believe that it's the customer service agents who are at fault. News stories often note that, when challenged by the media, Amazon explain that

a customer service agent had misinformed you and has received further training.

However, I don't believe that this is likely to truly be the case:

  1. My own interactions with their customer service teams do not support this contention: the staff did not come across as obstructive in the least and a return was even arranged - the holdup came when the refund had to be sent for approval.
  2. Amazon's chargeback department clearly have been, at best, obstructive. It seems unlikely that chargebacks are handled by frontline customer-service staff, being more of a finance function.
  3. It's abundantly clear from reports online that this issue is quite widespread. If a large number of customer service agents are, in fact, misinformed this would suggest that there's an issue with Amazon's training and/or internal policies - ergo, there's a systemic issue that Amazon is failing to address and is choosing to scapegoat agents instead (something that would be entirely consistent with our understanding of their attitude to employees).
  4. Since first posting this, I've received messages from people across Europe who've been impacted in similar ways. So, Amazon's behaviour isn't even regionalised to the UK - the policy (whether it be official or de-facto) driving this behaviour is international

Personally, I consider it far more likely that someone within Amazon's management chain is trying to achieve an arbitrary set of figures or targets. They're pushing for this, at all costs, with the result that customer welfare and what's right isn't considered at all.

Putting it bluntly, I'm not sure whether Amazon have considered a move into agriculture, but I'd say they're quite adept at shovelling a certain something.


The Current Situation

At time of writing, my case is still unresolved - sooner or later I'll get a letter from American Express detailing their conclusions and will have to take it from there.

About the time that I emailed Bezos (who, obviously, was busy with more important things), I realised that I'd started using the word "contempt" in relation to the way that Amazon had been treating us.

It turns out that I'm not alone and the word "contempt" turns up elsewhere: Amazon shows ‘contempt’ for UK law over parcel thefts.

Now, Amazon haven't asked me for a crime number and if they did, I'd argue that it's not actually on me to acquire one in the first place: the Xbox was not stolen from me, it was stolen from Amazon. The criminal action was against the retailer and my dispute is entirely civil: Amazon have not fulfilled their side of the contract by delivering the Xbox that I paid for.

I am extremely privileged in that I'm not relying on that money for food and heat.

That doesn't make Amazon's behaviour any less contemptible though: I could equally well be a single-parent who'd saved all year for a special present and was now facing the choice of a present-less Christmas, or having to sacrifice something else to free up money to purchase a replacement Xbox.

The fact that Amazon could equally be doing, or do, the same to someone who is in that position was a big motivator in writing this post (UPDATE: since publishing this post, I've been contacted by a number of people who are in that position - Amazon doesn't discriminate in it's awfulness).

Whilst I am very fortunate not to be in that position, it doesn't make me immune from stress and certainly doesn't make me any less annoyed.

Gif of the Friends scene where Ross says I'm indignant, as a consumer! whilst holding a pack of rubbers

The pack of johnnies that Ross is holding are a little more pertinent than you might think: I've never been afraid to stand on principle and, given the opportunity, I'd be more than happy to f..k Amazon's day up as much as possible.

Unfortunately, however, that's not quite how all of this works.

I made the purchase with a credit card and, as a result, the law holds that my contract is with American Express and not Amazon. It's American Express who have the legal duty to make me whole.

So, if this does get to the point that I need to start legal action (and, I absolutely will), Amex are the unfortunate middle-man who will end up taking Amazon's well-deserved breach-of-contract kicking.

Of course, at time of writing, American Express aren't entirely without fault themselves.

I'm hugely disappointed at their handling of the chargeback so far: They were supposed to be one of the good credit-card providers but, presumably, have made cutbacks, with levels of customer service suffering as a result.


The Future

I don't know exactly what the future holds for this case, other than that I've every intention of fighting harder than a honey-badger with a sore-head.

Beyond that though, the rules of the future are relatively straightforward

  • Never buy anything of any meaningful value (if anything at all) from Amazon ever again
  • Assume that Amazon absolutely do not act in good faith, do not give them the benefit of any trust
  • If something does turn up needing an OTP, refuse the delivery and repurchase elsewhere
  • Amazon Prime is no longer worth having

If we reach the point of legal action, I suspect that I'll also need to look for a new credit card provider - I can't imagine that Amex won't respond by disinviting me from using their services.


Closing Thoughts

Amazon's handling of the case aggrieves me far more than the initial theft does. In a logistics chain the size of Amazon it's inevitable that there are sometimes going to be some bad apples. As with all things customer facing, the bit that matters is not the initial incident so much as how you respond to it. Clearly, Amazon have utterly failed in that respect.

Until the response to the chargeback came through, I was quite willing to give Amazon the benefit of Hanlon's Razor (Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity). However, with the response that they sent to Amex, it became hard not to conclude that any signs of ineptitude are not, in fact, deliberate.

I'm disappointed in Amex's initial handling of the chargeback, but if I were being generous, I'd say that a significant part of the problem is their web portal over-simplifying the process. It's very easy to file a chargeback, but it's all done with multiple choice answers: there is no means to provide context or detail other than uploading files of evidence.

I suspect that what's happened, is that Amex have seen the "Item not received" selection in the multiple choice and followed a script without reviewing any of the rest of the dispute.

It doesn't excuse it, but if the root of it is bad UI, then there is hope that Amex could fix things for future customers.

Casual readers of my site may have noticed, by now, that I've gone to some lengths to avoid my usual... uh... application of language in this post: I wanted to make sure that the post could get past corporate web filters, hopefully one day even being seen within Amazon itself.

However, it would be remiss of me not to also honestly communicate my current feelings towards the relevant levels of Amazon's management, which I shall do via the medium of meme:

Meme of a raised middle finger. Can't fully repeat the words because filters but it says, go blank yourself, then do it twice more

I'd also suggest turning it sideways and repeating.

As a closing note, if you do find that you are affected by similar then please, please, try not to take it out on the front-line staff: it's not their fault that they work for a shower of morally corrupt nobs.


2023-12-12 Update

With many thanks due to Anna Tims at The Observer, I'm pleased to say that Amazon have now issued a refund and will be running an internal investigation into the initial theft.

As a result, I've contacted American Express to close the transaction dispute, but have also asked them to open a complaint about the way in which the dispute was handled. Although the money is being returned, I want to make sure that Amex review things to avoid others having to go through similar experiences.

Whilst I'm pleased that our funds have been returned, it really shouldn't need the involvement of the media for Amazon to do right by its customers.