On Monday, it was revealed that numerous Amazon members’ accounts had been terminated as a penalty for returning goods too often. The terminations appeared to come without warning and included numerous lifetime bans. Many people seem to be less concerned with the injustice of it all and more worried about whether the returns they have made in the past pose a danger to their own Amazon accounts.
A quick internet search for Amazon banning customers fielded 20 or more articles, all quoting WSJ. Even In-Style and Food and Wine reported it as the news of the day. Why? Because many of their readers depend on, and love, the convenience of Amazon for delivering merchandise to their doorsteps daily.
Amazon has 300 million members because it is the ultimate in convenience; it has perks like free two-day shipping and comes with what most consider a fairly liberal return policy. As with many things in this ever-evolving world, however, “the times they are a-changing.”
THE ONLINE WORLD OF ALGORITHMS
We live in an online era driven by data, which feeds algorithms that monitor our behaviors. Whether it be personal relationships or political affiliations on Facebook, the daily swings of the stock market due to geopolitical events, or the retail tracking of our purchases and returns, they want it all. The sophistication of these algorithms allows businesses to uncover things that before went undetected. Moreover, while we the consumer may not like them, or may feel they have invaded our privacy, we also have the option to not put ourselves at risk by simply not doing business with these online companies. And that is the beauty of free enterprise.
AMAZON: LOVE ‘EM OR HATE ‘EM
Whether you love or hate Amazon, the fact remains that it is a business and must protect its margin. Over the years, fraudulent returns have run rampant and cost the retail industry billions of dollars. Amazon is dealing with the high cost of these returns, just as it will have to deal with high fuel costs, increased delivery costs with USPS, FedEx and UPS, and balancing a human and robotic labor force. It is business, baby.
According to the WSJ, most of the people affected were able to settle the issue and have their membership reinstated. Amazon, while sending a message loud and clear, might want to rethink the delivery of the bad news by explicitly stating in their return policy that certain types and or frequency of returns could lead to discontinued membership.
The company’s current return policy does not make the prohibition on regular returns clear, but it does state it has the discretion to terminate accounts.
Regardless of what Amazon’s next steps are with regards to refunds and terminating memberships or the next business adventure they undertake, it will no doubt make headlines because, hey, it is Amazon.
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