If you work or sell anything on the Internet long enough you will come into contact with all kinds of people and personalities you may never run across in the course of your daily routine. This of course is not always a bad thing, most of the time you can meet and interact with so many more people than you ever could in person, but every once in a while you will come across that individual that makes you think how far can they actually take this. And the answer can quickly become very obvious, about as far as they want to, and usually way farther than you would want them to as well.
I have sold different products and services on the Internet now since about 1993, so I have run into my share of not so pleased customers or buyers that no matter what you do or say they are pre-determined to be displeased. I think I could write a book on it, but another article that comes to mind that I will write soon is called The Customer is NOT Always Right, but I will leave that for another post.
The Customer is Not Always Right… Really
Well, this is an old saying, but buyers can go to far. The Internet allows people to say and do things they would never do face to face, even though there really is a real human behind the screen, sometimes buyers (customers) can use the Internet to take advantage of the systems in place. There is a difference between good customer service and common sense, and you have to weigh the effects of each situation. I really don’t think the customer is always right, but a company should still live by that adage as best they can. When you can’t, minimize any negative effects that might occur and move on.
Recently I came across one of those buyers on Amazon that just would not be happy no matter what we did. He ordered a book from us, we shipped it to him within 24 hours, and he received it very quickly. It was then he determined that he wanted the book to be a hardcover (even though a printing in the same edition and publication year did not exist). It was not a gift or anything, just for personal reading, same words, same everything, just a paperback copy. After explaining that a hardcover didn’t exist he demanded a full refund, and wanted to keep the book.
That is the point at which I should have just said, ok, keep my book, here is your money back, can I do anything else for you?
- The customer is always right
- Re-read my step 1
I Guess the Customer is Always Right After All
If I took my own advice here I wouldn’t have anything to write about, so if you don’t do step 1 above, learn something from the mistake. In the end, because of the way Amazon is setup to deal with their Marketplace sellers, I had to refund the book price and the shipping anyway, and had no means to get the book back other than just to ask the buyer to return it, which he refused.
This buyer did threaten me with the standard I will file a claim and leave negative feedback thing, neither of which I wanted over a sale like this, but it did cause me to dig into this customer service cause and effect a little deeper than I had in the past. When pushed by a dumb seller, how far could a bad or unethical buyer take it to an Amazon Marketplace seller if they so desired? As far as they want.
Is Being Right Worth Your Amazon Marketplace Account
I guess you could win the battle and loose the war pretty easily here. After knowing how far a buyer could go, I might re-evaluate how right I really was here. If I had to choose between my single book and my seller account, I would probably have refunded the guy twice what he paid for the book. In a recent blog post, 10 Steps to a 7 Figure Income From Your Site, number 5 on the list is of course, The customer IS always right. If you are in business for any length of time you will soon learn that the liability all rests on the business, and whatever the problem is, it probably isn’t worth it in the long run. The screen shot below was from a canceled account from just 4 feedbacks, it doesn’t take much sometimes.
The steps I will outline below did not happen in this case, of course, it is just the scenario I found with not to much trouble, and I know I can learn something from it. After I tried to explain to him that he was indeed wrong, I promptly emailed him back to say how unprofessional I was and if I could do anything else to let me know. As of this writing that is as far as it went.
How an Unethical Person Can Get Your Account Canceled
Noticed I have now changed to person and not customer or buyer. I really think that there is a line, usually that is the line of law, that once crossed, the individual is no longer considered a customer or buyer, and should not be treated as such. It is nothing more than simplistic fraud, and not even very smart, but, who ever said common sense prevails. If you have someone that has it in for you, especially over the Internet, they may not stop until you are down and out.
I hesitated to list these steps in the first place but did so because I found them (1) readily available on the forums, (2) something anyone could really figure out anyway, and (3) something I (we) can learn from the next time there is an unruly customer. Good customer service should be the key.
There Are Three Ratings So There are Three Steps
A little background on Amazon’s policies. Amazon has a Seller Performance Measurement plan that shows what they expect from their sellers. For the most part there are three different areas Amazon looks at, the seller’s Feedback, A-to-z Guarantee Claim Rate, and Media Refund Rate. Each of these figures need to be below a certain rate to remain in good standing. Knowing these, it is just a matter of doing the math.
1. Look at Seller’s Feedback, Times 10%
If a seller has a feedback rating that is 100% and 100 feedbacks in the last 30 days, 10% of that is 10 feedbacks. The total negative feedbacks allowed by Amazon is 5%, or in this case 5 negative feedbacks over the 30 day period. A buyer only needs to buy 10 books or 10 products and then they can immediately leave 10 negative feedbacks, well above the limit.
2. File A-to-Z Guarantee Claims
The number of claims against the seller can only be 0.5% of the orders received. The above 10 purchases would all need to be filed as a claim against the seller. This can’t be done immediately, there is a minimum time limit allowed to receive the item before they can file a claim against the seller, and if the next step is taken first then it doesn’t come to the A-to-Z claim.
3. Request Refunds Through Media Refund
A buyer can do one of the two last steps to be effective. If the buyer doesn’t want to wait to file the claim they could bully the seller into issuing the refunds. If the seller refunds all 10 products in the example above it would far exceed the 5% allowed by Amazon. Of course the seller doesn’t have to refund the orders, they can wait until the claims are filed.
The seller may also find out what the person is doing and refuse to ship the product, and in this case, the seller will need to refund the orders as well. Amazon gives you 24-48 hours to ship or refund the order in question, all of which will not be good for the seller.
Seller’s Can Take Standard Precautions
There are of course a lot of variables here. One being that Amazon will actually take action against the buyer and actually look at the situation and understand a good seller from a bad one. Another would be that the seller could follow some standard practices that might help their case and protect them from this kind of fraud.
- Sellers should always ship their orders with a tracking number
- Ship orders within the alloted time
- Respond to all emails as quickly as possible
- Keep in mind, you never know who you are talking to or where it could lead, good or bad
- Make professional acquaintances that you can talk to about problem customers
- Do your research first. Groups and forums are a great asset, your problem is most likely not unique
- Remember step 1 above and bite your tongue
This situation outlined above would be a perfect storm situation in reality. I did find a few sellers that had some of these problems but not many. It takes a buyer that is willing to go to these extremes and actually spend their own money, Amazon would have to be totally oblivious to the buyers activities (which I doubt they are), and you would have to have some pre-existing issue or issues with one of your ratings.
My experience selling on eBay and some other channels tells me this isn’t really exclusive to Amazon. Usually when a seller account is suspended or canceled there are at least some underlying reasons that the seller or company usually omits or slants, it is just natural, and we can never really know what information the Trust and Saftey or Alliance teams have gathered to make their decision.
It does happen though, and any selling channel company that tells you it can never happen doesn’t know what they are talking about, in my opinion. A recent post about Google, Get ANY Adsense Account Banned, spelled out a similar scenario, and eBay is probably the biggest and easiest target of all. Each sales channel has its own weaknesses that customers can abuse and exploit. What is important to remember as a company or seller is that we can probably stop most problems before they become something bigger ourselves by just good old customer service.
Update, April 4th
Ironically, that is how it ended for us on Amazon as Amazon Marketplace Sellers. The email screenshot at the top was the actual email we received after a quick string of bad buyers (click the image to see the entire email). We were able to give no explanation, no time was allowed to correct what the “buyer” complained about, and no grace period or way to get back in as Amazon Marketplace Sellers. One email and we were out and our business was gone. I knew it would eventually happen, and it did take a few years for something like that to catch up to us, but in the end I knew it was only a matter of time. We spent many good years on eBay and many good years selling on Amazon and learned a lot about selling online (see We are No Longer Amazon Marketplace Sellers).