Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I ordered a box of boxes from The Packaging Wholesalers via Amazon.ca (twitter.com)
501 points by jellicle 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 190 comments

At one point, my parents bought a toilet from Amazon, and got along with it a 12-foot long balance beam.

Trying to return it was a bit of an ordeal:


Loved that. This quote just sums up customer support in 2020 (and, apparently, also in 2014):

    Me 'Hi- I just called about a 12 foot balance beam 
    delivered to me – along with my toilet – in error.
    Are you the one I talked to?'


    Me- 'Excellent!'

I wish I could get such to the point responses (as simple as "No") while interacting with customer care.

Thank you very much for commenting, and I'm sorry to hear about your concern, 'balladeer. I empathize with your desire for short, pithy responses to questions posed to customer care, and hope that you're having an otherwise great day. Thank you for being a loyal HN customer.

Can I get your account number to get started?

Amazon accidentally shipped me a book a few months ago, by getting one digit in the address wrong. I pinged Amazon to return it - but I got the same response, "why don't you keep it?". I said I didn't want to, and this went on for a while, and I realized that they aren't going to to take it back. They said they were going to ship another copy to the correct address anyway. A day after the conversation, I was still not satisfied so I decided to walk down to this other house to drop off the book. Unfortunately no one was in when I made my visit, and I didn't want to drop off the book without speaking to them (it'd have been confusing if they had received some kind of an apology mail from Amazon in the interim etc). I had to immediately leave for a long business trip right after, and, well, the book is still with me. I didn't bother after my return - I convinced myself it was too late.

But mine was a book, yours was a beam. So I got off easy I guess :-)

My best/worse "duplicates" have arisen since they started using their own last-mile shipping:

A package gets marked undeliverable. I go ahead and re-order the item. The next day the package is marked delivered on-time (it definitely didn't arrive the day before), and is un-undeliverable. I now have to cancel the replacement I ordered, and have to talk to customer support to make them eat the cost of it, because fuck them. There's no record on the amazon page that it was ever marked undeliverable at all - I now have started taking screenshots.

I'm assuming this is some fuckery played by people in the field having trouble hitting their metrics, but I don't actually know. I just know that at least once this has ended with a next-day-shipping replacement arriving alongside the "undeliverable" item, and Amazon demanding I mail it back to get my refund. Because nothing says "fun" like now having to take the time out of my day to ship an item back to them so as not to get double-charged due to their own fucked up shipping practices.

Amazon has changed promised delivery dates after I ordered items. They are comitting fraud, and I too have taken screenshots to call them out on it in case it becomes an issue.

Why borther don't they just throw returns in the trash anyways?

But giving an incorrectly addressed package to your neighbor seems like a general good idea :)

No, they auction off returns in mixed boxes. Here's a video of someone who bought one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTaYet07Ioo

I realize that HN frowns on +1 types of comments. But I nevertheless feel obliged to add that I laughed my ass off watching that video. The woman that did the video has a great sense of humor.

No, as I understand it they sell job lots of returns on a pallet or whatever, by weight or volume I'm not sure. More valuable/branded stuff is sold for what it is though, and direct to consumer, in the 'Amazon Warehouse' section - at least, iirc it advertises itself as products returned or damaged in the warehouse.

I've received duplicate items some times, like when I report something not received and they send me a replacement that arrives the same time as the original missing item.

I've offered to pay for stuff since it saves me the bother of buying it again some time in the future and the reps will go out of their way to make sure I can't do that. Even to the extent of saying they've charged my card when they actually haven't.

The horrible thing is that the seller has to eat the cost.

If you're trying to prevent waste just sell it to your local used book store.

The "Update 3" made my day, thanks for posting that.

>Amazon is now making arrangements with CEVA – some top secret group which is responsible for finding homes for lost balance beams and other unwanted and unusually sized packages.

It was not until I read through the whole article and saw the picture that, finally, my mind was at rest knowing that someone didn't order a 12-foot long balance beam to try to somehow put into their roof.

I ordered a mattress off of amazon. 2 days later, I get the money back on my account. Not wanting mto be banned from amazon, and thinking maybe the payment bounced on my account, I called customer support.

"I think I accidentally received a refund of my mattress.", I said. "you want to return your mattress? I will send you a shipping label." they helped.

"NO! I have the mattress, and want to keep it, but also got the money back. I want to return the money!". "OK, I will contact the seller to take care of your refund."

"you don't understand! I want to return the money. The seller accidentally returned the money after delivering my mattress!."

They finally understood and asked the seller. The seller didn't refund anything. Amazon didn't either. But I have both the money and the mattress to this day. Go figure.

At some point it's cheaper (and better PR) just to let people keep the money and product.

Handling the refund costs hours of work and might end up being more expensive than the return/refund.

There’s actually laws regarding stuff sent to you in error. Basically, they can’t ask you to return it unless you offer. Hence why there’s probably no formalized process for it.

It should also not come as a surprise that a company whose process is highly optimised to move product in one direction has problems dealing with unusual situations in the other direction.

This article is also from 2014. I wonder if the return process is smoother now.

normal returns are pretty painless - I order thing, I get exactly that thing, I return thing.

I imagine there's still no formal process in place for "oops we sent you a thing, keep it or throw it out or whatever"

I had a similar experience with a hairdryer (I am bald). They refunded the cost of the item I actually ordered (not a hairdryer)(I am bald). They offered that I keep the hairdryer (still bald). They were insanely against picking it up/returning it.

I guess that in their model of profitability they have included "items gone rogue" (returns are calculated in the financial statements, auditors "love" returns - especially for purchases made on year -1 and being returned on year 0)(I assume write-offs hurt less the bottom line/the auditors are less angry as long as it is not a fraudulent write-off).

Back to the story, a month later they sent me the item I ordered, free of charge and a friend of mine got a lovely hairdryer on her birthday. And I honestly didn't know that hairdryers can cost more than £€$100!!!

Returns are super painless now. You just click a few times on a webpage and then go to your local UPS store (or whatever you picked) show them your phone so they can scan the QR code you got sent, and then hand them the item.

Returns of things they know they sent are painless. In the linked article there was no tracking showing the balance beam and that caused most of the problem.

They bought Zappos which had always been good with returns.

This is not accurate. If the company intentionally sends you an item that you did not request, it's a gift and they can't demand it back. If they send you an item in error it's not a gift and you are not entitled to keep it for free.

This is not correct, at least in the US. You can keep it even if you didn't order it, regardless of whether or not it was sent in error.


Your link doesn't refute what I said. It's talking entirely about the case where companies intentionally send you unordered merchandise and does not address the case where companies sent it to you in error.

Nothing on that page is conditional on the sender's intentions. And the relevant law is pretty straightforward: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/39/3009

When it talks about mailing unordered merchandise, it's not talking about stuff done in error but rather mailing of merchandise the sender knows was not ordered. Which is to say, "unordered merchandise" doesn't mean "merchandise ordered by someone else", it doesn't mean "merchandise mistakenly believed to have been ordered but wasn't really", and it doesn't mean "merchandise miscategorized by the seller and sent in place of the actual ordered merchandise".

The context here is companies realized they could mail out merchandise that was never ordered, then demand the recipient pay for it. This is why the law you cited says it "constitutes an unfair method of competition and an unfair trade practice". This law is combating that practice, not punishing companies for making mistakes.

You're making shit up.

> When it talks about mailing unordered merchandise, it's not talking about stuff done in error but rather mailing of merchandise the sender knows was not ordered.

Since you apparently cannot click through the link I posted, I'll quote for you the entire legal definition of "unordered merchandise":

>(d) For the purposes of this section, “un­ordered merchandise” means merchandise mailed without the prior expressed request or consent of the recipient.

That's it. None of that context you're imagining. Unordered merchandise is anything you get that you did not order. It doesn't matter if somebody else ordered it. It doesn't matter if nobody ordered it. It doesn't matter if you ordered something else. All that matters is whether the recipient ordered what was actually mailed, because that's all that the legal definition stipulates. The extra requirements you are trying to add are not part of the law.

> All such merchandise shall have attached to it a clear and conspicuous statement informing the recipient that he may treat the merchandise as a gift to him [...].

That part make this kind of confusing. If it doesn't, then can it still be considered a gift?

No, its still a gift, its just in violation. Still yours to keep.

What's going on here?

> What do you do when you receive merchandise that you didn’t order? According to the Federal Trade Commission, you don’t have to pay for it.

This is on ftc.gov. Did they write it or not? Do they stand behind it?

Generally speaking, government agencies have to "stand behind" these kinds of official statements, so yes.

That's what I'm saying, though. An official statement of the FTC should look like "You do not have to pay for merchandise you didn't order". It definitely shouldn't look like "According to the FTC, you don't have to pay for merchandise you didn't order". That language is only appropriate for a party other than the FTC itself.

The natural inference is that this is an article written by a third party which appears on the FTC's official website for unclear reasons. Is that true? And if so, is it nevertheless somehow binding on the FTC?

This comment seems to be the mail order equivalent of the "they can't legally make you stay after the bell rings in class" kid at school.

There are laws in the UK because of a historical scam, where a company mails you something you didn't order, then - perhaps months later - bills you for it at a ridiculous price.

You know, mail out $20 sets of headphones with no return address, then bill people $500 a few months later.

Yeah, it's the same reasoning for these laws here in the US.

Seems like there should be laws about being able to make them come pick shit up too.

Like, a simple magic phrase that makes it clear you don't want the thing they (perhaps accidentally) dumped on you and that they should come remove it, something like "I don't want it, come take it back."


Although it's funny how my perspective on this has changed over time:

Once, I would just be delighted that I could get a company to accept a return and not eat my money for their fuck-up.

Now I take that for granted, and I demand that they come take care of the logistics of removing it from my home as well, because I have 0% intention of paying for your shipping fuck-up with my time. If you expect me to go stand on line at the UPS store to return an item I shouldn't be dealing with, I should be able to send you an invoice for my hourly rate.

Amazon is normally happy to do this for a return -- they'll send UPS to pick it up. But in this case, since she didn't order it, it was hard to get a correct shipping label. (which normally probably wouldn't matter -- if UPS has a shipping later for a 1 pound package of coffee and you hand them a box of shoes, the UPS driver isn't likely to know or care.

But for something as large as a balance beam it's more of a problem.

My point is essentially that it should never be a problem for the accidental recipient and that we should judge them harshly for the cases where it is.

(I don't mean they should never make a mistake, I mean they should have a robust process for dealing with the mistakes)

Amazon didn't want it back, they said she could keep it, but she didn't want it and didn't want to dispose of it:

“Ok. hold on please…” Comes back 2 min later… “It sounds like it was sent in error. But no problem- you do not have to return it to us. You can keep it, or donate it to charity or just dispose of it yourself”

> Basically, they can’t ask you to return it unless you offer.

They certainly can ask.

> 8. Today I figured out the problem. The granola company and the coaster company buy THEIR boxes from the same people I'm trying to by mine from. And the barcode scanners at @amazonca are picking up the old sticker - from the box company!

So the granola company, coaster company, etc. forgot to remove the old bar codes from the outermost box before packing it full of their own product and sending it out. One could tell them this, but there will probably always be more small companies making this mistake.

Probably what should happen is for Amazon to mark this item (the box of boxes) as requiring special handling when scanning on entry into the warehouse, verifying that it actually is a box of boxes (right weight, no other barcode, etc), and explaining why. And audit all the ones currently in the warehouse.

I have no idea how to convince Amazon to do this. Like the author, I'd give up and start buying my boxes elsewhere.

> I have no idea how to convince Amazon to do this

Funny enough, I do. I know and work with a lot of the people who would be involved in that. My org in Amazon is all about ensuring everything is ready to be used for customer orders. (We're hiring; Toronto, Seattle and Nashville).

We call this the "multiple scannable barcodes" problem. In terms of inventory tracking, we trust that there's only one barcode on the item that maps to a valid product because that's nearly always the case. It's also really hard to notice/catch when it happens.

I'm going to send this to a few friends today. I definitely know someone on the operations side who would know what to do about it (and would laugh at the absurdity).

Couldn't you add your own barcode on the boxes? It can even be a new barcode standard to make sure it never mistaken with another one.

If someone reuses one of these boxes to sell their items back to Amazon, Amazon will now have two Amazon barcodes on the box. We're back to square one here.

I ran into this once..I ordered an empty box for storing a card game with several hundred cards. Instead I got the box I wanted but it was full of 600 Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

The seller of the boxes could fix this by putting an outer wrapping on the boxes to which they affix the label so that there was no way for the label to stay on the box.

I think the error mostly benefits the seller of the boxes, or at least doesn’t hurt them, so they won’t have much incentive to fix it.

They are losing a whole lot of valuable sales through this channel, not to mention seeing a higher than average return/refund rate that could flag some risk alerts. So there's plenty of incentive to fix it - although this sort of thing could presumably be pretty hard for them to detect, troubleshoot and rectify.

The item that's being scanned in and out of the Amazon warehouse is the box of boxes, not the granola.

This will lead to the inventory of granola to be out of sync with the actual amount at the warehouse, but in that case I'm assuming Amazon would eat the cost since they're the ones that "lost" the missing inventory. Think about a physical store. If they lose some of their inventory, it's the store's problem, not the product's.

I agree that if things were working right this would all be on the granola company, but evidently things aren't working right :)

To me it seems... far from certain that Amazon would attribute the inventory errors and customer complaints correctly.

From the perspective of Amazon's system they're mailing out The Packaging Wholesalers' sealed box, customers are saying it has the wrong item in, therefore The Packaging Wholesalers must be unreliable chumps that can't pack a box correctly.

I used to sell stuff on amazon--they do specifically tell you to remove or cover any other barcodes on the box when doing fulfillment by Amazon.

Sadly that leaves me to believe the sellers will have to eat the cost in these cases, which leaves relatively little incentive for Amazon to improve vetting.

Or maybe they just didn't read the fine print :).

Maybe it's only every 25th box that has a barcode sticker.. so they've just assumed it was package theft.

I would imagine this is hard to debug as a seller.

Ding ding ding. When I order boxes they come strapped in a bale of the 25, and the box on top has the shipping label etc.

> Maybe it's only every 25th box that has a barcode sticker

In that case the OP should consider themselves the (un)lucky one since they several times happened upon box no25!

> In that case the OP should consider themselves the (un)lucky one since they several times happened upon box no25!

It may happens only every 25th box, but he specifically order that specific barcode, so it happens on every box he order.

I guess in his closest warehouse, there's less people that require theses boxes and more that require granola bar or Harry Potter coaster, thus that's always what he gets.

Weight or volume is also another metric that could possibly be employed, i.e. save the weight and rough volume of each item being scanned...when there's a significant deviation for an product that's shown no or litte deviation in the past, flag it for manual inspection?

Probably too costly for such an edge case problem though

> So the granola company, coaster company, etc. forgot to remove the old bar codes from the outermost box before packing it full of their own product and sending it out.

So the idea seems to be that amazon.ca is collecting goods in boxes from various suppliers, and those boxes have no shipping labels on them, only product labels, which it trusts the suppliers to produce correctly. Amazon then fills the original downstream order, matching it by type, which is indicated by the product label.

So is the Granola company buying boxes from Amazon? Are they receiving their own product when they go to order more boxes?

They probably do not buy these individually, but in larger shipments which are not subject to the mixup: big crates containing boxes of boxes.

Something similar happened to me about ... 10 years ago. This was back when everyone was going on and on about how good Amazon's customer support was, but what I noticed is that they don't actually listen to the customer, they're just robots that give you money for talking to them. The customer only comes out ahead if their Internet connection is free and their time is worth $0/hour. But people love it!

In my case, I ordered road bike tires. They shipped me mountain bike tires from the same manufacturer. This was hilarious because the road tires were "folding" (they have a kevlar bead instead of a wire bead, so don't take up as much space in shipping) but the mountain bike tires weren't, so the set of 2 tires arrived in a refrigerator-sized box. I opened a ticket with Amazon. "Oh sorry, we'll send you the right item." Same mountain bike tires arrive. "Oh sorry, we'll refund you for both." This was about 2 weeks later and I checked the product page... everyone in the reviews section was complaining, but Amazon took no action to fix it. Like the author of this Twitter thread, I finally ventured to a bike shop that I heard was really good, and they were really good. I never bought another bike part from Amazon.

If I were Amazon, I would be super alarmed that people "in the field" don't have the ability to talk to people in the back office. Every one of these incidents should be a ticket for the supply chain management team. But instead the customer service team looks at CSAT scores, the warehouse team probably looks at "average time to pack an item", and the investors look for growth. Nobody cares if the business runs well, just that each individual department set an arbitrary metric and met it. If you want to eat a big company's lunch, this is how you do it: look at the business as a whole, not as a million parts that don't work together. (See also: Google and 5 chat apps, Google WiFi vs. Google Fiber WiFi, etc.)

Hilariously, there's no way anymore to get help from any "real" person over at Amazon anymore, even for Prime members. I've gotten all kinds of weird stuff shipped to me, including a $12,000 server motherboard once, which Amazon told me I was free to keep as they would ship out the $124 SSD I ordered. I insisted that I return it, and after much hassle over several weeks, I was finally able get ahold of a non-chatbot, non-foreign service rep that finally took the time to listen and sent me a return label. Since I finally got ahold of someone real, I remarked this is the last time I go through such a hassle to return their property because of the way they treated me when I was trying to do them a favor.

By keeping it for free you'd have done everyone a favor as I understand it:

- Amazon would have paid the seller of that motherboard 12k, out of pocket

- the seller of the motherboard would have made money as if you had ordered the motherboard

- Amazon would be out 12k

- You'd have a 12k mobo you can resell

- Amazon would be out 12k

- And also, Amazon would be out 12k

> You'd have a 12k mobo you can resell

I doubt anyone would buy a 12k mobo from someone off the street. In fact, I doubt anyone would accept a _free_ 12k mobo from someone off the street - if you need that kind of hardware, the risk of questionable sourcing is probably higher than the cost the board.

It'd sell in 5 minutes on /r/hardwareswap

> I doubt anyone would buy a 12k mobo from someone off the street. In fact, I doubt anyone would accept a _free_ 12k mobo from someone off the street - if you need that kind of hardware, the risk of questionable sourcing is probably higher than the cost the board.

Well someone just tried to sell one on Amazon... no idea if it stayed there for long, but it was there. Same goes on Ebay. I don't think he could sell it for 12k, but he can certainly sell it for quite a bit.

Next you'll tell me that there's no market for used cryptocurrency mining GPUs...

I use the online chat and it's always a person. Or they have solved the turing test with their customer support.

I get Alexa or an overseas rep that is unable to do anything other than a preset list of choices.

The first few responses are clearly canned (the text equivalent of an IVR, but better implemented), but then I get to a human within just a few seconds of prompts and maybe a minute or so of waiting.

The humans I've gotten have unfailingly been helpful and effective at solving my issue. Every time. I don't care where in the world they're located; I care that my problem gets solved and they've been 100% track record on that (or as close as possible to that; if I needed something today and the package is late, they can't magic one up onto my doorstep tonight, but anything short of that, they've solved).

It's also maybe 1 in 100 orders that give me any cause to contact them in the first place.

The obvious question is what type of issues are you having? Typical shit like returning an item you ordered would have a set process. Returning items you didn't order is probably a lot more confusing.

As a typical online customer, I have typical online customer problems (late delivery, more rarely wrong item). I agree that Amazon has rightly optimized to handle the problems that their customers typically have. I'm not sure how that relates to this thread on local humans vs overseas humans vs text automation of responses though.

I have a very contentious address problem and have gotten humans from Amazon every time, I even had one take gps coordinates so they could re-route a truck in transit to the wrong location. Youd have to be almost intentionally messing the support process up to not get a human.

Maybe it depends on the country? I've never had to (touches wood) deal with Amazon customer support though, I'm completely pulling that out of thin air hah

I've had good luck calling the main Amazon customer support number (USA) and simply asking to speak to someone in the United States of America. I don't know how Amazon's systems work, but they seem to have more options available to them than the foreign call center reps.

> Hilariously, there's no way anymore to get help from any "real" person over at Amazon anymore, even for Prime members.

That's wrong (from a non-Prime member). I've had certain cases where I had to revert a refund I got for an untracked item that arrived several weeks after the ETA.

Just thinking about what a process managed by Google for that would look like gives me cold sweat.

Not on a personal note (and maybe there are details missing) but this comment makes me sad: it's like we've internalized the codes of capitalism to the point where we, as individuals, feel obligated to fulfill our marketplace commitments while we accept that corporations such as Amazon will not fulfill theirs. Did you invoice AMZ for your time? Will AMZ do you a "favor" as well? Personally, I see no moral obligation in my transactions with corporations, as they see no obligations towards me, my patronage or my data.

Again, not addressing this personally to you but just responding here.

In addition to that, the constant defending of corporations worth multiple billions of dollars by regular people ("consumers", to use said businesses parlance) always boggles my mind. These companies are not our friends.

Shouldn't they be our friends, since "we" are their workers as well as their customers? Doesn't it seem strange we become our own adversaries when we go to work?

No, because you go to work to fulfill someone else's agenda, not yours. If you do not execute their agenda, you are replaced by someone who is.

As a free-market capitalist, I feel funny having to go back to communism 101, but: management is not your friend. Ever.

I didn't ask for truisms.

I asked a rhetorical question which targets the issue of wasteful exploitation being the default where cooperation would have a lot of upsides.

In the best interest of a whole society, sometimes you have to cooperate to end wasteful competition (e.g. form utilities), and sometimes you have to compete to end wasteful cooperation (e.g. break up monopolies or cartels)

It’s been a while, but at least last year I got a real person both times. They even try to push me to let them call me instead of chat/email. But it’s Amazon Germany, we still didn’t adopt many of the North American problems.

I'd love to hear the experience of the amazon seller who had their $12000 server mobos disappear from the amazon warehouse.

Is it possible they wouldn't know until someone ordered the last one?

From what we're reading in this thread, I'm imagining that when Amazon makes a mistake, they make the mistake at scale.

Why did you insist on retuning it?

Not the OP but amazon screwed up and sent someone else's(i.e. not amazon's) server mb to the wrong person. Does the seller get refunded for the cost of the mb? Who absorbs the cost of the mis-delivered item?

It's not the customer who actually bought it because amazon will always refund them or reship (as we see in the article) and I bet you amazon has some EULA or TOS that absolves them of responsibility. so now some random seller has to absorb the lost revenue/profit of amazon's mistake.

The right thing to do. But my time and sanity is valuable too.

Yeah maybe take the company that does $283,000 in sales per minute at their word when they say don’t bother returning it.

They told you not to do it. You did it. Now you’re pissed that doing it wasn’t a smooth process. Ok.

Thought experiment - Amazon sends you the wrong item. Something you have no use for, but is bulky to store, impossible to sell and costly to dispose of.

Should Amazon just take it back?

Of course it is their responsibility to take it back.

Suppose I order a watering can from the garden supply store. When I get home from work, I discover that instead of a watering can, they've delivered 2 tons of mulch in a giant pile in my driveway.

I'm not sure how you could make the argument that it's now my responsibility to get rid of the mulch that I didn't want or ask for?

1 Order watering can

2 Get mulch in erroneous delivery

3 ... [0]

4 Profit!

[0] https://www.craigslist.org/ :-)

p.s. I actually agree with your point. Just occasionally you can turn a wrong into something good.

I agree, but the argument is also bullshit. You've changed the [noun] specifically to create an example where disposal is onerous. If disposal is not onerous, it looks quite a bit different. Are we so inflexible in our thought that we require a strict rule to be applied all cases, without the bit of common sense that says: "If you created a massive burden on me, it's your responsibility. If you created a negligible burden on me, who gives a shit?"

If they delivered, instead of two tons of mulch, a single unit of scotch tape, would you still give a shit about whose responsibility disposal is?

We can go ahead and treat these cases as distinct, because they're distinct. You recognize that implicitly, which is why you made your example two tons of mulch, and not 2 ounces of plastic.

Agreed, hence nuclearnice’s comment not making a lot of sense.

It shouldn’t be on the customer to get rid of something sent in error even if other people might think it’s complaining over something petty.

The customer will sadly always have to do something about an error... it's sad, but it's now in your property, there's a minimum of effort you'll need to do in every case.

Bare minimum effort:

    1. Contact Amazon
    2. a. Giving it back to a shipping carrier
       b. Dispose of it
In the case of a server mother board, both giving it back to a shipping carrier and disposing of it is essentially the same effort (I would argue that giving it back to the shipping carrier will be more effort actually, but it's not worth the effort to argue that, so I'll say it's equivalent). That means complaining over it is petty.

In the case of "2 tons of mulch", or by definition anything "bulky to store, impossible to sell and costly to dispose of", the amount of effort isn't the same at all between disposing of it and letting a shipping carrier dealing with it. This make it complaining about it, not something petty.

Yes they should.

Thought experiment.

A billionaire sends you $12K in cash. You call her and offer to return it. She tells you sorry and to just keep it.

Should you be angry?

This is a little worse than cash, but not quite as bad a two tons of mulch.

IMO. You’re of course welcome to see the burden of throwing out a motherboard as higher than I do.

A balance beam, perhaps?

He’s the customer (or she). If he doesn’t want the wrong item that was shipped, amazon should accept the return. I know this is HN but now this dudes gotta figure out what to do with a 12K server does he use it? Does he toss it? How much does it cost to dispose of a server like that. Maybe he donates it. I don’t know but he didn’t ask for it the trouble. It’s not like he won the lottery for $12K.

The customer asked for one thing but the company delivered something else. Don’t make your customers deal with your mistake.

I think we agree that Amazon should do the thing that makes the least trouble for the consumer. The wrong item is there. Return or disposal or charity or resale. One way or the other your customer is going to deal with your mistake.

You seem to have some concerns that being left with a $12K server to dispose of any way she pleases would be a burden.

I believe and her actual experience suggests that the rerun will be more trouble.

Ok same values, different views on likely outcomes, we disagree.

Pretty wild. I mean if it’s $12K...surely even a completely lackluster listing on eBay or Amazon selling of it for $2K profit after all costs/fees is worth it to virtually anyone?

If it was me I'd make a quick ask about returning. Upon them declining the return I'd eBay it on the spot. They have no right to merchandise they send me according to the FTC.


The smart move is list it on Amazon for $10k

Your average server mobo fits in your average kitchen trash can. In this instance, it seems like he made all the trouble for himself.

Yes, Amazon has the responsibility of return and disposal. But where disposal is a completely trivial "drop it in the trash can, forget it exists," let's not pretend that this ia Amazon doing him some kind of massive disservice.

Just to clarify, it was a server motherboard, not the whole server. I would assume that the motherboard takes up a lot less volume and weight that a full server box.

While I agree with you, they still sent out the correct item.

I'd certainly hate for some quarterly audit to trigger a review and a follow-up. "hey we told you to keep it but that was also an error we will come get it." "Oops I sold it." "Okay no prob you only owe us for the inventory cost not the retail cost we will bill you 9.5k"

In the US the law says if someone erroneously mails you something, it's yours. They would have no right to that expensive motherboard.


It is not the right thing in a big picture. The cost of implementing (and understanding, in case of abuses, legal issues etc) of the returning process may be higher than apparent losses due to wrong shipments. There is no one harmed, except Amazon who already accepted this chance, evaluated it and said will not care.

It seems that if you made this mistake, it would ruin your own business, but it is not the case with them.

If you want to help Amazon get more money, let’s all order subj boxes, because for mass-enough wrong shipments they’ll take care and fix it. Someone could do a small short-lived business even, receiving these boxes, relabelling them correctly and reselling under the right markings. It is called arbitrage and there is nothing wrong with it. You take advantage of some inconsistency and make it so explicit that it either is fixed or left to you as a reward for fixing it.

Unless they pass on the cost to the sellers...

Do they? It’s pretty pointless to speculate about something so easily verifiable.

> Hilariously, there's no way anymore to get help from any "real" person over at Amazon anymore, even for Prime members

That's not been my experience at all. I've had occasion to call them 3 times in the last 6 months or so, and in all cases I've had no trouble getting to someone who quickly resolved my problem.

1. I ordered an Echo Dot on Prime Day last year. The two colors I liked best were listed as out of stock, with no estimate of when they would be available, so I ordered my third choice.

That one then was delayed and the other two became available so I called to see if they could change my order to one of those colors. I went to "Help"/"Need More Help"/"Contact Us" and on that page selected "We can call you", and filled out the form.

In less than 10 seconds, my phone was ringing and when I answered I was talking to a person. (It turned out that she couldn't update my order, though, so I did end up with my third choice color. Turned out OK, though, because it also turned out that the place I had thought I'd put the Dot was not very good. The ideal spot, it turned out, was a spot where that third color fit much better).

2. I ordered some pants and shirts about three weeks before Christmas. I got a notice on a Friday that USPS had delivered them, saying that they had been left in the garage or some other outbuilding. I could not find them. Amazon's site says that sometimes you can get a notice notice up to 48 hours before actual delivery, so I waited until Monday. Then I went to the USPS office, and they told me that it had actually been left at my neighbor's and that USPS would retrieve it from the neighbor and bring it to me.

I went and checked with the neighbor and they had not seen it. We even checked her garage, since the delivery notice mentioned a garage, but nothing.

So I called Amazon. Again, less than 10 seconds after submitting the form I received a call from them. I explained what happened, and the person offered to send replacements. I requested a refund instead, since I didn't actually need this stuff for Christmas. It was just coincidence that I ordered near Christmas. I'd rather have a refund, and then just re-order the items myself later after the Christmas shipping madness ended. He immediately granted the refund which was processed within a day.

3. A week after that, the missing package showed up in my mailbox! So I again called Amazon. Yet again, less than 10 seconds from form submission requesting a callback to getting that callback.

I explained what happened and asked them if they could re-charge me for the order, or if they wanted me to ship the items back, or what. I was put on hold for maybe 30 seconds, and then told that they couldn't really re-charge, so just keep the items for free.

Anymore? I don't think there was ever a time where you could actual human help from Amazon other than pressing the "refund" or "resend package" buttons. I recall back in 2005 I went through 4-5 improperly packaged boxes of glass items that arrived smashed. Each time Amazon claimed that the issue was fixed and the next one would be property packaged, yet they always arrived improperly packaged and smashed. I eventually just gave up.

This sorta thing has been a problem for a long time.

> 11. I responded, with honesty: "The error has been fixed? It wasn't fixed the first three times.. so I'm skeptical!"

> @amazonca responded: "You will get the correct item. I do not want any more hassles for you. Please do not worry. "

> So I re-ordered the @PkgWholesalers boxes...

... and got packages of granola again in 1 PkgWholesalers boxes.

I hate how frustrating it can be do convince a multijillion dollar company that, No, they are wrong, and I am right.

It's like we need an "No, I actually need you to help because they problem is unsolvable from my Point-of-View phone number" that's kept a secret from anyone.

Had a similar issue with my credit union where they referred to a payment number entry field the wrong way.

I managed to schedule a call with someone, and they didn't understand the problem. They said: "So you want us to change this just for you?". My answer of "No, I want you to change it for everybody." didn't go over well...

Used to be that getahuman[1] was a thing, but like all good things on the Internet it seems to have not been able to hold up to the sheer volume of bad actors.

[1] https://gethuman.com/

Except for the miracle of Wikipedia

Kind of, but I wonder about niche articles with nobody keeping an eye on them. I have notifications for a small page that contains some empirical formulas which contain arbitrary constants. Every now and then, somebody will modify one of them so it looks similar but is completely wrong. What if I wasn't keeping an eye on it? Readers would never know they were seeing wrong information.

I mean, if human culture didn't scale because there were more bad actors than good, we wouldn't have ever developed any technology, because stone age assholes would have smashed it. The issue is when bad stuff is easy and rewarding, and good stuff is hard because of systemic reasons. Like robocalls, or campaign finance reform.

So the fact that those changes are occasional and caused by individual humans, and you can, I believe, revert them more easily than they can make the changes, is a good sign. With enough eyes all bugs are shallow.

I’d be curious to hear more about this. No need to link the page, but:

- is Wikipedia’s reputation system useful for preventing this sort of abuse? I thought most changes have to be approved?

- how would one go about establishing the validity of a page from first glance? One thought I had is a browser extension which colors text according to its age on the page; relative to other text

No, in general, changes to Wikipedia do not have to be approved. Anyone can edit and their changes go live immediately.

You don't even need an account! But if you edit without an account, your IP address is recorded in the edit history. Accounts are recommended both for that reason and because an account gives you a contribution history and a "talk page" where other Wikipedians can communicate with you.

Why don't you try it and see? Find a page where you can make a minor and non-controversial improvement: clarify some wording without changing the meaning, fix a grammar or punctuation error, etc.

Create an account, make the change, and watch it go live!

The check and balance here isn't that you need approval, but that others with an interest in the page will be watching for changes, and you may find your change reverted if some other editor doesn't like it.

Of course if no one is watching the page, then you may have the problem lopmotr referred to.

The weird thing to me is that IP bans supersede being logged-in to an account.

So even if you're logged in, you can't edit from a large corporate/etc. network or commercial VPN.

>I hate how frustrating it can be do convince a multijillion dollar company that, No, they are wrong, and I am right.

If it were easier, then a lot of people who were wrong would be convincing the company that they were right and they wouldn't be a multijillion dollar company for long.

> I hate how frustrating it can be do convince a multijillion dollar company that, No, they are wrong, and I am right.

You have to convince someone who answers phones, and has no idea about the actual technical issue, and just clicked resend.

Once bought spark plugs for my car from Amazon. I got three new ones and three from the Amazon Warehouse since those were about 30% cheaper and I figured what could be wrong with spark plugs? Got the right box, wrong spark plugs. Returned them. Re-ordered. Got the same spark plugs. This time I marked the boxes with and plugs with a permanent marker. Returned them and reordered. Got the exact same ones. Finally returned and ordered new ones. I am sure those same plugs are still in the mail going back and forth between Amazon and frustrated customers years later.

Minor plug for a vendor I've used with great success for a long time: Rock Auto, don't even try to deal with Amazon for specific parts. Their website is a nice throw back to actual usability too.

Yes! I have ordered parts from them before and they are fantastic both on selection and price. 10/10.

A little bit of a non-standard sort of HN post, but it illustrates an interesting sort of system failure.

My speculation, never having set foot in an Amazon warehouse:

1) Amazon stockers are told to put the incoming inventory in a spot, and scan all visible barcodes on the product, which are all associated with that product in Amazon's DB henceforth. Normally extraneous barcodes are no problem because they aren't SKUs, so no one ever tries to pick them by the extra codes. Easier to tell the stockers to scan everything than to try to get them to pick the right one.

2) Company X, Y, Z ship their products to Amazon with their own barcodes and fail to remove the box company codes. Dozens of different random products around the warehouse end up with a secondary, identical barcode associated with them.

3) Someone orders boxes. Inventory system probably automatically sends pickers to the closest source of SKU 12345, of which there are - unusually - many scattered around the warehouse. So the product received is essentially random, out of whoever uses these boxes. Product roulette!

4) Customer service can't solve this problem. Maybe there's someone in Amazon's inventory team that can go in and fix it, but it occurred for good reasons! Everyone was behaving rationally. There are probably other similar problems in the database as well.

> scan all visible barcodes on the product


Amazon FBA requirements are that the UPC barcode for your product be the only visible barcode on your packaging.

I would bet money that in the name of "efficiency", warehouse employees are trained to scan the first barcode they see and use the result, whatever it may be.

But not the only instance of the only visible barcode - Aldi products are covered in large barcodes so scanning them there are no wrong sides https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/06/aldi-has-very...

LIDL does this too.

Just a thought, could this be engineered to work in one’s favour? For example, order a box of something expensive, receive it, attach a barcode for something cheap which is low in stock / rarely ordered, then send it back. Now order the thing you labelled it as, and see what turns up. Perhaps you’ll get a box of Epyc CPUs for the price of a box of out of season kwanza decorations.

That sounds like mail fraud - and you could get prosecuted by the feds for that. Not something I recommend trying, especially in the US.

If you don’t use USPS (use say fedex) can you still be prosecuted under those statutes? I though the USPS jealously guards whatever remaining prerogatives they retain.

It’s still regular old fraud, and still wrong and you deserve to get trouble for it. Just curious about who will finger your collar.

The statute on mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1341) clearly states:

> places in any post office or authorized depository for mail matter, any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by the Postal Service, or deposits or causes to be deposited any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by any private or commercial interstate carrier

(Emphasis mine). It is clear from this that committing fraud via FedEx and UPS would be treated the same as USPS.

The one difference, AIUI, is that the USPS is protected by the US Postal Inspection Service (who are, as you say, quite zealous), whereas I’m not sure the same extends to UPS/FedEx (where you’d probably be looking at an FBI investigation instead).

However if you (or Amazon) mailed e.g. the return labels over USPS the USPIS could still get involved.


I think you would have to be on the supplier side, no doubt they have more checks in place for returned items than ones coming from suppliers.

This reminds me of a problem I ran into in a previous life. It has nothing to do with inventory control, but all about how clean/sane is thd data you are storing in the database. We had a system with a set of webUI based forms used by non-technical users to use to add info to the database. However, the forms were outdated, and were importing bad default values. The devs told me they felt that bad data was better than no data. I laughed out loud at the reversed logic. It did nothing but cause grief, and was only solved (for me) by my no longer working for that company.

Everyone was behaving rationally maybe the first two times this happened. After that though someone should have double checked the outgoing package.

#4 is really by far the biggest problem here. No matter what, with a company of Amazons size things are going to go wrong that just cant be solved in an automated fashion. They need support with the training and authorization to escalate issues like this to staff that have the power to fix them.

Amazon has absolutely no memory. All of your customer support woes go to people working from a script. The likelihood of getting the same customer support person is zero.

You can get an actual human who can look at what’s going on if you send email to Bezos; that gets forwarded to the secret support team that can actually make decisions instead of just following a script. Or at least you could a few years ago.

might be a amazon.ca specific failure, other commentators who say the same are in canada.

The way to get Amazon to fix this (at least on this particular item) is just that- publish an article that you get granola (which I assume costs more) for the price of empty boxes.

Nature (i.e. the internet) will fix the problem for you by creating a large loss for Amazon/stock discrepancy.

Guess, you just saved them >$10M of wrong orders ?

8. Today I figured out the problem. The granola company and the coaster company buy THEIR boxes from the same people I'm trying to by mine from. And the barcode scanners at @amazonca are picking up the old sticker - from the box company!

you would think the granola and coaster companies would have caught on when they started receiving their own products instead of more boxes.

Unless a box of boxes costs less than they can sell a box of granola or coasters for, in which case this is the ultimate free money machine.

> "You will get the correct item. I do not want any more hassles for you. Please do not worry. "

Said by someone who did not understand the problem at all.

That’s the same situation when we shipped code with “I swear this time it works correctly with all new excessive to-the-point tests we wrote after analyzing the last failure in detail” label. Understanding the problem in a complex automated system doesn’t always make it disappear overnight.

Order from Uline instead. Those guys are probably just reselling Uline.

Compare the Uline box ordering page [1]. Looks rather similar to Packaging Wholesalers, doesn't it? Order direct from Uline, and you'll probably get a better price. It's hard to tell, because "Packaging Wholesalers" won't show prices until you log in, while Uline has theirs visible.

Uline only sells shipping and warehouse products. They're #1 in North America in a dull, boring, and essential business. No way will you get granola. If you're ordering in industrial quantities, order from an industrial supplier.

[1] https://www.uline.com/product/GuidedNav?t=184360

Just a heads up. The Uline management has made significant donations to political organizations against equality of marriage, universal health care, worker's rights, and cannabis legalization.

Regardless of your stance, I would consider the consequences of supporting their lobbying efforts.

now just have to figure out what box company Amazon's fine jewelry vendors use...

I don't get the theory why?

So the Granola company buys boxes, puts in the product, sends it back to Amazon, then Amazon accidentally puts it into the boxes pile?

Except wouldn't it be a boxes of boxes pile?

Is the Granola company recycling the outer box?

I believe the way it works is the warehouse worker is given a number/barcode which they scan, which tells them where the item is. As the barcode has been reused by accident, the worker is pointed towards the box of granola which has the same barcode as the box of boxes!

My further dystopian riff is that the reason for the scan-bar reuse is:

They have a robot cycling around the warehouse, automatically indexing the items for sale by scanning all codes in sight, uploading to a database...that is used by other automated pickers.

On average, you still make a profit even if the wrong thing happens sometimes.

The fact it's a box of boxes is a mcguffin I think.

It could be a box of widgets and what happens is exactly the same.

Except a box of boxes goes to the box department, hence why they reuse it, for everyone else it's easier to throw it out the box.

In fact I don't think a box holding boxes is the same size, so it's a new sized box. Probably why they keep it.

Side interest: You would think scanner would see two bar codes and error. But there must be something slow in scanning per side so you quit after it's found. But I thought the tech would scan every side at once for speed.

I wonder i you could exploit this 'bug'. Offer some cheap bought products for way to much money via Amazon. Boxed in wholesale boxes with clearly visible original barcode.

No one ever will buy your product, but it will be sent out in error, customers can keep it and Amazon reimburses you for it.

Repeat for profit.

Last year my son ordered a Nerf gun. It came but so did an $800 portable refrigerator. I tried three times to do the right thing and send it back but they told me to keep it. Ended up selling it on eBay.

I reuse Amazon boxes, and now I feel vindicated that I always fully obscure the old bar codes.

Don't need to fully obscure them, just draw a single vertical line through them to make them unscannable!

If your line isn't big enough, it might not make a difference due to error correction

I once ordered a 20' cable on Amazon, a 10' was delivered. I double checked my order to make sure I wasn't the one who had made a mistake, then returned my 10' in exchange for a 20'. They sent me another 10' cable. I contacted customer service and told them something in their process must be wrong, to please carefully ensure that they understand I want a 20' cable, and ensure that a 20' cable is sent to me. This probably went unread. They sent me a 10' cable, then asked for a nice review. I returned the cable for a refund and took my business elsewhere.

Tune in for next week's installment: how I threw out a garbage can!

My brother once told me a story about an auto plant in Ontario and their industrial-sized bins. They had a huge metal recycling bin, big enough to fit a few cars inside, and a smaller garbage bin, maybe two-thirds that size.

One day, after emptying the trash bin, the garbage truck driver stacked it inside the recycling bin.

The next day, the truck came and recycled the trash bin.

Oh I gotta hear this...

My wife had an interesting issue in the UK with Amazon very recently. I order a lot from Amazon. A lot. 99% of all packages turn up same or next day no issues.

My wife started ordering some things and they kept going missing. We compared addresses and they were identical. Order tracking kept showing a delivery date, then the date came and the item was just returned to warehouse. Repeat 5x times and after many 40 min phone calls she just cancelled the order for a refund.

Repeat 7 or 8 times. Phoning up the Indian based call centre helped not at all. Hours wasted

She tried one last time and got a call back from a manager in the UK who looked into it. After a week or was resolved.

I still don't have a technical explanation, but apparently some special routing meta data had been added to that address where the package was always routed through another logistics centre or something.

Total nightmare getting it sorted out

I don't often get to use the word kafkaesque...

This is kafkaesque.

Just today this happened to me! I ordered a 6 pack of batteries and got a box of 6 packs of batteries. Now I’ve got enough for the rest of my life!

I had already read this thread, and first thing I check is the barcodes. The box of packs of batteries has the same barcode as the package of batteries itself.


I got a box with several items I ordered (damaged), but also a bunch of metal piping (bent), two lsat training books (damaged), and a bunch of other crap I can't remember. IIRC the stuff I ordered was a filing cabinet or something of that sort - heavy. It was quite hard to convince them that no, I don't just want to throw it all in the trash. Multiple calls etc.

I can kinda get how you one ends up reading the wrong labels, but throwing in additional stuff requiring considerably larger packaging?

This reminds me of some self-checkout experiences where the scanner wouldn't pick the barcode on the pack (4-pack) but it would pick the barcode of the product inside the pack (which are not usually sold separately but oh well...).

Cue having to call the assistance to back on that purchase and scan the right one. Happened a couple of times. I think I just actively started covering the wrong barcodes or got a different product.

I once ordered some sheet music. I don’t remrber exactly how many pages it was, maybe 10 or 20. It came in the biggest box I think I’ve ever received, from anyone. Literally there was a thin booklet floating around in a - approx. 3ftx2ftx2ft box. (Sadly, no packing peanuts! :-) I should have taken a picture.

https://theregister.co.uk used to have a running record for the most outrageous packing material user for the actual items.

If I remember right, one guy received two pallets of cardboard containing, after four levels of unpacking, a total of eight single 8.5 x 11 sheets of licensing policy for newly acquired servers.

Or the 12x12x12 box containing a ziplok baggie with two rack mount screws.

There used to be a team at Amazon whose mission was to prevent this situation. The technical term was "grotesque packaging". I assume they eventually gave up trying to solve the problem.

Well, in the last couple of years they seem to have shifted from shipping books in a box with padding to shipping them in tight-fitting envelopes that damage the corners. So I guess that's a victory for the grotesque packaging team, at the same time it's a big loss for people who want to buy books on Amazon. :/

I usually get them wrapped in a thick piece of cardboard, a few inches longer than the book so an impact to the corners of the package doesn't damage the book. It works pretty well.

I know the style you're referring to; that works fine. But I've been getting books delivered in bubble-padded manila envelopes. In one case, I set up a return for the damaged book, explicitly noted that the packaging was inappropriate, was assured the problem would be fixed, and the next three (!) replacement deliveries were also shipped in the stupid manila envelope and, of course, damaged.

They never shipped me an undamaged copy; I gave up after their messaging went from "return the earlier book" to "don't bother; just keep everything".

Based on my experience, they must have given up.

Not removing old labels before entering something into (partially) automated systems is just asking for trouble.

A friend of mine once returned an item to amazon but forgot to remove the original shipping label. The shipping company picked it up and promptly shipped it back to him instead of returning it to Amazon.

It would appear that whilst Amazon have saved on Thrift overheads, they have in essence, automated it upon themselves as so many items they send by mistake and they don't collect appear to be more common than isolated instances.

Remember when a someone ordered a TV from Amazon and received a Assault Rifle?


Welcome to the future indeed :) This sort of thing is somehow going to end up getting someone killed.

According to amazon.ca, the granola costs $63 and the box of boxes only costs $29. I really hope the granola company is buying as many boxes of boxes from Amazon as they can! Free money!

Might be related to what is described by the scam here,


The eighth tweet in the story explains the cause

I applaud your patience

Reminds me a little of a recent experience I had.

My gf wanted a little Japanese plushie so I bought it for her. I don't recall the exact amount, but I bought 2 of them for roughly $100.

A few weeks later we get a large box FULL of varying types of these plushies. After doing some research we find out there was some issue with a new shipping company and they were sending orders to the wrong addresses and so forth. The plushie company basically just said "if you receive it, keep it", and they're currently taking this shipping company to court over it.

Well.... for the next several months every once in a while we'd receive boxes of varying sizes full of different types of plushies. Some of them are recognizable, such as Dragon Quest slime plushies, other's are little food based plushies. I don't know what they are, but like anthropomorphized bread and so forth.

At one point my girlfried tallied it up and I think we received over $3k (retail) worth of these plushies.

I have a friend who ordered one USB cable (not from Amazon, but one of the Chinese companies) for a few dollars, and received a crate of 500. The seller said the same thing, noting that it would cost more to have them shipped back. He tried somewhat unsuccessfully to sell them locally, then just gave them away to everyone he knew (including me).

I guess the way things tend to be is that if you order online, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you win...

Wow. Did you try to sell them on?

She's planning on it, we've sold a few but put it on hiatus while she visits friends.

edit: family, not friends... brainfart.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact