Two internet merchants in the same family. Both have separate businesses, separate tax IDs, separate locations, etc. One family member is older and needs a lot of help with IT stuff. The younger family member comes over on the weekend to help with network/computer problems and happens to login and check their orders. Amazon sends an email to both of them demanding that one of the accounts be immediately closed or they will both be terminated. Again, they tried everything to get a human being to listen. No help from Amazon. The older family member closed his account and lost 50% of his revenues because he felt responsible for the entire situation. The younger seller 's account remained open. It was extremely heavy handed.
I have close relationships with both of these people and I am 100% sure neither of them are involved in any fraud.
I also got the impression from the way they described the multiple phone calls to Amazon CS that the decision was made by an algorithm or some bunkered third party security firm that CS could not contact.
I'll have to check with these folks and see if they are willing to do a blog post about it. The one that is still selling is justifiably afraid of what could happen to that business.
A partial victory, but it's still not really satisfying. Had I not taken the effort to blog about this, and gotten lucky by hitting the top spot on Hacker News, I don't think Amazon would have reinstated my account.
After all they did say:
"Further correspondence regarding the closure of your selling account may not be answered. The closure of this account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well."
I would still consider doing the PR angle with this ending as the story hook. You went to all the effort of doing a blog post and you got everyone talking about it here. It would be unfortunate if this wasn't able to result in some reasonable systemic change to the Amazon practice.
Yeah, customer service is expensive, but automating it all and essentially saying "fuck 'em" unless the victim can get outrage built is incredibly shitty.
One argument is that they have to deal with so much fraud that they have no choice but to be somewhat pragmatic and, yes, totalitarian about it. The counter argument to this is that if your company is so big that you have to hurt honest customers because you can't afford to do it right, well, maybe you are too big. I've red about cases where an individual's only source of income was summarily cutoff overnight with no recourse whatsoever. That's plain wrong.
Sellers and buyers would both benefit from "small company" levels of customer service. However, marketplaces run by smaller or newer companies don't have the same perceived levels of trust and security as the bigger, more established marketplaces.
I know it's only a matter of perception but, in this case, perception is reality in terms of buyer comfort.
it is doesn't matter internet or B&M as [quasi]monopoly is a monopoly. Just imagine how it would feel if your electric/gas company decided to "close your account forever". Because of such great power they weild, they are regulated as public utilities. The platforms you mentioned are formally not yet there [mostly i think because the standard metric of what monopoly on the Internet is hasn't been yet determined], so they allow themselves all kind of behavior that is no-no in the other well established areas of business.
In this case, I don't think there's really anywhere obvious for the traffic to go, so the "increased business" is fairly minimal.
So you guys are saying if she logs on to her account from my computer suddenly neither one of us can sell on Amazon ever again?
Does this seem a little draconian to anybody besides me? Random rules -- no doubt put in place for good reasons to prevent fraud -- haphazardly applied to people and resulting in a lifetime ban from being a seller?
I have no problem with Amazon running a clean shop. In fact, I wish they'd do more to make it that way. What I have a problem with is systems of rules that are put up without any feedback mechanism in place. So instead of some real, live person listening to complaints and eventually coming to an understanding that this is totally whacked, thousands get dumped in the trash can until somebody finally manages to make a public relations case out of it? Completely unsatisfactory.
This is just poor systems design, Amazon. This is exactly the same systems problem many are having with PayPal, and for exactly the same reason. Be as strict as you like, but always include the possibility that you might be wrong. Because if you have no self-correction mechanisms, people aren't going to like you much. I know I just started thinking very carefully about my relationship with Amazon. I'm sure a lot of other folks did too.
We regularly get fraud orders and we follow a certain procedure to yank those but you can call us or email us and you will get a response.
We are actually very interested in knowing whether we've made a mistake so we can refine the process further. (As PG said he wants to know the future success of companies YC rejected for the same reason.)
At some high level of abstraction, 50-thousand-feet or so, the message is "support work is overhead which does not directly effect the structure of operations. Their job is to run the business machine that we've created. So we'll cost this as any other overhead, find the cheapest, best way of providing it, and do the correct thing."
But the problem is that anytime anybody talks to the customers, there is all sorts of information exchanging that's not in some policy book. This nuanced and in some cases subtly-patterned information is extremely difficult to manage in a traditional fashion. In this case, the message from Amazon is clear: we do not trust you, we will not tell you why, and we will never do business with you again. While that's a great message for Sammy Spambot and his legion of Makov-chain-generated ebooks, it really sucks for all those false-positives real human beings sitting in their living rooms trying to make buck during a tough recession.
So yes, I can understand very well that people in every business want systems that self-correct, and put in places ways for that to happen. The problem is that for all their good intentions, the end result for most of them is a structure that's rigid and communicates important customer opinion data poorly. But it's created that way usually for what seems like very good reasons. We have met the enemy and he is us.
Additionally the distance from between aggravation to a person who can do something (or it becomes their problem) is also very short. Large organizations can put something in place because the person who has to fend off the anger (front line) is far removed from the person at 50k feet who thought up the policy.
There is also a lack of empathy. In a previous business I owned I did all the jobs (ran equipment, worked sales, counter work the whole thing). So I had empathy for the people doing those jobs. I knew what it was like to stand and deal with an angry customer. But the people that I hired had never done any of those jobs in many cases (they had only managed). As a result they didn't have empathy and made all sorts of jobsian "just do it" policies and rules.
Some things people do though make you laugh and there is no "information ... in some policy book" for every situation. We had a charge policy with a minimum floor charge of $10. One day I found out that someone came in and owed us $.25 on some invoice. So the counter person rang up a $10 charge and gave them $9.75 in change.
Well, you're both private parties entering into a contract on "mutually agreed" terms, so you get what you sign up for.
Of course, where there's such an imbalance in size and power, it's unlikely that the mutually agreed upon terms are going to be anything but unfavorable to you, the little guy, so your only real option is to simply not play the game.
Here's the key to getting these issues resolved:
1) Always use phone support, not email support. Email support will almost always paste the easiest reply - it may as well be automated. Phone support gets you a a real human being on the phone who will actually listen and understand what's going on.
2) Keep escalating. If they deny your appeal, appeal again. There is absolutely no consistency in how they handle these situations. One person may say there's nothing that can be done, the next will push a button and instantly make the problem go away. And the more you annoy them, the more it's worth their while to actually look at and resolve your problem.
So depending on where you've managed your account from, you might be associated with all sorts of unsavory characters.
Amazon, Google et al. have discovered that millions of ears of corn will line up to be harvested. Virtually none leaves voluntarily.
Welcome to the produce section.
I don't know what's going on, but in the past three months I've had several issues and complaints requiring customer service intervention. The most recent of which was when I signed up for Amazon Student with time remaining on my paid (full price) Prime membership.
My Prime was cancelled without warning (more likely, simply overwritten by Student), which downgraded my privileges on their site (no more Prime video, for example). The service rep was unable to simply cancel student and reinstate my Prime membership for the remainder of the paid term. I ended up with in-store credit for a buck or so more than the difference.
Anyway, a company that had previously provided me exceptional service (for example resolving issues with a fraudulent 3rd-party seller) has really let me down this past little bit. With the negative reviews for the Kindle Fire and now this incident, I (hyperbolically) wonder whether this is the beginning of the decline of Amazon (not as a corporate behemoth, but as a 'good' company that cares for its customers)?
I would write to PR at amazon firstname.lastname@example.org.
If that gets no response I would fax to that department.
If still no response fedex copies of the above two attempts to Bezos or some high up VP. At some point someone will take notice.
If not it will make a good story during the holiday season. I've had good luck with holiday and event specific interest by the media. Timing is everything.
If it were me, after trying the above, I would package the story and send it all over actually.
Edit: When you send to the media make sure to package with choice HN comments to, um, make their job easier.
You'd think Amazon of all companies would be hip to the dangers of assuming that everyone behind a certain IP block is the same person, but I guess not.
Sounds like a business opportunity: a proxy not only for your IP address, but for your browser / cookies / history / operating system. I look forward to the day when all billion of us appear to be arriving from the same place.
Modest proposal: Distribute smart cards and readers to sellers, and use mutual-auth TLS for everything. Or offer this as an option to anyone willing to pay $xxx for their initial sign-up fee.
Jeebus, this makes too much sense.
If Blizzard can hand out OTP generators for it's users, surely Amazon or retailers can do the same for it's sellers.
Hell, look to Google and their Authenticator app or SMS-based 2-step login (out of band auth channel would be better).
Yeah nothing bad could happen there could it rolleyes
My brother's college roommate is banned --> brother gets banned as a result of a false-positive dupe account --> when brother gets home and logs into amazon I get banned.
I was on the phone for hours trying to fix this, nothing ever happened.
Google and eBay get a bit of flack for poor customer service availability and seller relations and they have improved as of late. Hopefully amazon can change for the better too.
It seems like the author logged in to his seller account from a public wireless network (coffee shop, office) where another, previously-banned seller account had logged in from at one time, and Amazon assumed both accounts were from the same guy. Maybe they sold the same type of products.
I'm sure they get a lot of sellers who get their account closed and just try to make a new one, but I'd rather have Amazon not catch the sellers who are dumb enough to create an account from the same IP than catch them and get legitimate sellers banned in the process.
"Static IP addresses may be required or dynamic IP addresses may be assigned without a static IP request, depending on location."
I don't take notice of my IP address much, so I can't say if they assigned a static IP address in my case. If they're filtering on IP addresses, I imagine that they get a lot of false positives.
I'm sure there's a simpler explanation, though. That seems fairly complex.
I am not sure if the author means there was a listing for 'the X220' or 'a similar X220'. Whatever the case, it is really appalling that big internet companies refuse to treat their users like how they wish to be treated.
However, I have had only very excellent experiences with Amazon customer care. Maybe they value customers more than suppliers?
So I found an X220 listing with different specs, and noted the specs of mine in the comments. The other two used listings had done the same.
I don't believe Amazon views any seller, let alone someone selling used items occasionally, as a customer. The buyer is their customer. 3rd party sellers are mostly interchangeable. If you are a professional seller with enough volume however, you have a direct human account rep who can at least provide more insight into processes such as this.
The only thing that works is getting a lot of attention behind you in the media on a site like this, it appears. I don't like this at all. It also reminds me very much of that recent Paypal "fraud detection" mess-up.
I've been selling on Amazon for the past 5 years and they have only gotten worse. As an example, September-mid-November had bugs and glitches that caused sellers to lose sales (customers literally couldn't check out).
Amazon (like always) denied there was even a problem. Another thing that I don't like is their feedback system. Customers can leave feedback for any reason, but if it doesn't fall into a stock set of reasons, a seller can't ever get it removed.
During the Amazon glitch-fest, an item I cancelled wasn't removed from my listings. A customer ordered it and I had to cancel their order. They then left negative feedback. Amazon wouldn't remove it. If I get enough negatives, my account could get banned.
Customers will also almost always win in any dispute, which makes it very easy for scammers. You also can't block customers from buying.
I also love the fact that amazon charges you to collect sales tax (in addition to having to buy a $40/month account, you need to pay 3%).
The only reason I stay is because by far, they have the most amount of traffic and I get sales as a result.
Luckily, I have other sources of income.
Frankly, I just don't believe him. It's possible he tripped a false positive, but in my experience -- and I have to believe the people working at Amazon had more resources at their disposal than I did -- it's much, much more likely that he's lying.
That is not an argument. It's a pointless assertion that you believe in Amazon being correct, in the absence of any actual evidence.
I don't know akavlie personally, but he's been on HN for a long time. I think he's a rational person based on his discourse here.
I'm not saying he's not a rational person. Rational people lie all the time.
I have no idea what he was doing, but it seems most likely to me, based on experience and the facts at hand (that Amazon reviewed his account and still insisted on the revoking of his selling privileges) that he's lying.
In other words, like Amazon says, he probably had a previous seller account that got suspended for some reason and he's gotten by with this new one for a while but trying to sell the higher dollar item got his account flagged for review which resulted in him getting busted.
I'm no big fan of Amazon, and it's possible they made a mistake. But it's more likely -- in my opinion -- that he is lying and trying to garner public sympathy to put pressure on Amazon to reinstate him.
It's great you have so much faith in others, but we've seen this many times -- often in the case of people insisting they weren't cheating on Steam and they have no idea what Valve is talking about -- but I've seen it myself in my previous security work for a marketplace site.
I could be wrong, I don't know. I was just sharing my opinion but apparently the HN community decided that it was unwelcome.