After months of the silent treatment from Amazon.com, Richard Thripp wrote to us for help. The company permanently closed Thripp’s account in August, without explanation. Despite his repeated attempts to find out why this happened, Thripp remains in the dark.
On top of closing his account, Amazon has kept the gift card balance, totaling $451, that he had on the account. Each time Thripp requested justification for Amazon’s actions, he got nowhere. When he called, he would be placed on hold, and eventually the call would cut off. Frustrated, Thripp ultimately filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the Florida Attorney General and the Washington Attorney General.
How could this happen? Amazon is known for its top-notch customer service. When I return a purchase to Amazon, I receive an email within minutes that my refund has been processed, often before the package even gets to the loading dock of my office building.
Amazon makes me want to shop with them. When there’s a package on my front porch, I remember how much I dislike driving to any number of brick and mortar stores, with kids in tow, to track down whatever is in the box.
Many moons ago, Amazon was just a place to buy discounted college textbooks. In the last fifteen years, it has grown into a retail behemoth, and I hate to admit it, but it’s where I buy salon shampoo and Splenda, too. I brag on Dec. 21 that — because I have Amazon Prime — I haven’t even started Christmas shopping.
Is this a problem? You tell me. Let’s take a look to see just who we’re dealing with.
When Thripp filed his complaints with the BBB and the Attorneys General, Amazon responded in writing that the closing of the account is “valid and final.” In response to the complaint filed with the Washington Attorney General, the Seattle-based company wrote:
I’m sorry for the trouble Mr. Thripp’s had in accessing his account.
I’d like to confirm the information Mr. Thripp received from our Account Specialist team is correct. As noted in our Conditions of Use, in the section, “Your Account”: “Amazon reserves the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders in its sole discretion.”
Mr. Thripp can review our Conditions of Use.
Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we’re unable to discuss with Mr. Thripp, and the decision to close his account is a final one.
If Amazon closes your account, it is unable to discuss that with you? It can swallow your gift card balance, and its reasons for doing so are proprietary? I’m sorry. I know I’m slow to catch on. But did Amazon just tell the highest authority in its state of incorporation that it is above the law?
Some people think they’re above the law. Some people act like they’re above the law. It takes a special brand of chutzpah to tell the highest legal authority in the state, “We don’t have to tell anyone anything; our website says so.”
“I’ve got a secret and I won’t tell.”
This isn’t the first time Amazon has hidden the ball from its customers. A few years ago, my own home was burglarized, and during the unfortunate event, my laptop was stolen. In the 12 hours following the break-in, I received several emails from Amazon saying that my account was frozen because of “suspected” fraud. The account was flagged as a result of attempts to purchase items by an unknown third party.
Yeah, that third party.
As a vulnerable victim of second degree burglary, I felt compelled to follow this lead. I thought that if the burglar entered a shipping address for the attempted purchase, or if the company captured an IP address, the same forensic information that raised red flags could lead the authorities directly to the culprit.
I called the company on multiple occasions in those first critical 24 hours. Despite the fact that Amazon was asking me for information about the suspicious transactions, its fraud prevention department was completely unwilling to tell me anything about my suspended account. Phone representatives told me they were unable to disclose the suspicious shipping or IP address, no matter how clear I was about my motivations.
I quickly became convinced that my attempts at discovering the identity of the criminal — information likely in the possession of Amazon — were a waste of time. America’s biggest retailer was more concerned about keeping information to itself than helping its customers or apprehending criminals.
And now we know why: it doesn’t have to.
In the case of Thripp, I connected with multiple Amazon executives on LinkedIn. I wrote directly to its Global Director of Digital Customer Service. I thought surely I had connected with the right person to help Thripp. A week after contacting that executive, I received the following automated email from Amazon Customer Service:
Hello from Amazon.com.
To protect the privacy of our customers, we will only discuss account specific questions or concerns with them directly. We’d love to help as best we can, and encourage you to direct customers to contact our customer service team for further assistance.
We appreciate your understanding with our effort to safeguard the privacy of our customers.
Amazon.com Customer Service
When we advocate cases, corporate representatives are usually professionals at the top of their game, conscious of the message they are sending, wanting to represent their brand well. Where privacy is a concern, they kindly tell us they’ll contact their customer directly.
But contacting us in a nameless, corporate robot voice? In the name of privacy? Whose privacy are we really talking about here?
Amazon is broadcasting to Thripp, and to all customers who want to do anything other than buy shampoo and Splenda, that Amazon is in control, and doesn’t have to provide answers to anyone. Amazon can keep your money, hide information about the criminal hacking of your account, and eventually, refuse to explain it to the Attorney General of your state. Unless and until challenged in court, Amazon simply refers customers and authorities to its own corporate policy link, asserting that it is a self-regulating entity.
Is that a problem? You tell me.
Update (6 a.m.): Just a few hours before this story was scheduled to published, we received the following update from Thripp:
I thought Amazon would have told you they are working with me, rather than giving a consumer advocate a generic reply like that! They seem to have no common sense about avoiding bad P.R.
I received an email from Amazon’s Executive Customer Relations team on Wednesday. Apparently, you had reached out to an Amazon employee on LinkedIn, which resulted in that Amazon employee referring my issue to Amazon’s ECR team.
I had emailed ECR and also called Amazon’s corporate headquarters twice before and asked to be transferred to the ECR, which they would not do. I have read online that only EMPLOYEES of Amazon can refer customer issues to the ECR team.
The email from Wednesday states that my account has been temporarily unbanned and I may either spend my $451.20 gift card balance (after which the account will be re-banned) or request a check.
We expect more updates soon.