Mrs. Lion and I do most of our shopping on Amazon.com. We place hundreds of orders a year. Over the years, we’ve discovered that there are some nasty traps buried in this wonderful marketplace. Here are a few things you need to know to avoid them.
First, Amazon doesn’t own and sell everything it lists. A seriously large proportion of the products on the site are sold by third parties. Amazon offers listing, warehousing, and shipping services to anyone who wants to sell something. You can become a seller simply by filling out a few forms. The people at Amazon want all customers to be happy and work hard to avoid scammers. The vast majority of third-party sellers are honest merchants. However, some people have figured out how to use Amazon to make a quick buck.
the walmart scam
Very often, Walmart will offer products at significantly lower prices than Amazon and its third-party sellers. We discovered it when we needed to buy dog food. Amazon had several listings for the food we wanted. We picked the least expensive and ordered. A few days later, UPS delivered a large box with Walmart printed on the outside. Inside was the food we ordered.
I was curious and went on the Walmart website. I found our food for $10 less than we paid for it on Amazon. It was over $35, so shipping was free. Someone figured out that they could list the product on Amazon, and then when they got orders, simply place new orders on Walmart. They made a profit after paying Amazon its commission.
That’s not illegal, and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t break Amazon seller rules. It does leave a bad taste in this consumer’s mouth. It’s easy to start a scam business like this. It only costs a few bucks to register a business name. Amazon releases customer money to sellers when the sellers say that the product is shipped. So, just take the unsuspecting Amazon customer’s order. Use your Walmart credit card (you get 5% off when you do, and after you click “enter,” report the item shipped. Amazon pays you way before your credit card bill is due, and you pocket the difference. Lesson learned. I now check Walmart and Target before making an Amazon purchase.
same seller different price scam
Everyone knows that Amazon reaches more consumers than anyone else. Other online retailers know that, too. When I shopped for an expensive ham radio transceiver, my first stop was Amazon. I found it for $100 below the list price. Nice. Well, I wasn’t born yesterday. I noted the name of the third-party seller. It’s always on the top of the listing near the price. I went to that seller’s website. They listed the same radio for $300 below list (free shipping, too).
A little more research showed that a lot of online sellers double-listed their products on Amazon at significantly higher prices. The sellers win two ways. They make extra money from customers who don’t realize that this scam exists. The make less money, but still get the sale from people like me. The lower price on their site was competitive with other ham radio dealers. The did their competing on their own site and let the suckers buy on Amazon.
Most online retailers, including Amazon, try to keep up with manufacturers’ changes. Amazon subscribes to catalog services that provide images and text for their product listings as well as current status. When Amazon is aware a product is discontinued, it puts a note on the offer. This isn’t true for third-party listings. It seems that they are on the honor system to do the same thing. Surprise! Most don’t.
In August, our Grind and Brew coffee maker stopped working. We went to Amazon to order a replacement. Amazon was the seller and sent us a new one just like the one that broke. It turned out that the carafe didn’t fit under the filter correctly. Amazon took it back and promptly issued a refund. I went back on the site and found a different, more expensive model. We had one of these in the past. We ordered it and it came. Two days ago, a critical piece broke off. Unfortunately, we were a week outside of the Amazon return period.
This coffee maker was sold by a third party. Amazon stocked and sold the one we returned. I called Cuisinart, the maker of the coffee pot. Their customer service people were helpful. They offered a replacement and we accepted. They also told me that the model I had just bought was discontinued.
I went on the Cuisinart website and saw that the model I just purchased was, in fact, not listed. The third-party seller, Deal-Center, didn’t bother informing customers that the product was discontinued. They happily took my money. Did they break the law? No. They just didn’t have their customer’s best interest at heart.
Amazon (sorta) puts the customer first
Amazon.com has traditionally worked hard to satisfy its customers. Well, that’s almost true. They work hard to build systems that will satisfy their customers. If the system fails, feedback from customer service goes to the appropriate software team to fix the issue. That’s supposed to give customers a smooth, stress-free experience.
Note that the Amazon method of providing great experience is by building systems that do it. This works very well for products that Amazon actually sells itself. Policing of third-party sellers is more difficult. If a customer complains about a third-party seller, the feedback goes on the seller’s public page. That’s nice if an Amazon customer checks there. It doesn’t help with the problems I’ve mentioned here. Amazon will get you your money back if you are sent a defective product or none at all. They can’t do much about the scams I mention in this post.
Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware, is especially true online. Even trusted merchants like Amazon can house slippery sellers. The answer is to be a smart shopper. When you plan to buy a large item, check the manufacturer’s website to see if the product is still in production. Check the list price. Then, check a number of online retailers to be sure you are getting a good deal. It’s worth the time and trouble. We’ve saved a lot of money thisway.