FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is the photo of the interior of the company office in Bangalore, India, on April 20, 2018. Photo taken on April 20, 2018. (REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa)
Until recently, I was in a happy long-term relationship with Amazon.
We have been officially together for 14 years (I am already a customer since 2004) and were virtually inseparable. We shopped for everything together. Of toilet paper, running shoes, ear plugs, Amazon was there to help me in my choice and deliver the goods.
There was a mutual trust. I needed something, and the “place your order” button was there for me every time. The product reviews were also there, to tell me what was worth to buy. I have my toilet paper or ear plugs two days later, and if I am not happy with something, I could send it right back. It was a perfect match.
But recently I’ve learned a few things that have made me question my intimate relationship with the retail giant. We have still not broken or anything — not yet. But I’m tired. I am exposed to an underbelly that I didn’t want to see it, and I don’t trust Amazon more. I don’t know if I will ever again.
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We are in couples counseling, so to speak, and our future doesn’t look so good.
Here is why.
1. Fake reviews are a problem
You know those reviews on Amazon you go through to determine whether a product will change your life or is it a piece of crap? They are written by people like us, right? People who use the product and wrote a fair review? Wrong. Many of them are fake.
Amazon watchdog ReviewMeta suggests approximately nine percent of all Amazon reviews are written by people who are paid to write a review and do not actually use the product. The Washington Post recently discovered that in some categories, such as Bluetooth speakers, more than half of all “customer” reviews are probably fake. Amazon does not deny that fake reviews on the site, but it does dispute the numbers, and claims that it is closer to one percent.
In short, an army of faux “reviewers” $3, $5 or $10 to write a fake five-star review on a product paid by companies in the hope to boost sales. Often, the reviewers do not even use the product and be reimbursed for the purchase of the. These “reviewers” can be the additional profit back to Amazon or sell the item on eBay or elsewhere.
Call me naive, but until I wrote a piece about the Amazon on the embankment of the account holders suspected to be involved in the fake reviews, I had no idea that this happened. Here I was, blindly searching for knowledge of the products on Amazon’s website, taking it all in as gospel.
While it is true that nine percent — if that is correct is low, it is still enough to make me question everything I read on the site. Since learning about this, I haven’t stopped shopping on Amazon, but I did check elsewhere for product information, something I know that I would have to do.
Relationships based on trust, you will do stupid things.
2. Counterfeit products are everywhere
Finding a pair of Adidas kicks on Amazon for $20? Do not click on the buy button, as they may be fake. Amazon has thousands of counterfeit articles for sale, which may sometimes be referred to as “Fulfilled by Amazon” – Amazon’s stamp of authenticity, if you will.
But advocacy group The Counterfeit Report is to be found around the 58,000 knock-off products for sale on Amazon since May of 2016. While that is a small strip of the approximately 560 million products available on the site, it is still disturbing. How do you know if you’re getting the actual product that you want?
Ever wondered why you can’t buy certain brands on Amazon? It is because companies are afraid of the vendors peddling knock-offs. In fact, companies like Birkenstock have stopped selling items on Amazon at all. Apple filed a lawsuit against Amazon to stop unauthorized sellers from hawking items on the site as authentic Apple products if they were in fact fake.
While Amazon is taking steps to combat counterfeits, and says it will refund you if you accidentally buy one, wouldn’t you simply prefer to not receive a fake item in the first place? I know that I would do it.
I’ve never received a counterfeit item on Amazon (that I’m aware of, anyway). But the fact that they were there waiting for me makes me uncomfortable, and further undermines my confidence in my relationship with the online giant.
3. Could you get banned for returning too much stuff
Are you one of those people who orders five different sizes or colors of the same shirt on Amazon, figuring that’ll send you back the four who are not well or fit well? You would be in danger of having your account closed.
Recently, Amazon has been closing the accounts of people who came back to lots of stuff. Some account holders were the statements that said: “We have closed this account because again and again a large number of your orders. Although we expect that the occasional problem with an order, we cannot continue to accept returns at this rate.”
Amazon is largely known for a liberal return policy, so what is unclear in this new development is what “speed” of the return, is unacceptable. A lot of people whose accounts were closed were allegedly not given a warning that this would happen and were not allowed to open new accounts. It is possible that the account closures are largely related to the fake reviews problem, faux reviewers could also a huge number of back. Clarity would be nice.
I’m not a constant returner, yet this still bothers me. Why? Because unlike other retailers, Amazon makes it difficult to simply exchange a product for another size, color or brand.
Often I just want to exchange an item, do not return. But in most cases, Amazon does not clear the exchange path. Instead of a “return” button on my order summary, there is only a “back” button. That means that I have to go through the return process, which click a few buttons, and then to go back and track down the item on the website. Then I have to select the correct size and click buy. It’s all very awkward, and Amazon has the whole process as two transactions — a back-and buy — in rather than an exchange. That means that I could get dinged for returns as I actually wanted the same item but in a different color.
Until Amazon gives shoppers a clear avenue to seamlessly exchange items and clarified the return policy, it would not have to punish shoppers for excessive returns. Not the communication the basis of a good relationship?
4. Not necessarily the lowest price
I don’t know where we (or perhaps only I) have the idea that Amazon is the most affordable place to shop. Maybe at one point, when trying to compete with Target and Walmart, the featured low prices. But now, that is not necessarily the case. How much you pay for something on Amazon can vary widely, and it is not always the cheapest.
Once again, I learned this the hard way recently, when I ordered some chai tea from Amazon, and that was to see it in a Walmart box. Perplexed, I did some research and realized that a third-party marketplace seller accepted my order, then ordered the same thing for a cheaper price off of Walmart’s website, had it shipped to me, and took the extra money.
That is sometimes true that there are good deals to be found on the site (especially during Prime Day), it is always best to look around and compare prices. That is common sense, but again, that is something I failed to do in my relationship to Amazon. Lesson learned!
Time to move on?
So what does all of this mean for my relationship with Amazon? The prices of the reviews, I no longer believe everything that is on the website. I still peruse the reviews, but I can also double-check information elsewhere.
I haven’t stopped using the website entirely, but if a person who is deceived, I’m afraid to trust again. Knowing what I know now, I doubt I will ever feel the same, unless Amazon changes its paths by the removal of the equivalent of the lazy, beer-guzzling friends — fake-reviews, unclear return policy, and high prices.
But based on my experience with previous relationships that didn’t end well, I doubt that a real change will happen. In the end, that I just might be able to find retail love elsewhere.