I've been selling used stuff on Amazon.com off and on for well over three years now -- mostly used video games, movies, accessories and such. Despite fairly hefty seller fees, it's been a lot better than the other alternatives for me. Compared to eBay, the listing process is dramatically faster and simpler, sales prices are often higher, and items stay listed (at fixed prices) until sold. Compared to craigslist, Amazon.com gets you a much wider market (helpful for obscure games & accessories), and a simpler sales process. (coordinating a meeting time just to sell a $15 game? No thanks.)
So over the weekend I was cleaning out my office and listing some old games and controllers. Then I thought about this Lenovo ThinkPad X220 I've been trying to sell for months. There was a listing on Amazon.com for the X220 with a couple of other used listings, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot. I listed it Sunday night for $725.
That ThinkPad listing must have triggered an automated account check (due to the dollar amount, no doubt) that the last 3+ years of listings did not. Hours later, close to midnight, I got this cordial email from Amazon.com (emphasis mine):
Hello from Amazon.
We are writing to let you know that we have removed your selling privileges, canceled your listings, and placed a temporary hold on any funds in your seller account.
We took this action because our records indicate that this account is related to another selling account that was closed by Amazon. Once selling privileges have been removed, sellers are not allowed to establish new accounts.
Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related.
We encourage you to take appropriate steps to resolve any pending orders. Note that any amounts paid as a result of A-to-z Guarantee claims and chargebacks may be deducted from your seller account.
After 90 days, any remaining funds will be available per your settlement schedule. Once the hold has been removed, balance and settlement information will be available in the “Payments” section of your seller account. If you have questions about these funds, please write to email@example.com.
While we appreciate your interest in selling on Amazon.com, the closure of this account is a permanent action.
Regards,Seller Performance TeamAmazon.com
The tone of the email didn't give me a lot of hope. It's clear that Amazon is not willing to provide details on how they made this determination, or leave an opportunity for appeal. And to be clear, I'm certain that I've tripped a false positive of some sort. I have never used another seller account on Amazon.com.
I logged into the seller account to see what it looked like. There was a glimmer of hope: an Appeal button. I dutifully filled out an appeal as follows:
I have never had another seller account with Amazon.com. I've been using this account to sell stuff off and on for over three years now, without any issues. I can only assume that this was due to an automated false positive. Please review and reinstate my account.
Amazon replied less than twelve hours later with this:
Hello from Amazon.
Thank you for writing. After a review of your account by an account specialist, we have decided not to reinstate your selling privileges.
We regret we are unable to provide further information on this situation. 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.
Regards,Seller Performance TeamAmazon.com
So that's that, it seems. It's clear from the tone of these emails they are not especially sympathetic to the concerns of sellers whose accounts have been mistakenly flagged.
eBay & Paypal have received a lot of well-deserved flak over the years, but compared to this, they come out looking good. They have email addresses and online chat systems and phone numbers answered by actual humans who provide actual details about your case. In many of the Paypal horror stories that circulate, the worst material comes from bad customer service reps. But when you deal with Amazon.com, at least as a seller, there's no customer service rep to talk to. Cold emails like this are all you get.
I hope this will be helpful to two groups of people:
1. Sellers: look for other alternatives. If you sell on Amazon.com, don't put all of your eggs in that basket. For me, this just meant a harder time clearing out the closet. But for someone doing a lot of sales on Amazon.com, this could cause a serious loss of business.
2. Amazon.com staff: seriously, just look at this from the customer's point of view, and try to tell me this is a customer friendly process. More transparency is in order. Your secret fraud detection system is fallible, and it should be treated as such.
If nothing else, this has left me seriously second-guessing my loyalty to Amazon.com. They've been far and away my favorite Internet retailer for years, but I'm not going to be quite as eager to shop there any more, especially in categories with strong competition.
Amazon just reactivated my account at 12:15 pm today (AZ time). I did not make any further attempts to contact Amazon after the above account, so I imagine that this was only done as a result of my post hitting the front page of Hacker News. The email regarding the reactivation was as follows:
Hello from Amazon.com.
Thank you for writing regarding your Amazon.com selling account. We have reviewed this situation and have reactivated your account.
We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. In our efforts to protect our community, we sometimes err on the side of caution.
We appreciate your interest and wish you the best of luck selling on Amazon.com.
Victory? Well, partially. I'm not totally satisfied until and unless Amazon admits to problems with their fraud detection system, and puts in place a better process for recourse. Failing that, others who don't get this level of publicity will continue to get shafted.
Here's my blog's visitor count by service provider, per Google Analytics. Looks like a few people at Amazon have taken notice.