Frank Catalano

Recently, I bought a new Android phone. It didn’t come with everything I wanted, so I turned to my default shopping resource, Amazon.com. I did a search, set the options to only show “Prime Eligible” shipping, found the accessory I wanted …

And stopped dead. Instead, after reading several buyer reviews, I purchased from a seller that charged shipping and had a total higher price. Why? The seller explicitly stated it had “Genuine HTC Products,” a distinction you’d think unnecessary because the Amazon product title had “OEM HTC” in it and stated the product was “by HTC.”

But, having been burned thrice, I knew better.

Overall, I love Amazon, almost in a stalker obsessive “I-wonder-if-they-sell-THAT-too-now” way. Amazon speaks to my mission-orientation in shopping, my distaste for distracted and ill-informed store clerks and my dislike of crowds (yes, tall people don’t like crowds either – we can see over everyone to realize just how large they are).

I signed up for Amazon Prime in March 2006, shortly after it launched. I have several items on Subscribe & Save. I own an earlier-Generation Kindle.

But I’ve become wary about shopping for accessories or replacement parts on Amazon. Because in these situations, Amazon cannot be trusted. Or, more to the point: I can’t trust I’ll receive what I actually ordered.

Take replacement toner I ordered for my then-still-in-warranty Canon multi-function printer, a cartridge sold and fulfilled by Amazon, identified as “Canon 104 Black Toner Cartridge, by Canon” and the description of which specifically states (even now), “For best in quality use Genuine Canon Toner.”

What arrived was in generic packaging, no manufacturer listed, with a non-Canon part number and a statement that the product was “compatible” with Canon and, in very tiny print, “All brands and trademarks are the properties of their respective holders and referred are referred to for descriptive purposes only.”

You read that correctly correctly.

Or take the replacement HEPA vacuum cleaner filter I sought (at right). “Dirt Devil H9 Hepa Filter, 3-DJ0360-000, by Dirt Devil” it read. Featured Merchant. Prime Eligible. Fulfilled by Amazon. Surely Amazon, if it’s fulfilling a Prime directive, would verify what’s being offered is the genuine article?

Apparently not. What arrived was an aftermarket brand. So it was “by [insert off-brand generic]” not “by Dirt Devil.” And the Dirt Devil part number in the product title? Seems a sticker was placed on the aftermarket company’s packaging – with the Dirt Devil part number.

To add insult to minor injury, I was charged the price of the Dirt Devil brand filters, even though the aftermarket brand – which also had its own Amazon product page – cost less.

Or, finally, take the replacement battery for my in-warranty laptop: “Thinkpad T60 Series 6-Cell Li-ion Battery, by Lenovo.” Yet again, Featured Merchant, Prime Eligible, Fulfilled by Amazon, Blah blah Blah.

I know. Based on the smell, you can almost taste what’s next.

The box that arrived was plain, unmarked. There was no standard Lenovo warranty flier. When I installed the battery and thought I should check the Power Manager readings, I was warned, “The battery installed in this computer is not a genuine Lenovo battery and may not meet Lenovo’s safety and quality standards.”

Two hours later, based on more research involving a mismatched part number, odd battery shell and strange battery info (something most buyers may not bother with since, after all, the battery fit the laptop and said “Lenovo”), I concluded that the battery I received had either been refurbished or had new rechargeable cells packed in a genuine Lenovo case.

To add insult to possibly major injury, the seller feedback I posted indicating the seller had not shipped what was described was removed, twice, with the seller claiming it was a “product review” and not feedback in an apparent transparent attempt to game the feedback score. Amazon, at least, apologized for the removal.

The good news in all instances – and not coincidentally Amazon’s ultimate defense – is that Amazon was willing to take everything back and pay return shipping. The not-Canon toner cartridge went back (repurchased at Costco), the Lenovo battery went back (ordered later from NewEgg.com) and the faux Dirt Devil filters, which I kept, led to an accepted offer of a $10 promotional credit to cover the price difference.

Was I satisfied? Yes. Was I happy?

To answer the latter, scan customer reviews on Amazon for many OEM replacement parts or accessories. Then gauge the frustration. I’m not alone.

While honest mistakes are inevitable and Amazon seems to quickly correct problems once contacted, there’s a sense it’s a good business to be an Amazon-fulfilled seller claiming to offer competitively priced OEM accessories. Until something else arrives. Perhaps a small subset of those sellers hope the customer doesn’t think it’s worth the hassle to return, or it’s so well disguised (as in the case of my laptop battery) that it goes undetected. (Amazon did forward my battery concerns to its investigations team which deals with “possible violations of our seller policies.”)

Even if a substitute works, all is not necessarily fluffy happy bunnies. Warranties can be voided if non-OEM replacements are used. And, call me old-fashioned, but I want to get what I paid for, not lip-synch instead of live.

Though I was made whole in dollars and Amazon itself has been responsive and helpful, these experiences cost me in time that it took to realize what I received wasn’t what I ordered, to deal with many email exchanges, and to buy elsewhere.

And these experiences cost Amazon, too – in eroding a fanboy customer’s once rock-solid trust.

Comments

  • Forrest Corbett

    This is one of the main reasons why I don’t buy much from Amazon – you never know what you’re going to get. Even if the reviews say the product is genuine, the reviews could be for another vendor of the “same” product. Photos, description, “by” line… all may indicate the product is OE. But when you get it…

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      I think that’s the heart of the matter – the regulation of Amazon’s Marketplace sellers. If Amazon had a way to verify that, at the very least, items Amazon directly fulfills in orders for sellers (including Amazon’s own items) strictly match the described manufacturer / part numbers / etc., and barred sellers it fulfills from offering a non-OEM product on a clearly OEM accessory page, it would help. And it may prevent a fair amount of customer service back-and-forth and returns, which can’t be inexpensive for Amazon.

      For sellers Amazon offers but does not directly fulfill, there should be a low tolerance for repeated misrepresentation, if it can be shown it’s not just an honest or isolated mistake. And Amazon, for all I know, has this policy but doesn’t talk about it.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      I think that’s the heart of the matter – the regulation of Amazon’s Marketplace sellers. If Amazon had a way to verify that, at the very least, items Amazon directly fulfills in orders for sellers (including Amazon’s own items) strictly match the described manufacturer / part numbers / etc., and barred sellers it fulfills from offering a non-OEM product on a clearly OEM accessory page, it would help. And it may prevent a fair amount of customer service back-and-forth and returns, which can’t be inexpensive for Amazon.

      For sellers Amazon offers but does not directly fulfill, there should be a low tolerance for repeated misrepresentation, if it can be shown it’s not just an honest or isolated mistake. And Amazon, for all I know, has this policy but doesn’t talk about it.

  • P Davis

    Amazon Prime is now charging for return shipping!!! No more free returns!

  • P Davis

    Amazon Prime is now charging for return shipping!!! No more free returns!

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Fortunately, in each of these cases, Amazon paid for the return because the item received was not the item ordered, or represented on the product page.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Fortunately, in each of these cases, Amazon paid for the return because the item received was not the item ordered, or represented on the product page.

  • Mergathal

    Never had an issue and I have bought laptop batteries and many other things. But then, I read the items descriptiona and if anything seems off, I don’t buy it. You have to protect yourself.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      In each case, Amazon’s product description – or even the product title – indicated the item was OEM. All also stated, “by [OEM].” All three were fulfilled by Amazon (one was also sold by Amazon).

      Short of stopping by the warehouse and asking to see the stock before ordering, there’s little more a consumer can do.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen this with iPhone headphones.  The text says it is Apple or the same manufacturing as Apple’s, but the reviews say otherwise.  So I skipped them but it did put a taint on the third-party seller system for me.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      It’d be sad – for customers and Amazon – if a few bad sellers, even Amazon-fulfilled, poison the well for all purchases of OEM accessories. But I’ve come to the same conclusion. If I see conflicting reviews on Amazon about whether an accessory is OEM or not, I no longer buy it there. Amazon could go a long way to restoring customer trust by more stringent policing of Amazon-fulfilled sellers.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      It’d be sad – for customers and Amazon – if a few bad sellers, even Amazon-fulfilled, poison the well for all purchases of OEM accessories. But I’ve come to the same conclusion. If I see conflicting reviews on Amazon about whether an accessory is OEM or not, I no longer buy it there. Amazon could go a long way to restoring customer trust by more stringent policing of Amazon-fulfilled sellers.

  • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

    I recently got some vacuum cleaner bags. I knew they were much cheaper because they were an off-brand and not the quality of the correct HEPA bags. I figured they’d be handy when I ran out of good bags, as I did recently.

    But … I did expect them to be the right size and actually fit my vacuum. Is that too much to ask?

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Funny you should mention that, Roy. When I decided to keep the lower-priced HEPA filters I received (which came instead of the OEM filters I ordered), I figured they’d be okay as backup. But they didn’t work well.

      I gave up and instead now buy OEM directly from Dirt Devil, either waiting for free shipping offers or buying more than one at a time for discounts — which brings them to roughly the same price as Amazon.

  • tgreen

    Too bad for Amazon – trust is the reason I shopped there all these years – up till now.

  • Matt Brown

    Hi Frank,

    I found your article very intersting, especially the section on the dubious Canon cartridge.
    I’m a journalist with The Recycler magazine, a trade publication focusing on the printing industry aftermarket. Would you be interested in discussing this in more detail as part of some coverage on the issue?

    Please drop me an email at m.brown@therecycler.com if you’re interested.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Glad to continue the conversation. Check your inbox. And thanks.

  • sporkster

    As an amazon seller, I am dismayed by this situation. 

    Amazon has very strict standards for it’s sellers.  If you receive something that is clearly not as described by the Amazon detail page, your best recourse is to file an A-Z claim against the seller.  Amazon takes these seriously and bad sellers are booted for too many of those.  It may take only one A-Z claim for a situation like this!

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      In each case, I had several exchanges with customer service about the obvious differences from the Amazon detail page. The most egregious one, the laptop battery, I did directly report – at the urging of customer service – via the “Report a violation of our rules” web form (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/reports).

      I’d hope in all three cases, though, the customer service interaction would also bubble up and be a factor, too. I honestly don’t know. But I do know I very much appreciate honest sellers, and your comment.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      In each case, I had several exchanges with customer service about the obvious differences from the Amazon detail page. The most egregious one, the laptop battery, I did directly report – at the urging of customer service – via the “Report a violation of our rules” web form (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/reports).

      I’d hope in all three cases, though, the customer service interaction would also bubble up and be a factor, too. I honestly don’t know. But I do know I very much appreciate honest sellers, and your comment.

      • Raul

        I’m also an Amazon seller.
        I’m surprised that items fulfilled by Amazon are not verified as they are received by Amazon, but the process is very automated with sellers pre-labeling items for the Amazon warehouse.  

        Amazon really has no excuse for items “sold by Amazon”

        As sporkster said, an A-Z claim is the QC mechanism that makes Amazon take notice. As you found, Customer Service wants you to do the reporting, communicating with them will likely not lead to investigation.

      • Raul

        I’m also an Amazon seller.
        I’m surprised that items fulfilled by Amazon are not verified as they are received by Amazon, but the process is very automated with sellers pre-labeling items for the Amazon warehouse.  

        Amazon really has no excuse for items “sold by Amazon”

        As sporkster said, an A-Z claim is the QC mechanism that makes Amazon take notice. As you found, Customer Service wants you to do the reporting, communicating with them will likely not lead to investigation.

  • Amazon Disappointed

    Let’s say you get the wrong product from a third-party seller, now Amazon won’t pay your shipping for return. I just bought a portable Waterpik for $50 and it came with a battery that doesn’t hold a charge for even one day. They said to me, sure thing, send it back, but stuck me with shipping costs. So I’ll be paying to ship a heavy bulky item back, probably at $10 or $20, which is to say I’ve lost 20-40% of my purchase price for a defective item. It gets worse. We used Amazon for our wedding registry. The wedding registry page says they accept returns, and says you can click on a link for more information. You do so and it still says they accept returns and one of the many links on the page goes to a THIRD web page that says that the return policy is only for 30 days. Now, that’s not thirty days from the wedding date, but 30 days from the shipping date. So the present that’s been sitting for weeks or months waiting for your wedding to be opened is unreturnable before you even open it. It’s bad enough that they are exploitative, but to exploit newlyweds? That’s just low.

  • RexxSeven

    When Amazon sellers use the terms OEM & Genuine on their listings, they are usually lying. Just look up any cellphone accessories (especially for Blackberry). The same goes for eBay. There is NO such thing as an OEM part for Blackberry being sold by a third party online. Amazon seems to be making NO attempt to crack down on these lying sellers who have been doing this scam for years.

    Many of the reviews you read will claim to be from a “Verified Purchase” (meaning a person who bought the item on Amazon) . But, these are actually reviews from sellers who are buying their own product using a separate account just so that their review can get the “verified purchase” status.

    In other words, the positive reviews on these “OEM” & “Genuine” cellphone items are usually fake.

    This is coming from someone who has had several experiences like this.

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