Up the Amazon …

In which The Author encounters yet more
customer disservice

My friend Barbara is a retired teacher, who (like many retired teachers) has gone into second-hand books. She started with a stall in Aberdare Market, which very quickly became stuffed to the gunwales with mass-market fiction. After a while, it seemed that everyone in Aberdare was offloading their surplus on her. Before too long, she had at least half a dozen copies apiece of Dan Brown’s novels, scattered among more books than Aberdare Library has these days. Racks of shelves are arranged around three sides of the stall (inside and out), while the outsize hardbacks just sit in two-foot-high stacks around the inner perimeter.
Earlier this year, she took on a second stall just to display the Crime and Thrillers, which had previously occupied a very small ante-room at the far end of the building. In the midst of all the chaos, Barbara sits behind the corner in her little armchair, reading, drinking cups of tea and chatting for ages to her regulars. On Saturdays, her husband Adrian comes in as well, and with two customers browsing, it’s almost impossible to move in there. It’s a nice way to spend the day – it’s that, or daytime TV.
Barbara’s decided that the best things to read are pulp novels, because they don’t need any concentration, and when people are coming and going all day you can’t get into anything too deep. And she’s not short of pulp to read, believe me. There’s more chick-lit than you can shake a Rampant Rabbit at. She’s got a whole rack of Misery Memoirs, a spinner full of James Patterson, and everything ever written by Virginia Andrews, the New Virginia Andrews, the Posthumous Virginia Andrews, and the Illegitimate Child of Virginia Andrews. Mills and Boon books are piled three-deep and spine-on in a box, because there’s just no other space to display them in.
However, there are some nuggets amongst the dross. Over time, I’ve picked up the little book of Matthew Brady’s photographs which I told you about in Picture This; Len Deighton’s two sequels to The Ipcress File; a hardback copy of Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man (to replace the paperback I lent out thirty years ago and never got back); 1066 And All That by Sellar and Yeatman (which almost had me in tears of laughter in the pub later that day); John Edwards’s Talk Tidy, about the Wenglish language of the valleys; the first volume of John Barrowman’s autobiography; and my current book at bedtime – the truly extraordinary Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to name but a few. Kristy’s had some crime novels, a couple of interesting books on the Tarot, and several books for her son Luke as well.
I’ve also managed to supply Barbara with a few items: two hardback copies of Tyrone O’Sullivan’s book about the Tower Colliery buyout (jacket returns from the trade); some books on gardening and photography from a time when I was still planning a pond and using film; and a few photographic books on steam trains which sold almost immediately.
At around that time, my friend Konrad was clearing his aunt’s house. He brought several bags full of books round to my house over a couple of months. I’ve kept a good number of them myself (books on Celtic art and mythology, the Arthurian tradition, some interesting books on Welsh history and Anglo-Welsh literature), but I gave some of the fiction to Barbara. In particular, the old paperback copies of Alexander Cordell’s novels about life in industrial Wales went almost before she had chance to put them on the shelves.
Anyway, back last year I came up with the idea of trying to sell some of the more obscure items online. After all, it seemed that the chances of someone walking into a second-hand bookstall in a small Valleys town and wanting the autobiography of an Australian Aboriginal entrepreneur (published by Penguin’s Australian division) were pretty slim. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that nowadays J. R. Hartley would look for his long-lost monograph on Ebay or Amazon as a first resort (see Adventures in the Book Trade (Part 2)).
I wanted to clear some of the odds and sods from my own shelves, and listed a few on Amazon to see what happened. After much persuasion, Barbara agreed that I might be on to something. I started by listing the hardback biographies that had sat gathering dust in the stall since Day One.
It didn’t take very long until I had my first ‘bite’ – Robert Hewison’s The Heritage Industry, which had lived on my shelves since 1990 or so. It went for a fiver, as I remember. Soon after that, I had to call into Barbara’s with a piece of paper. It was an order for a hardback copy of Inside a Thug’s Heart by the American rapper Tupac Shakur. Oddly enough, it had been bought by a school in Burnley – for the nice sum of £10.00. Even once Amazon had taken their cut, we were still at least £5 up on what Barbara would have had from a flesh-and-blood customer.
In the meantime, Barbara and Adrian had gone to Hay on Wye for a day, and visited a trade warehouse. There was a huge stack of the long out of print Mountain Ash and Penrhiwceiber Remembered in Old Photographs, by Bernard Baldwin MBE. At the same time, there was a buyer from The Works looking at the same book. They had to leave them there, because the book had no barcode. The non-booksellers who work at The Works wouldn’t have been even to ring them through the till.
Their loss was our gain. It was perfect for the Xmas trade, so Barbara and Adrian bought a small quantity, which went within a few days. On their next visit, they picked up some more. We held a few back and listed them online, instead of putting them in the window of the stall. They went fairly quickly, two to people living in England and one to someone in Mountain Ash itself. A couple of weeks later we had another order, for the book by the aforementioned Australian entrepreneur. It was going to a customer in a suburb of Perth, Western Australia. (I was half-tempted to send it in a parcel shaped like a boomerang.) Just before Xmas, I sold my own copy of Bergman and Horn’s Experimental Pop to a customer in Norway, for about £7.00 plus postage. I’d only paid 95p for it, in a remainder shop in Bristol about 25 years earlier. Suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, Aberdare Bookstall had become a global business.
I decided at this point that I needed to separate our book money from my own money. I opened an account with the Nationwide Building Society, purely so that the payments from Amazon could be paid into it. It didn’t take long to sort out, and on 19 December our first deposit was made to the new account. They’d obviously been able to deposit the money into my new account, set up entirely for that purpose and which had a zero balance, without any problems.
After Xmas, we received some more payments, again without any need to query anything with Amazon. In February, the chip of my ATM card developed a fault, and I had to order a new one. That was where the mystery began.
The replacement card turned up a few days later, and I had to update the card details on Amazon.
A few days later, I had an email from them saying that they’d been unable to ‘verify’ my new card details, and that as a result they wouldn’t be able to ‘disburse’ the money we were due. So, I checked online and found that access to my Seller Account had been ‘limited’. After a bit of potching, I managed to find a feature whereby you could request a phone call from their Seller Support team. I hit the button and a few minutes later the phone rang. According to the call centre zombie I spoke to, there had to be a minimum of £5.00 in the account in order for them to ‘verify’ it. At the time, we were slightly under, so I went to the Nationwide in Aberdare and paid in a couple of quid to take us over the minimum balance. I left it a few days and tried again.
I was called back by a different zombie, who told me (this time) that the name and address they had on file was wrong. So I had to dig out my bank statement, go online and retype my details exactly as they appeared – lower-case characters in the address, no space in the postcode, and so forth. After being on the phone for nearly twenty minutes (for which, luckily, Amazon was picking up the tab) I managed to convince them that I was actually me, and they agreed to release the payment. Barbara and I shifted some more stock, I received the money, and we split it between us. It was all going well.
Fast forward to May 2012. On a Friday evening, for no apparent reason, the cashpoint of the Principality Building Society decided to swallow my card. It made a horrible grinding noise as I inserted it, and I suspect that there was a mechanical failure, rather than any problem with the card itself. Anyway, the following day I called into the Nationwide and ordered a replacement. As soon as it arrived, I updated my card details on Amazon. I didn’t need to change the address, of course. I just deleted the old card and added the new one. Simple?
Apparently not.
On 12 June I received this email from Amazon:
Dear Seller,
We are writing to let you know that your most recent disbursement of GBP 6.39 has been delayed. We took this action because the credit card information registered to your seller account for Amazon.co.uk is invalid. Note that this information may be invalid because the card has expired or the billing address associated to it may have changed.
Sellers are required to provide a valid credit/debit card during registration and to maintain a valid credit card during the term of their seller account. We ask for a credit card for identity verification and to cover any amounts due on your seller account.
After you have entered valid credit (or debit) card information, you can re-initiate a transfer of funds to your bank account. In your seller account, click the “View your payments account” link and then click the “Request Disbursement” button.
If you would like to have your balance charged against your bank account, you are welcome to use the debit card associated with that account. Your debit card must also be associated with one of these major credit card companies: Visa / Visa Electron / Visa Delta, MasterCard, American Express.
In the future, if you have a balance due on your settlement date, it will be automatically charged to the credit card you have authorised. Although there is no negative balance on your seller account at this time, you are responsible for any future balance due on the account.
In order to receive funds, please update your credit card information at your earliest convenience.
1. Log in to your seller account.
2. Click the “Seller Account Information” link under the Settings heading.
3. Click the “Edit” button in the Charge Method box and enter your current credit card information.
4. Click “Submit” to save your changes. Please make sure that you enter all information exactly as it appears on your credit card.
Best Regards,
Amazon Services Europe
Anyway, I double-checked that the information was correct, and then requested an instant phone call. I spent twenty minutes or so arguing in circles with a third customer service zombie. According to the zombie, the minimum balance needed to ‘verify’ the card had shot up from £4.00 to £30.00. I told him that the only time there’d ever been £30 in the account at one time was after we’d been paid for a couple of nice sales to a customer in Stratford-upon-Avon. The last time they’d ‘verified’ my account, it needed a minimum balance of only £5.00. In fact, I continued, they’d been able to deposit money into the account when there wasn’t a brass farthing in it. But he was adamant that without £30.00 in the account, Barbara and I wouldn’t get our money. Eventually I told him to stop wasting my time and hung up. Almost instantly, I got an email from Amazon with a Case number. Apparently the outcome was ‘call dropped’. Well, no, not exactly dropped – more slammed down in anger.
As per the Joker’s advice in Batman: The Killing Joke, since I couldn’t get even, I got mad. First of all, I used the Contact Seller Support email facility on 12 June:
Access to my seller account in the name of Aberdare Bookstall has been limited because APPARENTLY you have been unable to ‘verify’ my new bank debit card. I spoke to an operative on June 7 regarding this matter, who was most unhelpful. He seemed to be deliberately uncooperative and, I suspect, was not telling the truth, when he informed me that a minimum account balance of £30 was required. On a previous occasion when I encountered a similar issue, the account was ‘verified’ with only a £5 balance.
I therefore require BY RETURN your FULL contact details – i.e. a fully functioning email address, to which I can write and attach copies of my bank statements. These will VERIFY that Amazon has been able to disburse several payments, even though there was a ZERO balance on the new account set up specifically for this purpose.
If your basic terms and conditions have changed to the extent that a minimum balance of £30 is required, then rest assured that I will be taking my business elsewhere.
In the meantime, I am owed the sum of £6.39 for a transaction which I carried out in good faith nearly a month ago. If this sum is not in my bank account within seven days I will contact a friend of mine in the media to draw this to her attention.
The following day, I sent this one:
You have chosen not to respond to my email of 12 June, in spite of your own assurance that most emails are answered with thirty minutes. Therefore, as promised I enclose copies of my bank statements which will VERIFY beyond any doubt that you were able to transfer money into my account when there was a £0 (zero) balance. This suggests to me that your operative was, indeed, LYING when he told me that the account needed a balance of £30 (thirty pounds) in order for payments to be made.
Furthermore, the card details I have registered with you are correct, and therefore I require IMMEDIATE disbursement of the amount due. If the deposit is not made to my account within 7 (SEVEN) CALENDAR DAYS then I shall seek legal advice and contact the media.
That, of course, was sent to the address from which the first email had originated. It came as little surprise when a few minutes later I got this reply:
Dear Seller,
Thank you for taking the time to write to us, we always like to hear from our customers. However, you’ve written to an address that does not accept incoming emails. For assistance from Amazon Services Europe Support Team, please use the Contact Us e-mail form available in our online Help department. Please do not reply to this e-mail, as we are not able to respond personally to messages sent to this address.
Warmest Regards,
Amazon Services Europe
So, I used the online form once again, and told them that I required a fully functioning email address to which I could send attachments. After all, my bank statements proved (or maybe ‘verified’) beyond any doubt that they’d been able to pay us from the very start. I needed to send copies of the statements in order to show them the evidence in black and white.
On 16 June I got this email:
Greetings from Amazon.co.uk
Thank you for contacting us. Per the Amazon Services Business Solutions Agreement, sellers are required to provide a valid credit card during registration and to maintain a valid credit card during the term of their Marketplace Payments account. We ask for a credit card for identity verification and to cover any amounts due on your account. Without valid credit card information, we may be unable to verify your identity or collect amounts owed us, which may result in the suspension of your seller account. The disbursement of 6.39 GBP which initiated on 12/06/2012 has been cancelled and the funds have been credited to your merchant account balance. We took this action because the credit card information registered to your seller account is invalid. Note that this information may be invalid because the card has expired or the billing address that is associated to it may have changed. We ask that you update your credit card details. To do so, please sign into Seller Central and go to Settings > Account Information > Credit Card Information. Click “Edit” to provide your credit card details.
Warmest regards,
Payments Specialist
Amazon.co.uk
Underneath was this highly amusing strapline: Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. Well, if TalkTalk were Earth’s Least Customer-Centric Company, Amazon were intent on proving that going from Least to Most wasn’t exactly a huge leap.
So I wrote back again:
Dear unnamed operative
It is clear from your reply that you have failed to both READ and COMPREHEND the contents of my previous email. I specifically requested an email address to which attachments could be sent. If you were unable to provide this, I required an immediate telephone call to +44 **********. I have little doubt that this email will find its way to a blind email address, but I will attach the relevant documents anyway.
As the attached document Nationwide-1 will amply demonstrate, the first two transactions on my bank account were payments from Amazon. If you REALLY required a minimum balance of £30 to ‘verify’ the account details, these payments and subsequent payments listed on the document Nationwide-2 COULD NOT and WOULD NOT have been made.
You have left me with little alternative but to contact the BBC Wales consumer programme X-RAY. Maybe they can break through the stone wall which your ‘seller support’ department has constructed around itself.
On Tuesday, I had this:
We are sorry to learn of the difficulties you have experienced while accessing your seller account. To resolve this difficulty, you will need to re-enter a valid credit card in the account.
In order to verify your identity and the validity of your credit card, we have to ask your bank to authorise its use. This consists of Amazon.co.uk asking your bank if there is up to GBP 4.00 in your account that we could charge. We don’t actually make the charge; we just ask if this amount exists in your account.
To remove all the credit cards currently associated with your seller account and re-enter your credit card information, please follow the instructions below:
1. Click on “Your Account” at the top of our website.
2. Under Payment Settings, click “Manage Your Payment Methods”.
3. Sign in with your e-mail address and password.
4. Click the “Delete” button next to the card you wish to delete, then click the “Confirm” button on the next page.
Once you have removed the card from your seller account, you will be prompted to re-enter the credit card information in order to access your account. Make sure the information you provide matches that of your bank statement.
If this still does not resolve the problem or if you have any further questions about this process, please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone. To initiate phone calls from the Amazon.co.uk website you can use the click-to-call feature, do the following:
1. Click the “By phone” button in the “Contact Us” box found on the right-hand side of seller Help pages: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/contact-us/seller-call-me.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=314916
2. Click the “Call Me” button and then fill in the with the requested details in the pop-up form. We will call you and assist with your questions and concerns.
Well, £4.00 was within my budget. I went to the Nationwide on 20 June and deposited enough to take me over that threshold. I paid cash into the account over the counter, so that it would be credited at close of business. I then emailed to tell them:
Dear Unnamed Operative
GBP £4.00? Last time I contacted you, it was GBP £30! Has the Euro crisis really damaged the exchange rates to that extent, or are you people just taking the piss?
That money will be in my bank tomorrow (June 21), you may attempt to VERIFY my balance on Friday (June 22). On Saturday (June 22) I expect notice of disbursement, or a telephone call to +44 **** *** *** explaining the latest artificial obstacle which your numbskulls have managed to erect between me and my money.
As nothing had happened by lunchtime yesterday, I sent them a gentle reminder:
Dear ‘Seller Support’ robot,
Right! It’s time to get this resolved. The money is in my bank account. The card details are correct. VERIFY my details by midday BST on Monday AT THE LATEST and arrange for my payment to be disbursed, or I follow up my initial email to BBC Wales X-Ray with full details of this issue, including copies of ALL email correspondence – whether you chose to answer it or not! Any problems with this, call me IMMEDIATELY on +44 **** *** ***. If not, just send me my money! Crystal clear, I hope?
And we started going in circles again:
Greetings from Amazon.co.uk,
Thank you for writing to us. Unfortunately, our records do not reflect updated banking information for your selling account at this time. Please log into your Seller Account at sellercentral.amazon.co.uk and update your bank account information so that we may make payments to you.
If difficulties persist in updating your account information, please open a new case and include as much information as possible. The URL to open a new case is: https://sellercentral-europe.amazon.com/gp/contact-us/contact-amazon-form.html
Thank you for selling with Amazon Services Europe.
So, late last night I went onto the Seller Support page once again and sent them this little beauty:
To cut to the chase, I have a new bank card. I am sure that thousands of people a month receive replacement cards. Some are stolen, some are broken, and the majority are routine reissues once the previous card expires. It appears that your company requires VERIFICATION of the bank account EACH AND EVERY TIME the account holder is issued with a new card. If this was standard practice throughout the developed world, it is likely that the global economy would come to a standstill once a month as new cards are issued.
In addition, your VERIFICATION criteria appear to change weekly. When I first received payments from Amazon.co.uk, I had a ZERO balance in the account set up specifically for this purpose. I was then told that in order to VERIFY my account, there had to be a minimum balance of UK£5.00. A second phone call a week later assured me that the account could be VERIFIED with a balance of UK£1.00. Last time I spoke to one of your staff, I was told that a balance of UK£30.00 was required! Your most recent email tells me that only UK£4.00 will suffice. I was unaware that the Eurozone crisis had led to such wild fluctuations in the exchange rate between the Dollar and Sterling. I really should pay more attention to the financial newspapers.
Following a protracted and (largely one-sided) email correspondence, you will now be able to VERIFY the sum of GBP£4.00 in my bank account. I require you to do this at the earliest possible opportunity, and to release the overdue payment of UK£6.39 immediately. I very much doubt whether I shall continue to use Amazon as a storefront for my books. I think I will try and deal with an online retailer who has a) a shelter against the financial storm, and b) a customer service operation worthy of the name.
You cannot be contacted directly by email, and any submissions through this avenue are met by an auto-reply system which totally fails to address the issues. On the occasions when I have spoken to a human being, I have been unable to make myself understood over the telephone. Mobile telephone connections are notably unreliable, but I expect to speak to someone with a reasonable command of English at the best of times.
I shall be placing a full account of my recent difficulties with you on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter, so that other potential sellers can be apprised of your frankly appalling ‘customer service’. I also intent to contact various UK consumer journalists, so that other potential sellers will be aware of the pitfalls of dealing with your company.
Which is exactly what I’ve just done. But that’s not the end of the story. While typing this out, I’ve had yet another email from them:
Dear Seller,
Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk Seller Support.
I apologise for the inconvenience caused to you.
I have gone through your mail and do understand your concern. Please know that I have checked your account and found that you have last updated your bank and credit card information on Feb 2012 and currently we are unable to validate your credit and bank account information. To resolve this difficulty, you will need to re-enter a valid credit card and the bank account information in the account.
Please know that in order to verify your identity and the validity of your credit card, we have to ask your bank to authorise its use. This consists of Amazon.co.uk asking your bank if there is up to GBP 4.00 in your account that we could charge and also I apologise for the incorrect information provided to you that a balance of GBP 1.00 is required. We don’t actually make the charge; we just ask if this amount exists in your account.
To remove all the credit cards currently associated with your seller account and re-enter your credit card information, please follow the instructions below:
1. Click on “Your Account” at the top of our website.
2. Under Payment Settings, click “Manage Your Payment Methods”.
3. Sign in with your e-mail address and password.
4. Click the “Delete” button next to the card you wish to delete, then click the “Confirm” button on the next page.
Once you have removed the card from your seller account, you will be prompted to re-enter the credit card information in order to access your account. Make sure the information you provide matches that of your bank statement.
To update your bank information, follow these steps:
1. Log into your Seller Account.
2. In the Settings section, please click the Seller Account Information link,
3. Click the “Edit” button in the “Deposit Method” section.
4. Select the country of your bank account from the drop-down menu next to Bank Location Country.
5. If your bank is based in one of the countries supported by Amazon Currency Converter for Sellers other than the UK, please make sure that you read and accept the terms and conditions of the Agreement in the “Bank Account Information” section, in order to be paid in your local currency.
6. Enter your bank details, then click the Submit button.
To see the list of the country and currencies supported by Amazon Currency Converter for Sellers, go to this help page:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200498640
If this still does not resolve the problem or if you have any further questions about this process, please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone. To initiate phone calls from the Amazon.co.uk website you can use the click-to-call feature, do the following:
1. Click the “By phone” button in the “Contact Us” box found on the right-hand side of seller Help pages:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/contact-us/seller-call-me.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=3
2. Click the “Call Me” button and then fill in the with the requested details in the pop-up form. We will call you and assist with your questions and concerns.
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
Hope this information helps you.
Thank you for choosing Amazon Services.
Did we successfully answer your question?
If yes, click here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/rsvp-y?caseId=31929692&c=gcufhcab3488620946
If not, click here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/rsvp-n?caseId=31929692&q=mphmd&nc2c=1&c=gcufhcab3488620946
Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email. Please use the appropriate link above if you need to contact us again about this same issue. If you have a problem or question about a different issue, please review our Seller Help (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/contact-us/selling-at-amazon.html) to find the answer and contact us.
Thank you for selling with Amazon.
Surovita
Amazon.co.uk Seller Support
=======================================
Check your Seller Account:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/selleraccount
For valuable strategies and best selling practices, please visit our blog:
http://www.amazonsellersupportblog.co.uk/
For our announcements and discussion boards, please visit:
http://forums.prospero.com/am-uksellannoun
For further help, please visit our help pages:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=3149101
In spite of the feeling of apparent déjà vu, on further reading I found that this new email contained a couple of novelties. Not only does this particular zombie have a name – he/she/it has also given me details of a forum where we can discuss Amazon itself! I think I’ll be joining it later, and posting the link to this entry, so that everyone can see it for themselves.
In the meantime, I’ve deleted and retyped all the information that they had for me. I don’t know what happened in May, when I gave them the details of the new new card, but it seems to have passed them by entirely. Maybe now I’ll get my money. After all, they’ve confirmed that the information has been changed:
Dear Seller,
Further to your request, the bank account information associated with your Seller Account has been changed. Your future disbursements will be submitted to this new bank account. This change will not affect any disbursement initiated prior to this change.
You can update your bank account information at any time in the Settings section of your Seller Account. For additional information, please visit our online Help pages.
Regards,
Amazon Services Europe
I can only hope the story ends here – but I’m not optimistic! After all, it took me seven months and a full-on media onslaught during which TalkTalk and their shit customer service hit the fan, before I eventually got my money back. But back in 2006 I didn’t have a blog, or a Facebook, or a Twitter account. Still, I’m a man of my word. I promised Amazon I’d drag their name through some cybermud this weekend, and here I go.
Naturally, Amazon has a Right to Reply if it wishes to dispute any of the contents. Mind you, I might just delete any feedback and pretend it doesn’t exist. It seems to be what their Seller Support Team does best, after all …
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