By offering these services, Amazon has created a gigantic marketplace, while simultaneously making even the most obscure or hard-to-find items available to anybody. Just type some text into Amazon search, and you’ll get results. Lots of results. Too many results, it seems, even for Amazon. This is because many of the items don’t really come from Amazon itself, but rather from sellers using the Sell Your Stuff or Amazon Fulfillment service.
Sellers set their own prices (which can be odd, see Figure 1, below), buyers have a greater selection (not always a good thing, but that’s another article), and Amazon handles the whole purchase. In a few days, you get your product (sometimes, see below). The process is seamless, and it feels like you’re buying from Amazon.
I’ve dubbed this storefront and purchase experience Fake Amazon. It all seems to work perfectly, until you need to return something.
I wanted to pick up a Mighty Muggs Wolverine figure. Who wouldn’t want one, right? I mean, he is the best there is at what he does.
The local Target was sold out. As Amazon is my online store of choice, I checked there first, and found one for the same price. As an Amazon prime member, I’m always looking for the “Prime” availability image which lets me know the item I’m about to buy is available for free 2-day or $3.99 overnight shipping. When I don’t see this image, I know that the item might be sold by a third-party using Amazon’s services (although some Fake Amazon items are eligible for Prime, too).
I’d purchased items this way from bigger resellers (like Adorama, JR, and others) in the past without an issue, so I felt confident enough dropping $10 on a Wolverine vinyl from a third-party via Amazon.
Several days later, my package arrived, but Wolverine was not in the box.
Instead, I found a Bratz Babyz Storybook Collection Sasha’s North Pole Journey doll, along with an invoice addressed to somebody else.
I didn’t like the Bratz Babyz Storybook Collection Sasha’s North Pole Journey very much, and although I thought maybe it could pass as a Sabertooth figure on account of the outfit, my heart was set on Wolverine, so I decided to return it.
Returns from Fake Amazon Aren’t Handled By Amazon
Ideally, I would have liked have been able to send it back in exchange for the correct item. Typically when ordering from Amazon, you can go to your previous orders and step through the automated return process, which is fairly simple. The return process for a third-party item requires you to contact the seller through Amazon’s system, and then wait for them to reply.
I filled out the form (which seems to choke on quotation marks and other commonly-used characters and punctuation) and waited two weeks. When I received no response, at my request, Amazon stepped in and tried to recover the money. I’m not sure if they ever actually got in contact with the seller, or if they just issued a refund to me, but, I was never given a way to get an exchange, and I was never instructed to return the Bratz Babyz doll, although the money was eventually refunded.
The Bigger Issue
The real issue here, I think, is that for the “average” Internet shopper, it might be difficult to know if you’re purchasing from Amazon or from a third-party. Sure, there’s text under the product name telling you where the item is coming from, but you’d be surprised how many people ignore, disregard, or just plain miss it.
Most times, I bet things go just fine. But sometimes, when things go wrong, the system seems to break down a bit. Sure I got my money back, but what if this had been a gift, for example, or an item that was more expensive. Do you buy something somewhere else and hope for a refund in a month, or do you just wait? What if you can’t wait?
And in case you’re wondering, I wound up donating the doll, but I still don’t have a Mighty Muggs Wolverine figure.