Being an informed customer

By Mir
March 20, 2008

Some of you may remember that a while ago, I posted a deal on a cast iron cooking set at Amazon which should’ve been the “Cast Iron Cooking for Dummies” book and some accompanying cookware.

Most of you had your orders canceled, but a few did not. Since that time, Amazon has started to ship just the book to some folks who ordered, and I’ve gotten a couple of emails about this.

Let me be perfectly clear, here: I am never going to suggest that you dupe or bully a business. You placed an order for something, it was clearly listed in error, it would be really lovely if Amazon chose to honor the orders anyway, but it’s logical if they have to say “Whoops, our bad. Nevermind.” Right? I am not an advocate for the “wah wah wah give me what I ordered you awful people!” school of Shopping Entitlement. At all.

On the other hand, Amazon’s handling of this particular issue was a little bit sneaky. No one was given the option to review the modified order contents before receiving their books. And that—in a word—stunk. And I’ll hasten to add that it’s atypical of Amazon, too. They should’ve just canceled all of the orders.

Those of you who received books did not receive what you ordered. My suggestion is that you contact Amazon customer service to explain that hey, this is not what you ordered, it is not your fault that they shipped you something else, and so you would like to return it and be refunded. Furthermore, you would like them to pay the shipping, because this was their error, not yours.

Don’t be obnoxious. Don’t demand. Be reasonable, but firm. My experience is that usually that’s the best approach to take, both because you’re retaining your manners and because it usually works.


  1. Not demanding? Be reasonable? Avoid being obnoxious? It is like you don’t even KNOW me!!!

    Kidding (sort of). I used to work on the other side of this coin and I’ve used it to my advantage more than I count. I just offer this one piece of advice — “Don’t accept NO from someone who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” So, ask for a supervisor when needed. And yes, I’ve stopped a conversation long enough to ask, “Do have the ability to ___ (refund my shipping)?” That often moves me to the head of the line for a supervisor.

    Also, keep in mind, FTC regulations require that you be shipped what was advertised or they cancel the order.

  2. That strikes me as profound somehow:

    “Don’t accept NO from someone who doesn’t have the power to say yes.”

  3. Meh, I just canceled my order. It hadn’t shipped, and I don’t want to go through the griping just for a couple of pots. Sure they messed up, and they should’ve canceled all the orders. However, you can review your order and cancel it until it ships. The order form said just the book, nothing about the pots and pans. The error was in the description, but the order form was correct. Since Amazon has always been good to me, I can forgive the occasional error, especially since I work in IT and understand how these things happen.

  4. Patricia: I agree with you, however, for this specific situation, I fear people will interpret what you’re saying to mean “force them to give me the pots.” Just wanted to clarify that you absolutely should not back down until you’re given a complete refund, but getting what was initially advertised isn’t going to happen here, and insisting that it does will just end badly. 😉

  5. I feel it was a little “bait n switch”. I remember reading the description, which included a list of items and had a shipping weight of 20lbs. They changed the description and details after orders were placed, without notifying customers. I had ordered two. Since the order hadn’t yet shipped, I canceled. I’m still going to continue to order from Amazon, but I think I’ll be taking screenshots if a deal looks “too good to be true”! 🙂

  6. Having worked for online companies for many years, I get very touchy about people using the phrase “bait and switch” right away just because they can go from happy customer to conspiracy theorist in 0.1 seconds. Mistakes happen and Amazon usually handles it well. Bait and switch implies intent to pull one over on customers.

    It seems to be the first conclusion many people jump to anytime there’s an honest mixup, two items in the database mix by mistake, your supplier provided incorrect info or any one of a number of things that could have gone wrong as the information trickled through the layers until it shows up on the website. If you have huge inventory, no matter how hard you try, there will occasionally be an incident. What differentiates companies is how they handle it when it does happen.

    Honestly, it always amazes me the amount of info that shows up correctly considering the sheer volume. It does because most people do try to make sure they’re loading items correctly and because they know the kerfuffle that will result if they don’t. Companies really don’t want to put something out there that isn’t for sale, what good does that do them? What is discouraging is when customers assume right away that you were trying to defraud them. What makes your day is running into an understanding customer who gets it that #$% happens sometimes. Those are the ones you want to do everything you can for.

    So buck up, Amazon couldn’t honor this one, get someone who can help you on the phone and give them the chance to make it right. When I see someone start the bait and switch conversation, I throw my .02 out there just to give another POV.

  7. Mir, thanks so much for this post. Canceling the order was very fast and easy, much easier than going through the refund process. Your heads up made that possible. You are extra pretty today.

  8. I just canceled my order. It was a few days away from shipping, and I was not able to cancel it on the computer, but I called customer service and they were able to override it and cancel it for me.

    I agree with you, Mir, that getting what was originally advertised wasn’t going to happen. However, I’d like to point out that if I were shopping in a brick-and-mortar store they would be required by law to sell the customer what was advertised (at least here in Michigan). We have a Toys R Us nearby that is notorious for having the wrong prices listed on items. Nothing bugs me more than spending an hour in the store with my four kids who are painstakingly checking prices to get the most for their birthday money, only to get to the register and find the items cost a lot more. I always expect the store to honor the prices as marked, and they always do. It has happened so many times there, it is unbelievable.

    So while it was easiest just to cancel the order and move on, I do still have it in the back of my mind that Amazon could have done a little more to make this right.

  9. JB, I still stand by my comment. If you read the amazon reviews, they were initially sending out the entire book plus cookware to customers. When the demand increased, they changed the description as well as the shipping details. If anything was wrong, maybe they had the price wrong?
    I have no problem with people/companies making mistakes. I’ve had orders canceled when the company made a listing mistake. But my order wasn’t canceled and they were well aware of sending what I *didn’t* order. The shady way of dealing with it…well, it was just shady.

  10. I never got around to ordering, and now I am glad I didn’t. Saved myself the hassle.

  11. To AJP: Yup, and that’s why I say what makes the difference is how the company handles it. Knowing there’s a problem and just changing what you ship without notifying customers = not the right way to go. Compound mistake on their part this time. 🙂

  12. That is totally shady and very bait & switch! As others have said, they should have contacted everyone who ordered and told them there was an error and gave them the option to either take just the book or to cancel their order.

  13. In Amazon’s defense (and mind you, I really don’t know what happened there, obviously, but I’ve always had excellent customer service from them), they did cancel most of the orders right away. I suspect that somehow they had trouble locating them all (why that would be, I have no idea; it should be simple enough to locate them all by item number, but perhaps there was an issue), and in the interim they corrected the item description, and now those pending orders are being fulfilled per the corrected description. I do NOT think it’s a deliberate thing, I think it was an inventory snafu, and again, my experience is that Amazon is perfectly eager and happy to fix this sort of thing. I’m sorry that some folks seem to think it was a shady conspiracy… chances are that it was nothing more than human error.

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