Internet companies behaving badly

The Setup

Last year I designed and built a fun little electronic trinket that I shared with friends and family. A lot of people told me that I should try selling it. I didn’t think I could make a lot of money this way, but I thought it might be fun and a good learning experience to dip my toe into entrepeneurship, so I decided, sure why not?

The first batch of trinkets I had assembled by hand, but this batch I would pay to have assembled. This means a fair bit of work, finding an assembly house, cleaning up the design, refining the bill of materials, and interacting repeatedly with the assembler to answer their questions and make requested changes to the design.

Fast forward a few months and a couple of thousand dollars, and I was the proud owner of a couple of boxes of shiny trinkets. Well … almost. I needed to do some final assembly, program the microcontrollers, and test the devices. I also needed to bag them and add labels that point to my website. Oh, did I mention? I needed to build a website, too.

In total, I probably have spent dozens of late-night hours on this, but it was kinda, sort entertaining. Finally, I was ready to send these pups over to Amazon and let the magic happen, right?

Are we having fun yet?

Well, no. My plan all along was to send a big box of these to Amazon and sell them there, with them taking their cut and doing all the shipping.

So I logged into Amazon “Seller Central” and started creating my account. They asked for so much personal information that I repeatedly had to stop myself and check the site certificate to see if I was being fished. They wanted:

  • SSN
  • copy of driver’s license or passport
  • bank account number
  • copy of bank or credit card statements

Nervously, I uploaded all that junk, and waited for the nice login prompt telling me that I could start to create my listings.

Roadblock

Instead, I got a short message saying that my documents were not in order, and my identity could not be validated. Please go back and fix it. Actually, I’ll reproduce the contents of this message here because it is totally generic:

get lost
Scram!

 

Thinking that was odd, I logged in again, and uploaded different scans of the same documents.

Rejected. Same message.

A different bank statement?

Rejected.

Passport instead of driver’s license? Credit card statement?

Rejected.

How about photos instead of scans? Scans instead of photos? With flash, without? Color, black and white, color photos of black and white documents?

Rejected, rejected, rejected.

At this point, I have wasted three days and literally provided them with my credit card statement, bank statement, California driver’s license, and US passport. All rejected with the same terse response.

What’s funny is that there is literally nothing left for me to do. There is only one me. I have one name, one SSN, one address. I have already given them all the documents I have. I mean, I literally cannot establish my identity better than I have already done.

Amazon provides absolutely no option for redress. No email. No phone number. No help chat. Nothing.

Wait, you say: why not go on the support forums and complain? Because the support forums are only accessible by people who have passed this step.

 


So, I guess I won’t be selling on Amazon.


 

The whole episode has been infuriating, to say the least and I am just astounded by a system that provides absolutely no opportunity for escalation. (I’ve been told by that my best hope at this point is that I can get people upset on social media.)

I’ve been an Amazon customer for almost as long as they’ve been in business, and I’ve easily spent tens of thousands of dollars there over the years. It had always been a great company to work with — as a customer, but as a partner, or in this case, potential partner, I’ve never witness such abject contempt for the user.

I think it’s telling when some companies treat vendors badly. It’s sort of the corporate version of “kissing-up and punching down.” Of course, Wal-Mart is famous for it. Apple has also been rather conspicuously developer hostile (and why there are no Safari extensions from ToolsOfOurTools). I did not know about Amazon. Now I do.

And I have to say, the bad taste left in my mouth after this episode will cause me to rethink doing any business at Amazon.

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