Amazon’s stellar reputation for customer service is landing the e-commerce giant in hot water — with its Marketplace sellers.
Many sellers at an online merchants gathering in Seattle last week reported being kicked off Amazon’s Marketplace after customer complaints that the sellers say were unwarranted, according to Bloomberg.
Sellers say they want fair warning, a chance to defend themselves to an actual Amazon human representative and an overall less arbitrary process, Bloomberg reports. Meanwhile, many vendors are shifting their business to eBay and other sites with less stringent policies.
Some 40% or more of Amazon’s retail sales come from its Marketplace of third-party sellers. Such sales are lucrative — Amazon doesn’t have to own and (in many cases) fulfill the goods — but as they’ve grown, so have the risks to Amazon's systems and reputation.
For Amazon, it's a balancing act that has consistently fallen (when it falls) on the side of the consumer. In addition to its huge product assortment as well as its varied (and growing) Prime perks, Amazon has maintained a reputation for excellent customer service.
And that comes at the expense of sellers at times, according to Scot Wingo, founder and executive chairman of e-commerce firm ChannelAdvisor, which works with a range of Amazon Marketplace third-party vendors.
“Amazon’s North Star is the consumer, not the seller. If there’s a collision of the two things, they'll choose the consumer,” Wingo told Retail Dive earlier this year. “Everyone talks about the customer, but I’ve never seen anyone walk the walk like Amazon does.”
In addition to pressure from customers, though, Amazon also has to contend with pressure from brands, which have become frustrated with a glut of counterfeits on marketplace sites like eBay, Etsy and China's Alibaba. While Amazon has largely escaped the counterfeit buzz, the problem may be growing as its Marketplace has grown. Citing concerns over counterfeiting and unauthorized selling, Birkenstock USA, for example, this summer informed Amazon that as of Jan. 1, 2017, it will no longer offer its footwear on the e-commerce site or its third-party Marketplace.
CNBC in July further detailed the growing problem of counterfeit merchandise on Amazon, noting that many knockoffs are found in warehouses alongside genuine articles sold via the e-retailer’s Fulfillment by Amazon shipping and packing program. The problem is rife for smaller merchants and artisans as well as for larger brands, the report noted.
Amazon policies maintain that sellers are responsible for the authenticity of their goods and could face delisting if they’re found to offer fakes. “Customers trust that they can always buy with confidence on Amazon.com,” the policy reads. “Products offered for sale on Amazon.com must be authentic. The sale of counterfeit products, including any products that have been illegally replicated, reproduced, or manufactured, is strictly prohibited.”
Many customer complaints similarly have to do with product authenticity, expiration dates and other quality measures, but some sellers, according to Bloomberg, say that many Amazon customers are taking advantage of its customer-slanted policies to obtain refunds on perfectly good orders.
Considering that its Marketplace is an increasingly important part of its e-commerce enterprise, Amazon may need to find a way to finesse the problem. “Amazon is getting harder and harder to persuade,” Amazon seller consultant Lesley Hensell told Bloomberg. “There’s no consistency. It’s all by e-mail with different people handling the case. This isn’t how business partners are supposed to act. If I’m your business partner and you’re unhappy with me, I’d hope I could speak with you about it.”