[The Conversation] Inside the black box of Amazon returns

None of this is news to us, but it’s a good explainer to share out on social media. Amazon’s free returns actually come with a lot of costs.

Inside the black box of Amazon returns


If I may…?

Amazon’s " free " returns actually come with a lot of costs.


Thank you for clarifying that.


Number of points covered in this.

Amazon forces free returns on sellers because they are not subject to market conditions. They raise costs on sellers on a whim to increase revenue. I think Amazon has hit the point where this no longer will work.

This problem is because of their own unreasonable policies.

I live by the term make people live under the consequences of bad choices.


Amazon exists by making other people live with the consequences of their bad choices.

I think that I contributed a significant portion of that 816 billion this year. My returns this year seem to be 100% fraudulent. Nobody has sent back a book with any legitimate complaint. I haven’t even had any “I didn’t like the story” returns this year.

Every return has been some form of fraud.
A lot of people are commiting theft by simple Des Plains style swapping. That has increased three- or fourfold this year.
The holding-the-textbook-through-the-semester return fraud has remained the same.

Articles like this on the subject of returns are usually incomplete, and padded with issues like the environmental costs which are separate from the business issues.

This article is written in a way which requires that human intelligence is related to the returns process, and the costs accrue to the the retailer.

Neither is necessarily the case.

I have never been in an Amazon returns center, so I cannot comment on their process, but I have seen many others.

Upon receipt of the item, and its entry into the computer, the fate of that item may already be determined. Open box electronics at a company like Costco, go right to a pallet to be shipped to a liquidator in that region. The liquidator may actually come to pick up the pallet(s) when full. For many items the vendor may have already provides a returns credit allowance as a deduction of the invoiced cost.

Very different from the situation faced by most Amazon 3P sellers.

There are still some manufacturers who are taking returns and refurbing, but that is far less common than it used to be as the channels for sales of those refurbs are dying. My own experience with refurbs is they are usually crappy products when new, and are rarely functionable after the refurb has been complete.

That parallels the experience of some manufacturers who went the refurb and resell route.

Those who sell used books have a different set of issues from the box in/box out mass market resale. Buyer’s remorse, and fraud are clearly a concern. And the 3P text book sales business is by its nature high fraud, driven in part by the outrageous prices of textbooks and the short margin associated with new textbook sales. Fortunately, the printed textbook is becoming uncommon. Might kill some businesses but the fraud probably would have anyway.

Since Amazon is now a cash cow, they are experimenting at reducing their returns costs, but they need to keep from impacting their sales and starving the cow. And whether they extend any savings to 3P sellers is anyone’s guess.

At various points in my career, I have made broad long range forecasts on where certain markets are going. Been right some of the time.

We are at a point where the direction may seem predictable, but the destination is not. It is subject to economic, political and diplomatic influences whose effects are not clear.

Discussion of them may be contrary to the limits of this forum.

Painfully, shockingly, terrifyingly true.
My FBA returns are proof of that.

My returns this year are the same so far as they have been the past few years. A mix of buyers ordering things without knowing what they are, not knowing what they want, thieves swapping out old units for new ones and returning the old ones, and the occasional but unavoidable actually defective item. My return rate has not risen significantly in the past 2 years.

I would never sell books on Amazon. Or clothes. Just reading the posts and policies regarding these items stresses me out.


Hi all, I merged @ShelfCleaningCapital’s topic with this one because the Fortune article they posted today is a reprint of the original article from The Conversation posted here yesterday.

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As the general return rate rises, and my particular experience of the rate of fraudulent returns increases, I have become increasingly disappointed with Amazon’s lack of action against blatant thieves.

So I am becoming more of a vigilante. I’ve been posting a lot more to badbuyerlist.

FWIW, I don’t post details that could cause the scammer to come after me. I change details like venue and category, but I do keep the basic scam unchanged.
A person who swaps a beat up book for a new one on Amazon turns into a person who swapped auto parts on eBay. The crime of swapping is still the same, but a few details are changed.

I recommend that you guys do the same. Report the scam, but change a few details to protect yourself.


So how does one find out from Amazon the customer’s expressed reason for returning?

This information would be valuable, because many of the “refunds” I see are Amazon simply not delivering in a timely manner, and they do report that as the reason for the refund.

No one likes returns, but if Amazon keeps us in the dark, we are left trying to guess at what the root cause might be.

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Go to the Manage Returns page.

On the returns page, for FBA returns, click the link View FBA Returns


If the customer gave a reason or comment it will be on that page. Many do not explain their reason, I wish they were required to. It would help to know if there is a product or packaging problem.

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I personally review every return.

I look up the LPN number on the item (which is unique to each return) and see what the issue is.

I would advise all other Amazon sellers to do the same.


I do as well, and I will open a case if there is fraud. I have some products with power adapters, they sometimes come back without the adapters (I suspect they are ordered and returned just to get a new adapter).
I have an odd one right now, the LPN number is not on any FBA report so I cannot find the order ID to open a case the traditional way. I called FBA SS and they could not find the LPN number anywhere on my account. I do have a recent return of that ASIN, did I get another seller’s returned unit? They are looking into it. I requested reimbursement regardless. What was sent back would be sellable if not for the missing adapter.
I’ve never had an LPN number that wasn’t on a report before. Very strange.

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I was not clear - what I was asking was “Is it good form to message the customer and ask them for details on the reason for the return using the Amazon messaging system?”

They’ve already been refunded, as this is FBA, so is the seller allowed to ask if the customer gives no reason for the return, and/or Amazon does not explain?

Almost always NO. You would likely violate Amazon’s Communication Guidelines. Specifically,

You may communicate with the buyer about the return only when you need additional information to complete the return or you are offering a partial refund. Follow these directions and select Follow-up on return request .

if they have already been refunded. Do not contact the customer. Instead,

If you have questions about our policies regarding communicating with buyers, contact Selling Partner Support.

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Whether one should want to is a relevant question.

I agree that if there is a product quality problem, you want to know, but if there is a quality issue this should be reflected by a high return rate on your sales of the product. And you probably do not want to explore this unless there is a higher than average return rate for this category of product.

Assuming you contact the a buyer and get a response like “this product is unsafe, poorly made and absolute rubbish”, you may find an Amazon bot closes your offer before you have any ability to put the problem in context.

It may be more prudent to monitor your return rate for each product, act only when the return rate is out of the appropriate range, read the reviews left for the product.

You cannot rely on the accuracy or reliability of what the buyer chooses to tell you But you can amplify the potential effects of their dissatisfaction.

Mass market retail success relies heavily on the numbers to trigger exception handling, and whether one thinks of their products as mass market or not, Amazon is a place where the bulk of all sales are mass market. Some sellers find higher than normal return rates on high quality specialty products when sold on Amazon, because the mass market buyer does not know what they are buying when they buy these products.

Several of our regular posters may suffer from this problem because their Amazon buyers are less knowledgeable than the normal customer for their products.


You received an item belonging to someone else.

Never contact the customer over this.

Buyer does not have to give a reason to return. It is one of the problems with selling on Amazon.


That is my theory, and support’s as well. I did sell one in April and they are assuming it’s the same one even though the LPN does not link them, they are reimbursing me. Maybe someone else received mine?

I’m not as bad.
That being said
100% of the “defective item” or “does not match website description” returns were BS. Attempts to get free returns.

50% of the “whoops accidently bought the item” or “No longer needed” returns were essentially free Rentals where the items were returned damaged or with obvious use.

The best we could do was a 20% restocking fee. Except one where the customer sent back an identical item with rotted batteries in it. The batteries were stuck and Energizer. The company sells the item with it’s own branded batteries. I was shocked that I got a 100% restocking fee for that one.

The Extended, Extended Holiday returns period killed us. It started late November with people returning items that can’t be resold that were obviously used for the Semester then returned.

Which basically comes to 95% of overall returns were BS.

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