Dealing with Difficult Customers

Difficult customers are a nightmare for employees and guests alike. Maybe you’ve witnessed these customers during the heyday of physical retail stores. You’re waiting in line thinking that there was some better way to shop. Then you hear the rising voice of some customer accusing the worker of keeping the customer in poverty. All you can think about is the wasted minutes while the employee tries to get the system to take fifty cents off from an expired coupon.

If you’ve sold items on Amazon long enough, you’ll eventually run into difficult customers. Many new sellers fear for their product or seller ratings, and they cave into the demands of these customers by issuing an instant refund and telling customers to keep the items.

One of the first things you’ll have to understand as a seller is that the customer is king on Amazon. That means that Amazon will often side with the buyer, usually at your loss. In instances where enough evidence has accumulated, Amazon may ban the buyer. But that doesn’t mean Amazon will refund you for all the damages caused by a known manipulative account. There are other ways customers can cheat you.

Here are some common scenarios that sellers may face:

Customer places an order for an item and then threatens the seller with negative feedback if the seller doesn’t accommodate him in some way. Usually, the customer is fishing for discounts or free items. When this happens, new sellers will often just give a partial or full refund to avoid negative feedback since low ratings for new sellers can impact sales.

Canceling the order in a case like this may affect the seller’s metrics, so new sellers will often avoid taking this action. Amazon has two policies that can help sellers. First, it’s against Amazon’s rules for customers to threaten sellers with negative feedback. Secondly, if a customer leaves comments regarding price, then Amazon can remove it. In both cases, sellers can open a case through feedback manager to request removal. Whether or not Amazon will remove that negative feedback is now a bit uncertain.

Customer orders an item and then immediately asks to ship to a different address. While the reasons for shipping to another address can sometimes be legitimate, many customers use this excuse to scam sellers out of items. The best option here is to have the customer cancel the order, fix the address, and then repurchase the item. In this way, the seller won’t become a victim of a scam, and the buyer gets his item without additional hassle.

If you decide to ship to a different address, then you’re opening yourself up to an Item Not Received complaint. Even if you show Amazon messages or emails stating that the customer requested a different address, you’re still going to lose the claim. You’ll lose out on the item, the money, and risk an account suspension if your metrics already have other hits.

Customer returns a different item. Returning another product is one of the more common scams, and it happens more often than marketplaces would have you believe. Customers will return different items, damaged items, or even junk to game Amazon’s customer-oriented system. Some people abuse Amazon’s generous return policy to get the latest electronics (by purchasing a new iPhone and return an older one, for example), or they use Amazon sellers for rentals.

Depending on the condition of the item, sellers can charge restocking fees to cover some losses. Restocking fees may discourage some customers with buyer’s remorse, but these costs should be upfront, and they need to follow Amazon’s standards regarding how much can be charged and in what instances.

The best way to protect yourself from return fraud is to report the buyer to Amazon with evidence. In this way, Amazon can place notes or flags in the customer’s account and will ban the customer once he reaches a certain threshold. If you don’t report the customer, then he can continue this scam across multiple sellers.

To appeal this fraudulent return, you should have pictures of the item that was returned, along with photos of the ASIN. Having other evidence will also help your case. For example, if you shipped three pounds to the buyer and the return label shows one pound, then something is wrong. Present your evidence to seller support in a clear and concise manner. Don’t be angry or write a novel about the scam.

It’s not good practice to assume that customers who returned the wrong item are scammers. Sometimes, it’s an honest mistake, and sellers should give all buyers the ability to fix their errors. For instance, scammers have mixed their fake items in commingled inventory, and customers end up with counterfeit products even though they purchased from you.

For cases where there is a blatant attempt at fraud, then some sellers have had success notifying customers about committing mail fraud. But be very careful about the wording here. While the scam may be apparent to you, there’s also no evidence for your fraud claim.

For all return requests initiated outside of the 30-day window, sellers are not obligated to refund the item.  Unless the seller has a more generous policy, just notify the customer that the return window has lapsed. Some sellers have reported that they received return or refund requests for items purchased more than a year ago. Customers have nothing to lose in requesting refunds for old purchases. Enough of them have had their requests accepted for the attempt to be worthwhile.

Customer emails for a refund or initiates an A-to-Z claim on Amazon within 30 days. Many savvy buyers will return the item with the dreaded “Item not as described” or “Item defective” reason. This excuse means that sellers are out shipping both ways. When sellers receive the returned item, they may be able to charge a restocking fee.

If the customer is within the 30-day return window, then sellers have no option other than to refund. In this case, customer returns are just a part of doing business. When customers select return within policy, you should provide a return label. Failure to do so may result in an A-to-Z claim. If representatives see that you didn’t send a return label, you may lose the item, money, and you’ll take a hit on your metrics.

There are numerous ways to reduce the incidence of returns, and we’ll cover them in another post.

The best practice amongst sellers is to report all fraudulent claims.  Case history allows Amazon to hold difficult and scam customers accountable. If all sellers report fraud, then everyone will benefit since these scammers will be banned. However, many small sellers just give in to the demands of the buyers out of fear of retribution. The only person who wins is the scammer. Or he may continually target you for free items. Remember that if you give into the unreasonable demands of difficult customers, then you’re encouraging behavior that is bad for everyone else. Honest buyers will end up paying for these bad customers through higher prices. So when possible, require a return before issuing a refund.