If you return a product to Amazon, but it says the package never arrived, what can you do?
It’s not a theoretical question for Vanessa Wilkins, who recently dropped off a Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker at her local Whole Foods store (owned by Amazon). Whole Foods verbally acknowledged the return.
But Amazon says it didn’t get the package.
Now Wilkins is out $63, and Amazon is telling her it’s done all it can.
But has it?
“I’m having to chase down the refund,” Wilkins complains. “Can you please help?”
Wilkins’ problem looks like an open-and-shut case, but it isn’t. But before we can track down her missing Amazon return, we’ll have to answer a few questions:
- What is the Amazon return package policy?
- How long does it take to process a return?
- How do I get my refund from Amazon if it does not receive the item?
And there’s an even bigger question: Who is responsible for back-office issues like mail delivery, IT problems or internal processing issues? If you’re not sure, you won’t want to miss this maddening tale of customer disservice.
Is Amazon going to deny my refund?
Wilkins’ problem started in January when she tried to process an Amazon return package for her coffee maker.
Amazon allows you to return online purchases in person at Whole Foods stores. In fact, Amazon wants you to return your packages to Whole Foods. Last week, it quietly added a charge to return packages when there’s a Whole Foods, Kohl’s or Amazon Fresh location closer or just as far as a UPS Store return location. Amazon says the charge is meant to deter customers from using UPS when they have other choices.
According to Amazon, you can return most new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon within a month of delivery for a full refund.
Amazon says it processes the refund within 7 days after it receives the product. Most refunds hit your account within two to three weeks. Some Amazon customers even report that they receive refunds instantly.
That didn’t happen for Wilkins.
She says she did her product return on Jan. 19.
“I know the exact time because Amazon has confirmed to me that they are able to see in their system that I returned this via Whole Foods in their system,” she says. (Related: A long, long wait to develop my film.)
She asked about the refund in February. An Amazon representative said the refund was in process and to check back on March 22.
But when she called back on March 22, nothing. She called Amazon, which told her the refund “has not been processed.”
“This is very frustrating,” she says. “I went out of my way to go to Whole Foods in person to return this to make sure that there were no issues.” (Related: You might be a dishonest customer if Amazon does this to you.)
But there were issues — more issues than she could even anticipate.
What is Amazon’s policy for lost returns?
Amazon does not have a published policy for lost returns. It appears to handle lost returns on a case-by-case basis.
Our consumer advocacy team has dealt with several Amazon return package cases in the past (almost all of them were missing deliveries). Amazon will replace most lost or stolen packages under its “A-to-Z” Guarantee Protection. But filing a claim can take time, and some thefts involving a third-party seller may not be covered.
There’s almost no information available about lost returns. Still, we know that Amazon requires that you file a claim with your carrier (FedEx, UPS, U.S. Mail) before initiating any type of refund. We also know that while the recovery process for missing deliveries is well developed at Amazon, the process of tracking a missing return is not as straightforward. (Related: Help! Apple wants to charge me again for AppleCare coverage)
So to recap, here’s what we know:
- Amazon handles missing returns on a case-by-case basis.
- The company requires that you check with your carrier before filing any claim.
- It may or may not cover your costs or issue a goodwill refund.
None of this does Wilkins any good, though, because she returned her item in person.
How long does Amazon take to process a return?
Officially, it can take up to 30 days for Amazon to receive and process your Amazon return package. (It can take even longer to return a gift card, as it did for this customer.) When Amazon receives the returned item, it issues an immediate refund to your selected payment method.
Unofficially, it can take considerably longer. Amazon has given a range of between 14 days and 60 days. And Wilkins’ case dragged on for more than three months before our advocacy team got involved (we’ll get to the resolution in a second).
Amazon says it will take a month or less, but that’s wishful thinking. You can get a refund in as little as two weeks, but you might also wait two months or more.
How do I get my refund from Amazon if it does not receive my item?
Amazon has a section on its site where you can submit a claim for a lost inbound package. (When you’re logged into your Amazon account, go to “Orders” and select the purchase. Then click “Problem With Order” and “Where’s My Stuff?” You can note your preferred method of contact.)
You can also follow the steps I outline in my guide to resolving any consumer complaint, including contacting Amazon through normal channels on its site, then appealing to one of its executives in writing.
Getting a refund for a missing return requires patience. As I’ve already mentioned, Amazon will ask you to contact your carrier and will try to make this your problem. You can politely steer it back to the reality of the situation: You are the customer, Amazon often chooses the carrier, and ultimately, Amazon is responsible — not you.
Amazon explains its delay (sort of)
Why doesn’t Amazon refund you immediately? According to the company, it’s a process. Here’s how the company explained the delay in an email to Wilkins:
Once the carrier receives your return package, it can take a while to arrive at our Returns Center.
In most situations, returns are processed by Amazon in 14 days. In some situations, it may take longer. This additional time allows our Returns Center to find and process the item.
Although the return has been marked as delivered, the Returns Center has to complete the return processing before the refund is initiated.
As soon as your return is processed, we request a refund to your payment method and send you an email confirmation. Once we issue your refund, it takes additional time for your financial institution to make funds available in your account.
If you don’t hear from our Returns Center by March 22nd 2023, please write back so we can find out what happened.
Thank you for your understanding.
The longer Wilkins waited, the less believable that explanation was. And she was in for a long wait.
Where’s the package, Whole Foods?
Wilkins wanted answers, so she reached out to Whole Foods. But the company only offered a boilerplate answer.
Here at Whole Foods we only process shipping for Amazon. The customer brings the item that is being returned with its return code. We scan the code, take the item, and scan it into the shipping container.
We don’t keep any record of the items returned. The boxes are shipped out daily. Amazon Customers do not get a return receipt in person. They should get an email once the item is processed, usually within the hour.
If the item does not get processed or an error occurs, we encourage customers to contact Amazon Customer Service as we can NOT give any types of credit or refunds to your Amazon account.
Whole Foods Market
So Whole Foods first told her it had her coffeemaker but then said it didn’t. Now what?
Can I appeal this to someone higher up at Amazon?
Wilkins appealed her Amazon return package case directly using Facebook and received a flat rejection:
My name is Brooke and I’m a Resolution Specialist with Amazon’s Social Media team.
I’m so sorry, but we can’t offer any additional insight or action on this matter. We appreciate your business and hope to see you again soon.
Wow, thanks for nothing. Did Brooke just cut and paste that response to Wilkins? Wait, don’t answer.
So Wilkins sent an email to the CEO through our Amazon executive customer contacts. Amazon rates a 4 out of 5 on our customer responsiveness score, one of only a handful of companies to rank that highly.
But alas, here was the response:
My name is Yolanda with Amazon’s Executive Customer Relations team. The CEO received your email, and I’m responding on their behalf.
I’m sorry that your return hasn’t been processed, but the information you’ve been provided by Customer Service so far is correct.
Once the carrier has received your return package, it takes a while to arrive at our Returns Center. In most situations, returns are processed by Amazon in 14 days. In some situations, it may take up to 60 days to be processed. This additional time allows our Returns Center to find and process the item.
Since it has been more than 60 days at this point, we recommend that you reach out to the carrier that you used to return the item to Amazon. We are not able to process a refund for a return that has not been processed at the returns center.
Thank you for your understanding.
Executive Customer Relations
“So I am pretty much at a loss at what to do here,” says Wilkins. “This is such a mess – I really hope you can help!”
This is a lot more complicated than it looks. Wilkins returned the Keurig. Amazon could see it was scanned in at Whole Foods in January. Amazon acknowledged in a phone call that the item was in the system.
But Wilkins never got a written receipt, so she has no way to prove it.
Making matters worse, Amazon’s only suggested resolution is to contact her mail carrier, even though she returned the package to Whole Foods in person.
She’s right. What a mess!
How do you avoid a problem with a missing Amazon product return
Looking at this case, there were ways Wilkins could have avoided the confusion.
- Always mail your product back to Amazon. Obviously, there are still some issues between Whole Foods and Amazon. So, while you can return a product to Whole Foods, maybe you’re better off not doing it — at least for now.
- Take a picture of your return. Whether or not you decide to leave your package at Whole Foods, always take a picture of the box and its contents. It appears Wilkins did not have any photographic evidence of her return.
- Get a receipt and a tracking number. That way, if something goes wrong, you can track the missing package and file a claim. Without the paperwork, it’s going to be difficult to get anywhere.
None of this should be necessary. But Amazon seems to be holding its customers responsible for its company IT systems (specifically, that Whole Foods and Amazon couldn’t communicate). It’s shunting the responsibility for the package delivery to the carrier or the customer, even when it has already acknowledged receipt of the package.
Bottom line: Document everything as if you were a forensic accountant. The more documentation, the better.
Can she get her money back from Amazon?
Wilkins’ case is a rare customer service fail by Amazon. Clearly, Whole Foods and Amazon suffered a communication breakdown. When Wilkins appealed through regular channels and social media, and finally alerted the CEO, Amazon should have fixed the problem promptly. Instead, it told her to check with her mail carrier.
I contacted Amazon on her behalf and asked if it could explain what had gone wrong. A member of Amazon’s executive team phoned Wilkins and offered to send her a “goodwill” refund of $63, which she eventually received. But no explanation.
“Thank you for your help,” Wilkins told me. “They’ve got a serious system issue with returns, and you were the only reason they helped me.”