Was I “scammed” by Amazon.com’s book seller program?

Lizet Pena sells her books through Amazon’s Seller Central, but now she owes the company money. What happened? And can she get a refund?

Question: I was scammed by Amazon.com’s book seller program. I listed my books at the price they suggested, sold them, shipped them, paid for postage and shipping material, and Amazon collected all the money. Instead of sending me money, they sent me a bill.

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How is this not a scam? I could have donated them, or just thrown them in the garbage and saved money.

I tried to resolve this with Amazon, and they were rude and said I have to pay the bill. They suggested not using their suggested sale price the next time, and selling my books for higher so I can cover their fees. I owe Amazon $4.74, which I’ve tried to pay, but for some reason, I can’t even do that. Can you help?
Lizet Pena, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Answer: Well, that sounds absurd. You shouldn’t have to lose money when you sell your books through Amazon.

The terms of Amazon’s Seller Central program, where you sold your book collection, are outlined on its site. Right on its front page, it discloses that if you plan to sell fewer than 40 items a month, it charges 99 cents per sale plus “other selling fees.” Those “other” fees apply to fulfillment and can also be viewed on its site.

Here’s what I find strange: By your account, Amazon suggested a price for your books and you used their rate. And then you owed it money? Here’s a company with some of the best technology resources on the planet. Yet it can’t figure out something as simple as whether a customer will lose money on a transaction?

I reviewed the correspondence between you and Amazon and found that even more troubling. In it, an Amazon representative admitted that you would make no profit if you used its fulfillment option on your transactions, and denied responsibility for what you call the “suggested” price.

“[The] ‘low price’ that appears above the box where you can input your price is not necessarily the price we suggest you to sell your item at,” according to a representative. “It is merely a widget that lets you know what the lowest listed price is for that item.”

Amazon says having the lowest or near lowest price can help boost sales, “but it is never our intent to encourage you to list an item at a price point where you are actually losing money on it.”

In other words, you misunderstood Amazon’s suggested or “low” rate, believing they were recommending the price. Add its fulfillment costs, and you owed it money. Not a scam. You should have read the fine print.

All fine and dandy, except that now you can’t even pay the $4.74 you owe the company? I decided to forward your case to Amazon to see what was going on. A representative contacted you and said that because of a “bug” in its software, you were unable to settle your debt.

Amazon agreed to not charge you the $4.74. Next time, if your books aren’t worth that much, consider making a donation to the library.

Should Amazon have refunded Lizet Pena's fees?

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37 thoughts on “Was I “scammed” by Amazon.com’s book seller program?

  1. Yes, only because the “Bug” would not let her Pay. As for the “Suggested” price, With the software might of Amazon, a pop-up that says the “Suggested” price will require you to pay Amazon If you choice that price, beform it confims/loads that price, would be a good idea.

  2. How is it any company’s fault if the individual cannot do simple math? I always thought your site offers guidance and support for real consumer issues, but I am completely astonished by such a ridiculous article. I suggest you pay Amazon $4.74.

  3. I suspect that Amazon “suggests” the same price range whether or not you use Amazon for fulfillment (they simply treat Amazon fulfillment as “just another shipping method”), and leave it up to the seller to see if the price covers their costs, just like they aren’t going to examine if you can cover USPS postage.

  4. A quick look suggests that half(dot)com doesn’t have start-up or listing fees, so may be that would be a better option. I didn’t look past the first page for sellers, though.

  5. Yet another person not accepting responsibility for their actions….
    Rule #1 in business…. In the long term, your price needs to cover all your costs in selling the item. That’s all your overhead and your cost in producing/purchasing the item. Failure to do this results in bankruptcy.

    Rule #2 in business … The price that the market will bare for an item has little to do with your costs.

    So … Amazon showed her the price the market would bare for her book. I don’t know why anyone would think that Amazon is doing a business analysis at that point to understand if that price will allow you to break even or make a profit much less how the price fits into your business model. Its simply doing a market analysis to show you the price the market will bare. Its up to the business person to analyze that price and understand its impact on their business. Maybe they are willing to sell below cost to get their name out (Amazon / Walmart trick). That isn’t Amazon’s responsibility. That’s the business owners.

  6. Except that all these sell-it-yourself sites claim to walk first-time sellers through the process and show them how to do it, so it’s not unreasonable to think that the “suggested” price would be a good idea. If I decide to clear out my bookshelves, that doesn’t exactly make me a business owner or imply that I should know “what the market would bear” if Amazon suggests otherwise.

  7. Careful readers of this site know that I only get involved in cases where I think there’s a likelihood the company did something wrong. Sometimes, in the course of my research, I turn up evidence that the consumer made mistakes (as this one did). I’ll still write about the case and the outcome. In this instance, Amazon absolutely didn’t owe the customer anything, but decided to offer a modest refund. As I noted in the story, she should have read the fine print. I did not pressure Amazon to offer any kind of refund.

  8. If you are selling something, you are a business…
    Amazon did tell the LW what the market would bare in the form of the suggested price. Considering that some businesses pay thousands of dollars for that kind of market research, its a great tool for them to provide for free. They also disclose all of your costs in selling the item. Its up to you to do the math.

    I see no reason why Amazon should do the business analysis for you. Beyond that, if it gave the LW a price that the market wouldn’t bare, there are people that would hang them for that too….

  9. Me? A “careful reader”? I think you confuse me with someone else :-) My comments were directed more toward the LW than you. You basically said the same thing (phrased differently) in you narrative.

    Honestly I think it was probably going to cost Amazon more to chase the LW for the $4.74 so they wrote it off.

  10. When you seek help from any profit making organization, presuming such assistance is free is folly. I am also a small seller and sometimes Amazon gets more than me. But, Amazon’s promotional outreach can not be duplicated. Try other services & you might find they take more. Suggested prices are not binding.

  11. This example was more like a garage sale than a business. I seriously doubt someone having a garage sale does market research. So as someone who is a business owner, but not a book selling business, I might expect amazon to help a little with pricing as they are trying to encourage people to to sell their items through them, business or not.

  12. I have made a significant amount of money selling a small number of books to Amazon; however, they were textbooks and sold in the hundreds (I did NOT make a profit, since I had paid even more for them — have you looked at the price of textbooks recently??). Under those circumstances it was worth it to pay the fee. I voted “no” on the principle that the fees were disclosed … but on second thought would, if able, change that to a “yes” just based on the problem she had with trying to make the payment.

  13. I bought and sold used textbooks for college and law school through Amazon and it worked like a charm. When selling the books, the suggested price was always near the bottom of the current price range, which was helpful when trying to unload books. Granted, I wasn’t in it to turn a profit, but just wanted the opportunity to make more money than the school bookstore or another brick and mortar would have given me.

  14. Interesting that the headline asks a question of whether the lady was scammed, the “question” is actually a statement by the lady that she was scammed, and the answer provided by Chris at the end is that she wasn’t in fact scammed. Kudos, Chris, on the restraint in the headline!

  15. Funny … My wife does believe it or not …. She asks her cousin, who hits the yards sales almost every weekend, to come help her price items at market rates….

    Amazon did help her set her pricing were the market would bear it. The price the market will bare is not related to her costs in providing the item.

  16. I sell books on Amazon regularly. They don’t give you a suggested price as the OP is claiming, they tell you the lowest, average, and highest price the book has sold for. It’s up to you to do the math and determine your own price. Also, their fulfillment service is expensive for sellers like me who only sell a few a month, so I never use it. I fulfill the orders myself. They are upfront in what they will reimburse for shipping, and it’s always much less than what I actual pay for shipping, as they are upfront, I have to take this all into account and price accordingly. Many books I want to sell will cause me to loose money, even if I fulfill the order myself, so I don’t sell those. If someone sells a bunch of $0.99 novels, they will surly loose money. I do sell some of the cheaper books on half.com, but many of them will loose money there as well, so those books get donated or given away.

  17. Except that when I have sold books, Amazon does n’t suggest you sell the book at any specific price. It shows you what others have their books priced at, and you have to decide for yourself how much you want to make in profit or how long you are willng to wait to sell your item. I’ve sold textbooks for as little as $10 and as much as $100. Ones that were selling for less than $10 I didn’t even bother listing because I READ the terms and saw what the costs would be.

  18. This does seem like a scam, #1. She DIDN’T use
    the “Fulfilled by Amazon”, she said “SHE shipped them, paid for postage
    and shipping material”, which goes to show that their fees are excessive for low priced items, #2. How hard is it to put up a warning saying
    “If you list at this price Amazon’s fees will exceed any profit” #3. Its a seller’s program, meaning your selling an item, rather than buying this “privilege” to provide the item, do all the work, and then have to pay a fee to Amazon for this “service”.

  19. Well, I’m the subject of this article and I want to thank Mr Elliott for contacting Amazon Inc. on my behalf. I’m a software engineer and have a BA minor, so, yes I’m aware of billing cycles, invoices, inventory systems, web pages calculations and “widgets”. The problem was twofold, on their GUI (Graphical User Interface) the widget suggests to any customer a low price that, after the shipping costs (which are known at the time) will make the end user lose money. An alert is, “programming wise” doable. Alerting the end user that with the given shipping costs, the sale will make the seller lose money. The second issues was that despite Amazon had all the financial account or Payment Card information from me, I, as an end user, was unable to pay my bill for two consecutive billing cycles. I isolated a bug on their system and spent 3 months going back and forth with Customer Service representatives pointing out this issue. Any quality assurance analyst for software systems in the USA and abroad makes more than $4.74 USD an hour for catching bugs and reproducing bugs in quality assurance environments. So, let me state the record clear: I wanted to pay my bill and move on. The books ended up in an offshore location in Europe where my technical colleagues can make use of them for free. I shipped them myself, covered the costs and I’m glad the books will get to be used. As to use Amazon Sellers Program in the future, thanks but no thanks. Have a great day!

  20. Then can you explain why are there so many books on half(dot)com for 75 cents? I was planning to sell some of my old paperbacks, but this is making me think twice about it.

  21. These are high volume sellers or the company itself selling the books to keep a status for cheaper listing fees and less of a % being taken by the company. Things like this also happen on Amazon with regular products. Amazon will selll a $300 product for $200, but if you look at other sellers, you will often find a seller selling the same items for $2,000. Nobody will ever buy the item but because they list x number of items for sale, they get a break on the fees they pay.

  22. Presumably, if one can go on a computer, go to the Amazon site, sign up for an account, link your bank account, then list your books for sale that one should also be able to do simple math calculations to figure out if you will make any money on the sale or not.

  23. I replied earlier and it spun for ever and never appeared. Here was what I said:

    No idea, maybe those sellers get a volume or bulk shipping discount? Maybe they are doing it just to increase their feedback? Half dot com is charging me 15% per transaction, and then the shipping allowance I receive, is about $1 short of what I actually pay in most cases. I got a small postal scale, and use the USPS website to determine the postage and compare it to the half dot com reimbursement grid. In most cases, I have to price my books for $1.20 to break even. I generally won’t waste my time unless it looks like I will make at least $5 on the transaction.

  24. Now I’m curious. When you use “Fulfilled by Amazon” you have to ship your items to Amazon and pay Amazon for postage and shipping material. When you don’t use it, you have to ship the items directly to the customers, and pay for postage, though most of the shipping companies provide fee shipping material. So its hard to tell by the OP’s statement if she shipped them to Amazon, and paid amazon for postage and shipping materials, of if she shipped them all herself directly to the buyers.

  25. Ha!
    Love me some Amazon, but this is a well deserved slap. If they’d done this to me, I’m afraid I’d be advising them how to slather their “bill” with Tabasco, and where to put it afterwards. :-)

  26. So glad Chris got this handled, Lizet, it is indeed a strange story. Kind of illustrates the “disconnect” that many of us who are no longer young adults feel when trying to do business on the internet. I always force myself to read everything six times before commiting to anything because I’m just not sure if it is what it is.

  27. I voted yes. The title of the first link says “How to make money on Amazon”. It doesn’t say “How to lose money on Amazon”. So, yes, Amazon gave a mild expectation that the LW makes money when she sells her stuff on Amazon. I guess the question is what kind of disclosure was given for suggested prices.
    What I’m trying to figure out is how she ended up owing money to Amazon. It seems impossible. For a book, there is a $3.99 standard shipping which Amazon passes from a buyer to a seller, which seems enough to cover all the transaction fees.
    But, then, Chris’s writing implies that she used FBA. There was an example for fee calculation for a book ($1.93). What was not clear in the Amazon website is whether or not Amazon passes any shipping charge to a seller when a seller elected FBA.

  28. This is how it works, Ken. When you go to sell an item, Amazon will tell you how much they are going to charge and give you for shipping. For your basic book it is $3.99, regardless of whether it is Chris’ Travel Troubleshooter book or whether it is the Websters dictionary. The $3.99 in most cases will not cover media mail shipping, so it helps to know what your stuff weighs before posting it for sale. (As you will most likely lose about a dollar on shipping) Amazon also allows you to offer expedited shipping which would be something like Priority Mail. They charge $6.99 or similar for that, but unless you are making $$$ on the book, this option is not feasible as Priority mail will cost you $12 or more for that book. I actually applaud Amazon for doing this as it creates similar shipping charges for all books and allows the consumer to easily figure out how to price their items as well as purchase an item.
    When you are selling, not only then do you look at the 15% Amazon is going to collect from you, but you also factor in your shipping costs. This is no different than how eBay used to work. (I haven’t sold on eBay in forever) if those costs eat in to profits, then you price accordingly. if your item does not sell then it doesn’t sell. When I was selling textbooks, it cost me nothing to list, so I am not sure if that has changed or not recently.

  29. I have a question rather than a comment. First, I should mention that I am a frequent purchaser of books on Amazon and many of the books come from their associated sellers. Often the books are list for a selling price of one cent. Then there is a shipping charge of $3.?? The books come by USPS at book rate. How can the seller make any profit with those arrangements?

  30. There’s an old joke about the fellow who buys something for $1.00 and sells it for $0.75. When asked how he makes money, he replies, “I stay open on Sundays.”

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