Amazon Purgatory

My problems with aren’t as bad as they were for Jeff Jarvis when he coined Dell Hell. But I’m not happy. And I’d like to help. Hence the headline above. Also this post.

I have always liked Amazon. I’m sure they’re still among the best at what they pioneered fifteen years ago. But they don’t do it as well as they used to, and I think it’s because they’re doing too much.

By that I don’t mean they’re selling too many things (which might be the case, but I doubt it). I mean that they’re selling too hard, and in too many ways. Their site is garbaged up with too much noise, too much irrelevancy, too much promotional BS, too much “personalization” that flunks the Turing test, every time. You know that’s machine intelligence you’re dealing with. Nothing human there.

Here’s a photo set on Flickr that chronicles my current problem with Amazon. I wouldn’t have said “current” yesterday because I thought the problems were over. But today some packages arrived from Amazon (following the order documented in that photo set), and they included two copies of one book and three copies of another, where I wanted only one of each. Turns out the order was correct. But how did I arrive at ordering multiple copies of books? And how did I miss the mistake when I reviewed the order before it went out?

I don’t know yet, and in some ways I don’t want to know.

What I do know is that dealing with Amazon used to be a model of ease. Now it’s a pain in the ass.

And that’s not good for either one of us.


  1. mary hodder’s avatar

    hey doc,
    so i can remember, since 1999, receiving two or three of something i ordered out of many correctly placed orders. since it’s kind of a pain to return the extras i just kept them. later i would see charges for the multiples (billed separately of course.. but still). since it didn’t happen that much, and the books i was receiving multiples of were ones i liked, i kept the extras and just paid for them and didn’t complain… i gifted the extra copies.

    however, even now when i look on my bookshelf and see the occasional extra copy, i have kind of assumed amazon made this “mistake” because it makes them money.

    and now hearing that it happens to you.. well.. i think it must be a mistake they don’t want to correct because it keeps the numbers up.

    if you asked them to return the books or credit you i’m sure they would.. but if many are like me.. this is a business model to keep, however problematic when you think about it.

  2. lurkerfan’s avatar

    So sorry to hear about your problems. I too have tended to use more and more, primarily because it does require me to review my order sufficiently to avoid errors in most cases. (This holiday season, I did receive one inaccurate machine-generated e-mail, however, after I changed the shipping address on one item. The secondary vendor shipped per my latest instructions but notified me per my original — wrong — one.) I have even ordered merchandise other than books from amazon when they don’t have the lowest price because I don’t like to give my card number to too many sites.

    Thanks for raising the red flag, as maybe attention from someone with your strong public voice will prompt amazon to investigate its problems.

  3. Bruce Wayne’s avatar

    Maybe its time to turn the machines off and let the humans do the recommendations.

    Most of the suggestions systems that are computer drive really give a ture meaning to “Artificial Intelligence”…For me “Artificial” means that its something that is a bad imitation of the real thing.

    Next time try this,_Hidden_Liabilities_and_The_Lasting_Triumph_over_Scarcity_(Book_Title_)

  4. Iain Henderson’s avatar

    Quite right, they seem to be stretched way too thin, and the customer experience suffers accordingly. The worst part of it, at least in UK, is when you have to return something faulty, especially if that was a gift.

    Last week, they surpassed themselves, my wife was trying to return something that was given as a present to our 1 year old and was not working. They insisted they could not do anything unless they could talk to the recipient of the gift. They asked to do so 3 times during the call, despite my wife making it very clear that ‘clever as he is, you might not get him to answer your questions….’.

    I’m beginning to wonder whether the torturous returns process is deliberate in the knowledge that many people will just give up/ not bother.

  5. charlz’s avatar

    I have received multiple copies of a book several times simply because I put lots of stuff on my wish list and later don’t remember what I’ve ordered. If Amazon automatically removed an item from the wish list this wouldn’t happen, but I suppose that’s not in their best interest. See how that becomes their fault?!?

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I’m pretty sure what happened is that I put some items more than once into my shopping cart. I’m also sure that the right thing for them to do is ask if you really want multiple copies of a given item. Hell, they tell me how many cents something in my basket has gone up or down, every time I visit. But I agree with Iain. They’re stretched too thin. They’re also turning into yet another company that hustles too much. Visiting there is tiresome.

  7. Brian Benz’s avatar

    Had the same experience – I thought I ordered one keyboard, got two. It was definitely not obvious at the time of order, but became apparent with the order confirmation and delivery emails, a both were shipped separately. But that wasn’t obvious either, they just looked like duplicate email notices, unless you were looking for it, and you’re not looking for it until you get two on your doorstep…Amazon should probably clump orders to the same non-business address with the same email into one single itemized message. That would save a lot of confusion.

  8. Shane’s avatar

    This is an interesting post… I have been an Amazon affiliate partner for some time now and have not seen this happen much, in fact I haven’t had it happen on any of my orders.

    Not sure what to say other than you are probably right about them being stretched too thin. Much of this is from them attempting to keep up with the jones’ by trying to do more and more, like you had said.

    As I think about it tho, I don’t really understand how anyone could be upset with an online company when it comes to the accuracy of an order where the consumer is required to double check and even triple check thru emailed order confirmations. I mean come on people… don’t we look at our receipts when we go shopping? Of course we do. Some people actually stand in line reading thru before moving on in order to double check the accuracy. I sure as heck don’t want to spend more than I have to on a certain item, nor do I want to pay more than once for an item in my cart.

    Online shopping is the same, regardless of the company you are using. Take your time when you order, double check your order, after submitting your order triple check the confimation and if there are problems at that time then reply to the company with your concerns. And remember people, any time we order over the phone, thru a catalog or online there are chances of errors. Hasn’t anyone ever order anything from Penneys or JC Whitney? lol

    Amazon is one of those companies that answers emails so don’t worry about having your email ignored for the sake of them making a few more bucks..

    I’d personally like to see much more quality control for online merchants and retailers. Unfortunately everyone wants to be one and eveyone wants to be like the other, bigger guy.

    So I guess we’ll be dealing with this for a while or as long as we continue to make purchases online..which I don’t see ending any time in the near future.. 🙂

    Well there are my two cents. Hope you don’t mind and Thanks again for an interesting post. I’ll be forwarding this on to my Affiliate Mgr at Amazon in hopes that they can address these concerns so consumers can again shop with them in confidence.

    Thanks Doc Searls,

    Shane in Wyo

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Shane, I’ll own my errors. I missed the email notices and I should have double-and triple-checked the quantities. Amazon, however, should make changed orders visible on the user’s view of the site. It should also post order-problem notifications there too. If they can tell me that the price of a book in my basket has gone up by a dollar, they can also tell me that there are problems with an order that is in process.

    I would also like the option of a much less complicated view than the one I get now. Maybe it’s there, but I don’t think so.

  10. Shane’s avatar

    Doc Searls,

    Way to own your mistakes. We should all do this more often.

    I agree with you that Amazon should make changes viewable on our interface. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do that.

    It only makes sense that they’d want to clear these issues up in order to retain their customers both past and present..

    As far as elliminating the complicated view… That’s probably just wishful thinking. They have to have some fallback in case of


    Shane in Wyo

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