Sunday, July 10, 2016

Beaten Down By the 8,000 Pound Gorilla – Amazon.com

You've heard it said you can't fight city hall? Well, In today's world, you can't fight city hall, the county government, the state government, the federal government and now – apparently, Amazon.com has joined the ranks of the oppressive powers thwarting small businesses at all kinds of turns. M. Scott Peck, began his best selling book, The Road Less Traveled, with this three word sentence, “Life is difficult.” I will add to that, life is complicated and getting more so everyday.

You may notice, and if you haven't, please do, that I no longer have Amazon.com links on my blog sites. Amazon decided to terminate me as an Amazon Associate because I am in violation of the Amazonian Laws of conducting business.

Now, please understand. I've had an Amazon Associate agreement since about February of 2005, that's approximately 11 years. I read their agreement (which reads like most legalese documents forced on anyone wishing to do business with global mega corporations). It's long, make that LONG, in some ways incomprehensible without a Yale lawyer like Bill or Hillary Clinton or Harvard lawyer like Barack or Michelle Obama as your attorney, can be confusing and, to me, smacks of some forms of restraint of trade and unfair trade practices.

But, hey, it's simply an associate agreement. Simple, right? You put links on your site, write content that people like to read and hopefully gain some useful insight from and hope to develop a nice following of readers. Then, you might praise, review and endorse products you use and like and place links to Amazon that have your associate link embedded on the site and in the blog post. If any readers are so inclined, they click on a link, make a purchase and Amazon pays the associate a small commission or finders fee. Everybody wins, the buyer, Amazon and the associate, right? WRONG! That's what I've been doing since 2005, nothing more or nothing less. Everything worked as it should, I thought.

Amazon And The NSA

Well, little did I know that Amazon, once a small start-up business operating from the rented (I believe) home of Jeff Bezos and his wife in Seattle Washington and now a gigantic, global, mega-corporation (and conglomerate) with sales in excess of 100 billion dollars doesn't seem to remember its roots of 22 years ago. And, of course, it appears that, according to Forbes 2016 rankings, the, supposedly, affable Jeff Bezos, is now the 5th wealthiest person in the world and the 3rd wealthiest in the U.S. He is only out ranked by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in the U.S. But, he may have forgotten what it is like to be running a small business out of his basement. Money can do that to you, you know.

So, here's the thing. Amazon has either partnered with the NSA on surveilling their associates or they have an even better intelligence system than the U.S. government. I suggest this because, Amazon seems to know more about my life, my friends, my relationships and my family than even I do. Believe it or not – this is why they terminated me. And, I'm writing this article not so much to suggest Amazon customers should stop dealing with them. Believe me, Amazon is VERY happy to continue taking your money as long as they can and you're willing to send it to them.

No! This is for any current associates and anyone considering becoming an Amazon associate. You see, I'm guilty of selling products to people I have personal relationships with . . . like friends or family members. That's right, if you know me in anyway, I am not supposed to allow you to use my Amazon Associate Links to purchase goods for yourself. Additionally, I'm also not supposed to allow purchases made through my links to be used for commercial purposes or be resold. And, of course, I'm not supposed to even use my links to buy anything for myself.

I think I may have lost some of you on that last paragraph. But, first, remember. I haven't done anything differently in the past 11 years. I blog, I create content, I put links on my blog so if anyone, of their own freewill, chooses to click on my link and buy something, I am credited with a tiny sales commission. Seems pretty reasonable to you, right?

Again, WRONG! Oh, and it's probably important to know that I have no idea who is buying what or for what reasons. That information is not available to me. I can see what items may be being sold, but that's it. So, I'm supposed to stop people I don't know from buying things through my links because Amazon has determined that you and I have a personal relationship or are related. I find that very interesting, don't you? If they're spying on me, they must be spying on you, too.

Here is the writing I've been sent from Amazon regarding my “illegal” (in Amazonian Law terms) infractions. This is the direct quotation from their email to me:

In our review of your account, we found that you were not in compliance with Participation Requirement Number 29 because purchases resulting from Special Links on your site have been for personal use, resale, or commercial use. Additionally, according to Operating Agreement Section 7, any Product purchased through a Special Link by you or on your behalf, including Products you purchase through Special Links for yourself, friends, relatives, or associates as well as orders placed by you for or on behalf of any other person or entity, are not considered Qualifying Purchases.

We ask that you make every attempt to ensure that no relations, friends or associates place orders through your Special Links.

That was sent from a nameless, faceless minion of Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Now, I'm not going to make a federal issue of this, but what the hell difference does it make what I do with anything I buy from Amazon, frankly, it's none of their goddamn business. And, further why would relations, friends or associates NOT want to buy through the link of someone they know and trust? This is, as I suggested, restraint of trade and unfair trade practice.

People who read my blog, know me through my blog, they like what I write or they wouldn't read it. And, God forbid, I should have to reject the nice woman, Kathy, who walked up to me at a national forest camp ground and recognized me through photos of my van and me on my blog. Does that mean I have to tell everyone I meet on my travels who reads my blog that they cannot use my links to buy something from Amazon I may have reviewed and promoted?

I'm sorry, am I off base here? Am I some kind of heinous criminal taking advantage of people by doing what people have been doing and that helped build Amazon's empire since shortly after it was founded? Arguably, Amazon's Associate program was one of the first, if not the first and has been instrumental in driving sales to their business.

If you'd like to read the Participation Requirement Number 29 click on this link and scroll to Number 29.

And if you want to read OperatingAgreement Section 7 click on this link and scroll to Section 7.

Let me know if your head doesn't explode reading this stuff. You don't need to read any of the rest of the stuff. I believe it's the height of gall telling me AND you, who can buy through my links and how we can use our purchases.

I dare say that most, if not virtually all current Amazon Associates are in violation of these two sections of their agreements. I doubt most people read all this stuff and fully comprehended it without passing it by a corporate contract lawyer and paying hundreds of dollars in having it deciphered.

It's important to realize that what I quoted above is from my “reinstatement” email from Amazon. I had previously received a letter with no route for recourse, however, being the verbally (including in writing) “subversive” that I am – I sent a strong letter of rebuttal to the original termination, so they soooooo benevolently reinstated my account, however, without reinstating the measly $17.00 in commissions they “owed” me.

Here is what they came back to me with earlier last week and again, I'm quoting directly from their correspondence:

Your Associates account has come up for review in connection with our ongoing monitoring of the Amazon AssociatesProgram. During our review, we have determined that you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement that governs your participation in the Associates Program and your Associates Program account has been closed. You will not receive further payment of advertising fees.
You are not in compliance with Participation Requirement Number 29 because purchases resulting from Special Links on your site have been for personal use, resale, or commercial use. Additionally, according to Operating Agreement Section 7, any Product purchased through a Special Link by you or on your behalf, including Products you purchase through Special Links for yourself, friends, relatives, or associates as well as orders placed by you for or on behalf of any other person or entity, are not considered Qualifying Purchases.
Previously we took action on your account, but reinstated you in good faith. However the purchasing pattern through your affiliate link is still from the same customer that we raised a concern about previously. This is a violation of our Operating Agreement as it is considered Personal Orders as defined above.
You gotta love this, folks – THEY HAVE NOT INFORMED ME WHO THIS “FELONIOUS” CUSTOMER IS, HOW THEY KNOW THAT HE OR SHE IS IN VIOLATION AND WHAT THE HELL I'M SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT!

Friends, this is a case where Amazon has acted as the Accuser, Prosecutor, Judge, Jury and Executioner. Maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe after 60 years of owning and operating small businesses of numerous kinds, dealing with thousands of clients/customers ranging from individuals to the White House, Fortune 500 Corporations, the largest healthcare organizations in this country, some of the largest religious and educational institutions, major bookstore chains (including as a vendor to Amazon for about 12 years) and international businesses and individuals, I just don't understand how business works or the goals and objectives of operating a business and supplying products and services to make people happy. Maybe I've just blown those 60 years of my life. BUT, I DON'T THINK SO!

Yours Truly, Amazon

I don't know about you, but I despise being addressed as “Dear Associate” as the salutation on every correspondence I've received. Goddammit! I have a name! An honorable name! It was given to me by my parents at birth and I'm proud to bear it and use it. So, address me by it. I'm not an irrelevant piece of cyber s**t. I'm a human being and want to be treated like one.

And, I also hate when something is signed:

Warmest regards, OR Best regards,
Amazon

That indicates you are a nameless, faceless minion that can't make any real decisions on your own OR maybe you're actually an imbecile and don't want to reveal your identity because you'll be found out.

Another letter from a nameless, faceless minion actually used the pronoun 'I' when stating this minion attempted to call me, but the number listed on my agreement was no longer a current number. Big deal! Did they give me a name and number to call them? Not a chance in hell. Did they ask me for a number so they could again, attempt to call me. No, again! They really don't want to talk to people. When you're an e commerce company, actually interfacing and interacting with humans is not a strong suit. So, again, instead of a civil conversation to attempt to understand just what they hell they were thinking it was easier to take the slimy way out.

I, again, sent a rebuttal of their ludicrous determination, only this time I addressed them by their proper names - “nameless, faceless minions of Jeff Bezos.” The last couple of my correspondences with them also addressed Jeff Bezos at his published email address. He stated he made his email address public so he could hear directly from people who had problems with Amazon. This, of course, turned out to simply be a PR ploy. Jeff and his $64 billion of net worth don't have time to deal with humans, especially when they are irrelevant to him on the food chain.

But, I did shake the tree a little when a person actually responded with their name. Of course, the question remains, is it a real name or is it simply another of the nameless, faceless minions with a bank of fictitious names they use so they still don't have to actually be real humans. Is this what is meant by Artificial Intelligence? Jeff Bezos is in so many high tech ventures, maybe AI is one of them, after all, he's into delivering merchandise by drones and plans to offer civilian space flights in just a few years.

So, here's the letter I finally received from “Robin Backus” of Executive Customer Relations, whatever the hell that is. But, gee, Jeff asked her (or him) to respond on his behalf. Obviously, Jeff couldn't care less, but frankly, I didn't expect him too. He doesn't have time to deal with irrelevant people. The letter . . .

Dear Ed,


I'm Robin Backus of Amazon.com's Executive Customer Relations. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

I've reviewed your account and understand you're concerned about the closure of your Amazon Associates account. While I know you're disappointed with our stance on this matter, I want to assure you the response you received from our Amazon Associates team on July 7, 2016 is correct.

As mentioned, After further discussion with the Enforcement team, it was determined that you are still not in compliance with Participation Requirement Number 29 and therefore we decided to close your account. Based upon your second appeal, I believe there is still some confusion on what exactly Participation Requirement Number 29 means. To clarify, we have identified that you have a personal relationship with the individual responsible for the all the purchases made through your special links. You can find the complete terms of the Operating Agreement, including the Participation Requirements and Linking Requirements, via this link:
https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/agreement.

After your first appeal, the Enforcement team decided to give you a second chance by reinstating your account in good faith. As previously stated, we continued to observe the same purchasing behavior and had no other choice but to close your account and withhold your advertisement fees.

The decision to close your Associates Program account and withhold fees is final, and you are no longer eligible to participate in the Associates Program. We ask that you immediately remove all Amazon Content from your site(s). We reserve all other rights and claims we may have. Any other accounts you have or may open in the future may be closed and advertising fees withheld without further notice.

Ed, I’m sorry for any disappointment caused and appreciate your understanding. While we won’t be able to comment further on this matter, we’re always happy to help if you have any other questions - you can click a button to contact us by e-mail or phone from any Help page on our website.

Best regards,

Robin Backus


Wow! I made some real progress. I was addressed by name. And a person gave me a name, real or fictitious, I have no way of verifying that. And, oh my God, Robin understands my concerns and disappointment. Wowee! This person who gets paid for writing condescending letters actually understands my concerns and disappointment. The fact that they never actually addressed them after numerous correspondences and never made any attempt to treat my like a person doesn't matter. As I always tell people, the employees of government agencies at any level and of mega-corporations like Amazon really don't give a rat's ass. They get their paycheck on payday whether they resolve our problems, concerns, disappointments or even answer our questions satisfactorily or not. They are only there for the paycheck.

Sour Grapes

Okay, Dear Readers. Some of you may be thinking to yourself, Ed's just crying “sour grapes.” And, if you wish to think that, it's your right. But, I can tell you, I have NEVER, in 60 years of business ever treated ANY customer or client this way, even the really problematic ones. I always went out of my way to listen and come up with something – even when it was simply to agree to disagree. Did I ever use an intermediary to resolve problems? Yes! But they were always people who were carefully selected, trained and briefed on how to defuse volatile situations and find a way to leave a customer or client feeling like someone really cared, even if we couldn't resolve the situation in the client's favor all the time.

Frankly, friends, this episode with Amazon is NOT going to effect my lifestyle. I was planning to hopefully increase my Amazon associate income so it could supplement my current, fixed income. I believe the associate concept is an excellent way to generate either a supplemental or full-time income and I know of people making huge incomes through associate programs. Amazon is NOT the only program that's worthwhile.

The great thing about associate programs is that everyone wins. The buyers get what they want at a given price. The vendors get business they might not have received if it wasn't through an associate. The associates earn some income and it doesn't cost the buyers a penny more. That's Win-Win-Win.

Over the period I was an Amazon Associate, I don't believe I accumulated more than a total of $200.00 for the entire 11 years. I simply left the small amounts I earned on on account at Amazon and used the funds to purchase some ebooks or occasionally some other small items. So, in reality, Amazon got the money right back. You can see why I think this entire issue is ludicrous.

Do I expect you to boycott Amazon and not purchase from them? Naw! That really would be sour grapes, wouldn't it? Am I going to stop buying from Amazon. No! However, I will always consider alternative sources before I'll buy anything from a company that wants to control how I buy, what I buy and the reasons and purposes I have for buying anything from that company. It's none of their business.

Will I continue to report on things, review them, endorse them and include links where you can purchase them. Yes! Obviously, the links will not be to Amazon. I will seek out (I already actually have) some new associate vendors including Walmart, where I already have an arrangement set up. You can actually buy stuff on line and pick it up at your local store.

I will probably write some articles about this experience and look for both online and print periodicals where the articles might garner some interest. I will likely also file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, the Washington State Corporation Commission and trade commission if they have such a state agency. Do I expect any action? Seriously? I'm talking about the federal government and a state government. There's probably a straight chute from the mail room to the shredder. Once again, being irrelevant means no one cares. But, I'll do it simply for my own principles and personal satisfaction.

Amazon Associates Beware!

Here is what I hope is the most important thing about writing this article. Amazon Associates Beware! I don't know how many Associates Amazon has in their program, but I'd venture the number probably tops 100,000 and perhaps may be a lot more. I explained how I ran my Associate Account. I basically did the same thing the vast majority of you are doing, perhaps all of you. I did nothing to attract Amazon's attention and be singled out. I also don't know if I'm the only one who has experienced this or if I'm the only one dealing with it currently. Maybe my account was just so small (like the vast majority of other accounts) that Amazon decided to cull a lot of us. Amazon, of course, will never reveal this. We would have to discover it ourselves.

I know many other Amazon Associates. I know that you are in violation of exactly what Amazon accused me of and decided to bury me through this route. You are vulnerable. Believe me. I'm never going to say a word to anyone. I'm happy you're making some income from the Amazon Associate program and I wish you continued success. But, again, BEWARE! I don't know how Amazon's “intelligence/compliance” team operates, but I'm sure they can get you just as easily as they got me.

I certainly am not going to tell you to stop selling products to friends and family members, nor will I suggest you stop buying for yourself for whatever reason you are buying. I'd also be careful if you buy through another associate because you could jeopardize both accounts or multiple accounts if you purchase through several associates accounts.

If you haven't read the Amazon Agreements I left links to, perhaps you'll want to click through and review them (or read them for the first time, if you haven't read them before).

As I've said, my lifestyle is not going to change because of this ludicrous act, other than I'm going to look for better associate programs with a lot less restrictive operating agreements and terms. Amazon may be the 8,000 pound gorilla, but they aren't the only gorilla. I'm sure there are many places that would very much like to become more competitive with Amazon and may want to work with people like us on better terms.

Live free & be happy. EH

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I quit buying from amazon.Now ebay is first then walmart

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Things have simply changed so dramatically over the last few decades. I'm not going to suggest people boycott Amazon. They are like what Sears, Montgomery Ward and similar places were in the past. As I call them, they are(were) the 8,000 pound gorillas. The big difference between then and now and why those earlier 8,000 pound gorillas have become 800 pound gorillas now is due to the Internet and this relatively new model called e-commerce. People (me included) find it more convenient to buy on line. HOWEVER, the human contact and personal service is the main thing that has disappeared. My intent with my blog article is only to make people aware of how impersonal everything has become and how some "power" beyond our control can impact our lives with prejudice, just because humans are becoming less relevant in our rapidly progressing world.
Lf&bh, Ed

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear ED. I guess it is no longer a place that needs or wants my money. I will just add it to the list of non gun friendly businesses. I understand it is their right to make up the stupid rules as it is my right to not bless them with any of my hard earned money. Stay safe out there my friend.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

You said it! Even the giant, Walmart, has found themselves in a situation where they've had to actually start closing some stores. Even gigantic gorillas can fall. Heck! I've even seen some closed McDonalds. Indeed, Amazon can make their rules and we can decide whether we want to spend our money with them.
Lf&bh, Ed

B said...

Hi Ed
Bob from Vandwellers here.
WHAT A LOAD of CRAP. So I visit your site click on a commercial link with no warning about your relationship or our relationship affecting your ability to collect money from them through your agreement and you are the one in violation of your agreement?
Jeeesh! There's just know room left in business for an honest Joe anymore. I don't actually believe that but it's seeming like eventually that will be the case.
I would say you should sue the bastards but why bother. I'm sure you will do fine regardless. Sad for you to have to even waste time in your day to respond to their opaque corporate office.
I will continue to buy from Amazon I'm pretty sure and I'll make sure to write in the comments section that I'm not buying anything for a family member or friend since I wouldn't want to hurt Jeff's feelings!

Cheers Ed, I always enjoy your column.
Bob in NC

Anonymous said...

From your correspondence,

"You are not in compliance with Participation Requirement Number 29 because purchases resulting from Special Links on your site have been for personal use, resale, or commercial use."

So if I had bought something from Amazon through your Special Links, I am not allowed to use it for personal or commercial use. Then what can I do with it?

According to this, anyone who has purchased anything through any Associate Account is in violation of the Agreement.

It's just a way for them to get rid of anyone for any reason, or no reason.