We need to talk about your relationship…with Amazon

We need to talk about your relationship…with Amazon

The internet is an intimate experience.

It’s how many of us communicate with our friends and families. Relationships may begin (and end) with an e-mail (or instant message, or tweet).

I think that might be part of the confusion with how some people seem to see their relationships with Amazon.

The immediacy and personal connection of communicating with the e-tailer through the same methods we use with our parents, kids, and Significant Others might be generating these feelings of additional obligation I don’t think you’d find with a brick-and-mortar store.

Amazon is a business…you are a customer.

As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I can tell you that people wouldn’t have expected to be able to come into my store, tell other customers that a book was terrible at the top of their voices…and not expect me to be able to ask them not to do that, or even ask them to leave.

I think people recognize that a physical store is the territory of the store.

The internet is shared territory.

It’s both yours, as the customer, and Amazon’s, as the business.

They can’t tell you to stay off the internet. They can’t even tell you to stay off their site (although they can tell you they won’t do business with you).

If we caught someone who was clearly shoplifting (the person had books under their shirt, for example…that actually happened), but who hadn’t left the store yet, we couldn’t really do anything to them. They hadn’t committed the crime yet. We could tell them to put the books back, and leave the store.

We could also tell them they were never allowed back in the store. If they did come back, we could actually call the police and have them charged with trespassing.

Amazon is under no obligation to do business with you.

It doesn’t have to sell to you.

It doesn’t have to post your reviews.

It doesn’t have to publish your book.

It doesn’t have to tell you why it doesn’t want to do these things with you.

In fact, if it does tell you why it deleted your review, that could cause it (and you) problems.

As a former manager, I would have this problem some times. We would have an “at will” relationship with employees (in at least one place I worked). That meant the employee was free to leave at any time, and we were free to dismiss them at any time…for no reason.

However, if I fired somebody for cause, I had to be able to justify it.

We had to reduce the size of the staff once, and I let somebody go. That person wanted to know why I did it, so that they could do a better job at the next place…a reasonable request.

I had to explain that I wasn’t saying the person did anything wrong: we were just using our “at will” choice.

If I did say that person did something wrong, the person would be fired, not laid off…and would be ineligible for unemployment compensation.

Being fired would be worse for the employee, and worse for us.

That person had just been let go, with no statement that they had been doing a bad job.

If Amazon deletes your review and doesn’t tell you why, they don’t have to defend it. They have that right. If they suspected you of a crime in the posting (but couldn’t prove it easily), such as fraud (pretending to be an independent customer when you were actually gaining financially from posting the review), libel, or infringement, removing the review is an easy way to go.

If they accused you of the crime, that is very complicated and messy for both of you.

If you continued to post reviews that raised the issue, without being definitive, they could simply choose not to let you post any more reviews.

They have no obligation to let you post reviews.

At that point, you might ask them why (and I’ve seen that happen on Amazon’s own forums and elsewhere).

Do  you really want them to say, “It’s because we think you might be defrauding people?” Then you can say, “No, I’m not!” and they have to prove the case…which means a lot of time, money, and bad publicity for you.

You could certainly ask them to look at the situation again, and they might do it. Maybe your name coincidentally is the same as the author’s (that can happen…although probably not with my name). ;) If they examine the situation, they might decide to let you start posting again…without telling you why.

Amazon, though, has more of a relationship with you than that brick-and-mortar store. The Kindle provides a service, not just an item, and they are obligated to meet the agreements of that service which they have made; just as you are obligated to stay within the Terms of Service.

That’s a bit of a different situation. If they said you could use an e-book on six devices and it would only let you use it on one, that’s a problem for them. If they said they would store your books for you for free, they’d better have some reason to stop doing that…like you broke the Terms of Service by installing a hack on your device that altered the software:

“No Reverse Engineering. You may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to copy, modify, reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble, or otherwise tamper with, the Amazon Software, whether in whole or in part, or create any derivative works from or of the Amazon Software.”
Amazon Conditions of Use

Don’t fall into the error of thinking of Amazon as your friend. I like them very much as a company, no question. I’ve always had good service from them, and there are things I expect them to do for me in the future.

That’s different from thinking they are obligated to do those things.

It’s to their advantage to have a good relationship with a good customer, and I fit that category, in my assessment.

If you are a bigger risk than you are a benefit, though, it might be a different story…and you might find  yourself on the outside looking in.

If you did, Amazon wouldn’t have to tell you why, as long  as they met their legal obligations.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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11 Responses to “We need to talk about your relationship…with Amazon”

  1. Pam Says:

    I’m curious as to what instigated this post.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Pam!

      There wasn’t any one thing, really. I’d seen a couple of things expressing concern about Amazon removing reviews, and it had been stewing for s few days before I wrote it. :)

  2. thingsajillion Says:

    I LOVE Amazon, I think out of all the items I’ve purchased and reviewed, I’ve only had to write one bad review. It wasn’t so much that the item was bad, just that the value of the item didn’t match the price.

    Some of those people that write reviews should be banned, it feels like they get enjoyment out of writing bad comments. I think most customers can see through that though, especially if they go and read all their other reviews.

    Amazon IS, like a dear friend to me. They promptly send what I order, it’s ALWAYS the right item, packed to perfection and saves me from the hassle of fighting crowds at a stores. I can return items easily, if I make a mistake.

    With Prime, they are always adding on wonderful goodies, without charging more money!

    What’s not to LOVE, about Amazon!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, thingsajillion!

      Oh, I’m a big fan of Amazon…but I don’t think they do all these good things unselfishly, as one might expect a true friend to do. We have goals that travel along mutual paths…that works for me. :)

  3. draegi Says:

    I just wanted to let you know this is one of my favourite posts of yours Bufo. You are so complementary about Amazon normally that it’s impressive to hear some cynicism!

    By the way, I was researching some natural history the other day and thought of your pseudonym. Cool choice!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, draegi!

      Hm…I wouldn’t have though of it as cynical at all. :) The post isn’t about Amazon, it’s about what people think about Amazon, which seems quite different to me.

      I don’t expect Amazon to do anything with malice….but I just wanted it to be clear that it’s not like they need to give everybody at the dinner table a chance to speak.

      Bufo is my real name, but I know what you are referencing. For those who don’t, and I would guess I’ve explained this before, toads are Bufos (frogs are Ranas, treefrogs are Hylas). The way I understand it is that in the Middle Ages, toads represented wisdom the way owls do now. The connotation of “Bufo” is “wise one”. I could go through a lot more on that, but that’s the key thing. :)

  4. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I’m more likely to take the time to write a negative review than a positive one because it’s easier to figure out why I don’t like something than to figure out why I do like something. If something is particularly not Kindle friendly, I will make note of that, though I hate to lower the average rating for something that is probably just fine in print. I sometimes wish Amazon made it possible to keep Kindle reviews and paper book reviews separate somehow, but I can see how that might be impractical. If the author or publisher fixes the Kindle problems and offers an upgrade, then I will go back and revise my review.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Brava for revising the review! Not many people do that.

      It’s interesting: I think I’m as likely to know why I like something as why I don’t…

      My guess on why they don’t divide the reviews is so that Kindle books have more reviews sooner. If a book has 500 reviews in paper, and if we figure that the paper and e-book versions might be, oh, 98% congruent, it makes sense to show those paper reviews on the Kindle edition. Certainly wouldn’t hurt sales, in most cases…

  5. Round up #129: touchless screens, color E Ink next year? « I Love My Kindle Says:

    [...] We need to talk about your relationship…with Amazon [...]

  6. vrwl Says:

    As an eRetailer, I experience this sense of “ownership” displayed by customers in relation to my store on a regular basis. For example, just the other day I received an email asking WHY I don’t sell a particular type of product in my store. I think it would be normal to ask IF I carried a certain product, but to ask me WHY I don’t is like asking me to discuss the business reasons and logic behind my decision-making. I find it to be rather rude. Many times I’m at a loss to answer questions like that.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, vrwl!

      That’s a great example! I doubt very many people would have walked up to me in my brick-and-mortar bookstore and asked why I didn’t carry something. They might ask me to carry it, but I don’t think they expected to understand the decision process. I think they may even realize the inherent other limitations (having to pay for rent and salaries, the “shrinkage” problem of theft and damage, and the physical space).

      A simple answer in your case would be, “It’s a business decision.” However, that would take away the friendly immediacy people sense with the internet, which might be detrimental in the long run.

      Personally, I don’t think it’s rude, but it is…maybe intrusive is the right word.

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