There is an undeniable appeal to shopping at Amazon: Your purchases arrive quickly (especially with free Prime two-day shipping) and the site’s liberal return policy means there’s little risk that you’ll be stuck with a poor product. Should you happen to go overboard with a shopping spree or receive something in general that isn’t what you expected, getting rid of it couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is print out a return label, repack it, and ship it back to the mysterious source from whence it came.
It’s so simple that it might seem too good to be true—and, in fact, some people have been banned from Amazon for excessive returns. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that some Amazon members had their accounts disabled for making too many returns, sometimes, they claimed, without any prior warning. The Guardian also profiled a man in 2016 who returned 37 out of 343 items he had purchased and had his account disabled, losing a gift card balance along the way. Feeling nervous about your return rate? Here’s what you need to know.
What causes a shopper to be banned from Amazon?
Amazon customers posting to social news aggregation site Reddit have some theories. They speculate in lengthy threads whether there’s a precise return-to-purchase ratio that might result in getting someone banned, with the most common number cited at around 20 percent of purchases. Based on the Reddit threads and articles about bans, it also seems that excessive returns on electronics are a likelier impetus for an account suspension than, say, clothing or books. One Redditor experienced a ban after returning a DSLR camera; another man profiled in the Guardian article was a self-proclaimed “electronics junkie” who purchased 246 items in 2015 alone, and returned many expensive electronic items (that had failed, he said) before getting banned.
But without an official number from Amazon (we asked), and no real way to tell who is getting banned for what, it’s probably not useful to get myopic about the specifics. Instead, just keep track of your own purchases and returns. Rather than troubling yourself with monitoring your order history, you can download a document containing information on just your returns (from the past month, year, or very beginning of your Amazon account) by clicking on “Your Account” then “Download Order Reports.” If you’re still worried, pay attention for any emails from Amazon’s customer service asking about your return rate, which some people say happened to them before getting banned.
How does Amazon warn you?
We reached out to a Reddit user who had posted about receiving such an email from Amazon. In his case, he’d returned 32 out of 182 total items, comprising electronics, supplements, and daily household items, or about an 18 percent return rate.
The email read:
We have noticed that an unusual number of your recent orders have been returned.
Since our mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company, we want to make sure you are happy with your Amazon shopping experience. If we are not living up to our promise, please reply to this email and let us know what we can do to improve.
He responded to explain his situation—which, he tells us, mainly occurred because of a miscommunication. “My niece bought a movie off Prime thinking that it was her dad’s Prime account, because they were logged into the same television,” he says. “I was away from home, so I reported that somebody broke into my account and bought stuff. [Amazon] did refund the money, but the next day I returned a [different] purchase, which triggered this email.”
In the end, he didn’t end up getting banned. Following his email exchange, he says he was “careful not to return items” and did some more research before buying products to ensure he wasn’t getting scammed (though he unsubscribed from Prime a few months later anyway, thereby curtailing his shopping and returning).
Another user posted about receiving a “dreaded” email from Amazon. He didn’t reply, he says, and his Amazon experience continued without a hitch. “I have since returned multiple items with no consequence or ban,” he tells us.
What does Amazon say?
Amazon is mostly mum about its protocol for identifying accounts that may be banned, as well as how many returns a person needs to exceed before their account is closed. According to the Wall Street Journal report, an algorithm flags users with “unusually high” return rates, and those accounts are then reviewed by a human staffer.
“We want everyone to be able to use Amazon, but there are rare occasions where someone abuses our service over an extended period of time,” an Amazon spokesperson told us. “We never take these decisions lightly. With over 300 million customers around the world, we take action when appropriate to protect the experience for all our customers.”
A ban also isn’t necessarily forever, particularly if you believe an error has been made on Amazon’s part. In that case, “we encourage [customers] to contact us directly so we can review their account and take appropriate action,” the spokesperson says.
So, yes, it is certainly possible to get banned from Amazon—but, unless you are making an excessive number of returns and ignoring emails from Amazon, it’s unlikely that it’ll happen to you.