Are Marketplace Customers being Poorly Advised by Marketplace Platforms?

There is a real concern here at HobbyPrint that the practice on some of the online marketplace selling sites, where they give the buyers the illusion of empowment as part of thier business model, they are in fact leaving their buyers vulnerable and open to legal claims from third party sellers.

Our two main area’s of concern are defamation and secondly, obtaining goods without payment, by what could easily be construed as obtaining goods by deception by mis-using the marketplace sites tools. Defamation is a civil matter, where as fraud is a criminal matter.

Marketplace sites are actually operating a well thought out sales policy where by they encourage buyers to leave comments about products and companies, thus appearing to empower the buyer. The comments made are left in a very public domain, the marketplace site. The marketplace argues that they are creating a safe community for their buyers to buy, using honest comment as a reference.

Sadly the manner that marketplace sites operate one way feedback, indicates that they have forgotten that the seller also needs to sell into a safe community.

Marketplace sites, in particular Amazon, offer very generous return policies ranging from changing your mind on a purchase through to defective products. They take it a step further and offer their well abused A to Z claim which is basically the nuclear option for a buyer to return an item when a supplier refuses to accept a return request that Amazon deems as valid.

Make no bones about it, these are deliberate sales policies that empower buyers by convincing them that they are in control of the marketplace site and that they can say what they want and return what they want, even after they have used the product for an extended period of time.

That said, there can be significant consequences to buyers who get carried away with the empowerment thing and who get it wrong.

What happens if comments have been made that are incorrect? The Feedback is defamatory or the product review is unjustified.

Buyers who make and leave comments in a public domain do so with the intention that third parties read the comments and react according to those comments. It is a deliberate and considered choice that they make and therefore it should be encumbent upon the writer of the comments to be accurate in what they write. They should be prepared to justify factually the comments and statements that they have made.

It is entirely correct that comments left in a public domain are open to question by whoever those comments are written about. It is also entirely correct that where those comments are wrong, they should be corrected. In extreme cases, it is also entirely correct that where defamation of a person, a company, or a companies products or services has occurred, should the writer chooses not to correct the comments, the writer should be subject to legal sanction if the comments are incorrect.

So why is it that marketplace sites do not urge customers caution about leaving defamatory comments in a public domain, which could lead to legal redress. The answer is that they do but it is hidden in the detail of the marketplace policies, those things that people do not bother to read.

In the case of Amazon, they actively encourage their customers to leave honest and fair product reviews and to leave honest and fair company transaction feedback. They encourage these honest and fair comments to assist other buyers in their buying choices of a product or of buying from a company.

After product review comments and company feedback comments have been submitted into the system, the only way that any review or feedback can be altered or corrected is by agreement or action of the buyer who originated the comments. It is the buyer that has to initiate changes.

Example from an ongoing case.

HobbyPrint Ltd is currently involved in a matter where we have had to question the comments left on the Amazon site as a product review and also as feedback. The comments are way off and extremely derogatory. The customer slaughtered the product and added a recomendation “not to buy”

We have shown categorically that the comments are wrong but the customer has refused to remove the comments. He has quietly removed the product review comments and other linked comments to other suppliers products that he also slaughtered, but seems unaware that the feedback comments are still shown against all of our listings. Basically a keyboard warrior!

We have spoken to many of the Amazon bots and gave up. We now beleive that the product reviews and feedback left on Amazon is unregulated, inaccrate and basically a waste of time. If Amazon are ok with people beleiving that the reviews and feedback are nonesense, so be it.

We are now considering our legal position on this, subject to the conclusion of a secondary matter, that being payment.

Who pays if a perfectly good product has been used and then returned?

Surely it is understood that someone pays for return goods, right? It has to cost someone.

In the case of faulty or defective goods it is entirely correct that the supplier of the goods pay return postage and refund or replace the goods. It is also correct that when a customer changes there mind and or wish to return a perfectly good product, the customer should pay. This is in fact a genral policy by most internet traders and sites.

And it is at this point that it starts to go wrong.

When returning a product via Amazon the customer raises a returns request and on the request is a reason why they wish to return the item. Who pays the return cost is governed by the reason selected by the customer. Amazon either provides a pre-paid, or an unpaid mailing label that contains all of the transaction details that asssists in a smooth return for all parties.

Far to many customers choose the product defective route to deliberately avoid payment of the return postage, which is frustrating for sellers. The Amazon returns process is an automated process that is based on the customers honesty and integrety in that they carefully select the correct choices.

Amazon also expect that a buyer would have contacted a seller in the event of an issue arising from a product and to try and resolve the issue before any request for a return is made. The system is reliant upon buyer seller communication in the event of a product issue, which makes perfect sense.

There is a further question space on the returns request form for a buyer to leave more comment on why they wish to return the product. This is considered helpfull to the seller so that they can check over the supposed faulty product.

Thats it, Amazon offer a generous and automated reactive returns policy for the buyer so that they can easily get an item returned and quickly get the money refunded. The system is based on buyer honesty and integrity in selecting the correct options that establish the correct returns route and who pay.

And again, this is also a point where it goes wrong.

Example from an extreme ongoing case

So what happens when the seller receives a product back that has been used or has been part consumed as in the case of a consumable item. The customer has not spoken to the seller about the issue but has simply returned the item as faulty or unfit for purpose, but half of the item has been consumed.

When the seller checks over the item and performs a qualty check, it is found to be perfect. who pays?

From the sellers point of view he has paid for the product, paid to ship the product out to the buyer and has then paid to have half the product returned. In addition the buyer has gone full motor mouth by slaughtering the product on a product review with advice to customers “not to buy” with simlar comments against the company on company feedback.

We have an actual instance of this where a buyer purchased an 8 meter roll of professional grade photo paper and we received a returns request within a few days of shipment. This was automatically accepted by Amazon. The reason given for the return was item defective or does not work with a comment, this paper is not fit for purpose. It is a complete waste of money.

We were notified of the return and then notified of product review and feed back comments left by the buyer. The feedback was appalling with a recomendation “not to buy” to all buyers

The actual product review and feedback comments were:

Feedback: “this photo paper is not fit for purpose, it is utter rubbish, just a complete waste of printing ink. do not buy under any circumstances”

Product Review: utter rubbish – this product is not fit for purpose, the inks blur on the surface, and yes it is the paper and not my printer as i alternated the printing with a good quality paper to make comparison, YOU’D BETTER BETTER OFF PRINTING ON A SAINSBURYS SHOPPING BAG THAN THIS STUFF

The Return: We received a part roll back 30 days or so later and what we received back was a half used roll. In effect the buyer had printed the equivalent of 68 standard 4 x 6 photo’s or 17 x A4 Photos. and he returned the roll as defective and not fit for purpose. That has changed since we issued legal proceedings and he claims now that he returned the roll because he was not happy with the paper. After 68 prints?

After writing and asking for payment of the roll, and that he remove the incorrect comments, we received communication back claiming we were liars and much other nonsense. He also advised that he had reported us to Amazon. Basically the thrust of the comment was if we did not like it, to bad.

Call it bad timing by him, the wrong day or whatever but whatever it was, he got our attention and lets see.

I can not say to much more at this stage but we have notified the court and the buyer that we will use this case as a case study to answer these two or three questions:

  • Is a buyer entitled to make derogatory and factully incorrect comments about a company, or its products on a public domain. Is it ok to advise customers not to buy a product based on factually incorrect comment and is it ok after showing a buyer his comments are incorrect for him to refuse to remove the comments with the if you dont like it attitude. At what point does it become defamation and what is the redress?
  • Is a buyer entitled to buy a roll of photo paper and print the equivalent of 68 standard 6 x 4 size photographs or 17 A4 sized photographs and then return the roll because he was not happy with the results? How many prints are reasonable before “not happy” and at what point does the question arise about obtaining goods without paying?
  • At what point is a company meant to say enough is enough and then react?

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