Amazon Fired Its Empty Chair

January 12, 2021 BY Charles Fallon


Famously, Amazon culture dictated that every meeting must have an empty chair. This place at the table was meant to represent the customer, whose interests all Amazon initiatives and instincts should aim to serve. Well, it now looks like the customer was furloughed and the empty chair filled with a new player: The Amazon 3rd party seller.

My parents are in great shape, but their age puts them deep into the vulnerable category during this pandemic. So, they live like happy hermits in their home and do all their purchasing online. With winter looming, they wanted to stay active, so they bought an exercise bike off Amazon at the beginning of October. Amazon promised an early November delivery.
November came and went. No bike. Frustrated, my parents cancelled the order and found a bike locally that met their needs. And that was that, or so they thought.

The Amazon bike showed up at their door on the verge of New Years Eve – cancelled and 60 days after the promised delivery.
Amazon Empty Chair 2 v2
My parents called Amazon. They didn’t want the bike they cancelled and asked Amazon to come pick it up. But at Amazon’s customer service, the empty chair from which the customer’s interests normally spoke was now singing a different tune.

The agent at Amazon explained to my parents that the bike came from a 3rd party seller. Amazon is not responsible for transactions with 3rd party sellers. Therefore, my parents now had to decide between paying for the bike or returning it themselves.

Just like that, Amazon told two octogenarians on a pension that they had to figure out how to return a 200-lb exercise bike to the 3rd party seller… in China. The alternative was to let Amazon and the 3rd party seller share the spoils of an uncancelled order.

My parents are not freight forwarders by trade. The idea of shipping something that size and heft back to China is as unfathomable as the Great Wall. But that clearly mattered less to Amazon than the seller’s interests – who are now getting very comfortable in that empty chair at the meeting table.

The thing is: this isn’t a one-off anecdote. I can share dozens of unhappy misadventures buying off Amazon’s 3rd party sellers.

Though eCommerce transactions are faceless, they involve real individuals who have varying degrees of eCommerce knowledge and competence. Sellers that keep a chair at the table for their customer’s complex and diverse interests fare better than those who choose to be deaf to this reality to capitalize in the short term.

I can easily imagine, at this point, that Amazon fanatics and employees chortling “caveat emptor”. To that, the empty chair of Amazon’s old days would reply, “caveat venditor, Amazon”.