Crossed Cignals

Some Amazon sellers are upset that the retailer is increasing its fees:

Amazon’s online bazaar generates margins many times higher than traditional retail as the company takes a cut of every sale on its site made by a merchant, known as a third-party seller, and charges extra fees for handling logistics.

The growth of this business, which now accounts for almost 40 percent of unit sales, has helped push Amazon shares to record highs.

But a series of fee hikes over the past year and a half have alienated many merchants, and some are threatening to defect.

“If they increase fees too much, some sellers will decide to not sell there anymore,” said Niraj Shah, chief executive of furniture retailer Wayfair, which uses Amazon, eBay and Wal-Mart’s online marketplaces, as well as its own websites.

This post isn’t actually about that, however. This is about another complaint, which I can’t actually find the article the article for. Basically, retailers feel that Amazon is making promises on their behalf that they are having a hard time keeping up with regarding shipping dates. If anyone can provide a link, I’d be grateful.

cignal-whiteIt reminds me a bit of an opposite problem I once had to deal with, in a way. I used to take calls for CignalTV, a major satellite TV company. It was an unhappy job, especially for someone like me who doesn’t like talking to people on the phone. Anyway, CignalTV was having sort of the same problem as the Amazon vendors: promises being made on its behalf.

The selling of satellite service is a surprisingly shady business. Most of the time, you’re dealing with some independent company that is actually not the company you are signing up with. Rather, these “independent retailers” sign you up, get a cut for doing so, and then usually (though not always) make some money from Cignal by hooking up your dish. Well, some of these companies are less honorable than others. Sometimes, they’re little more than fly-by-night con men. Sometimes, they make you promises that Cignal will give you, for instance, a free DVD Player for signing up. Then they’ll dodge you for a while and then close shop and move on.

Cignal is then left to deal with irate customers who were promised something that Cignal never intended to give them. Cignal had a rash of these right about the time I started working for them (or working for a contracting company who worked for them). I took calls from people who wanted to know what the heck happened to their DVD Player they were supposed to be getting.

Somewhat surprising, Cignal made the decision to honor the agreement that they never made. Somebody, somewhere I guess did an analysis that it was easier to just give someone a DVD Player than it was to take the PR hit of having broken a promise as they try to explain the independent retailer situation they rely on. Badmouthing the independent retailers would mean badmouthing your salespeople, which itself is a problem.

I say that I am surprised, not because I don’t expect generosity (though I don’t) but because I don’t expect such smart business sense. I have actually come to expect companies to dig in their heels on such things even when it makes more sense to do otherwise.

Back to Amazon, I have actually come to disregard their promised delivery dates altogether. By virtue of living out of the way like I do, their “two day delivery” is going to be three if it’s sent from anywhere but California, Las Vegas, or Washington. A lot of them are, but a lot aren’t. The most important thing to me is that it gets here in under a week so that if I order it on Monday, it’s here by Friday.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Living where I do, I often get things earlier than promised.

  2. I’m confused… why would Amazon’s rivals be upset at rising fees? If companies defect, wouldn’t they be primed to scoop them up with lower fees?

    • Poor word usage on my part. Changed.

      The sellers who sell on Amazon are also technically rivals because they’re competing against Amazon to make the sale. But when people think of “rivals” they think of eBay or TigerDirect. Sorry about the confusion.

      • No worries and thanks for clarifying.

        Ya know, it is interesting. When people rail against Walmart and talk about the conditions they have for the producers, I tend to think, “Well, just don’t sell in Walmart.” I recognize this is easier said than done in part because of the dominance of Walmart and barriers to entry.

        But that would not seem to be the case with Amazon, or at least much less so. Whereas a town might have limited commercial space and/or limited demand in a particular geographic range, the internet has neither of those. If Amazon doesn’t work for a seller, it would seem to me that it is easier to find other avenues than it might be with brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon has a few things going for it, obviously, but not the same way that Walmart does. If Amazon does continue to squeeze it’s sellers and/or make promises on their behalf, it could lead to strengthening or creating Amazon rival sites, which would be a boon to consumers due to the increased competition.

  3. This reminds me of one of the customer service experiences I relayed recently, where a manufacturer accounted for an error of sorts on Amazon’s end, sending us a free slip cover for a nursing pillow that we thought we were buying but apparently hadn’t because Amazon’s labeling was vague. They didn’t have to do it but opted to, likely to protect their brand and keep a customer happy (as a purveyor as baby things, they likely realized that the nursing pillow was just the tip of the iceberg of our needs).

    “Independent retailers” or “authorized agents” are indeed tricky. We ran into this when getting our alarm installed, seeing multiple advertisements for free whole-home installation but then receiving a bill after the fact. In speaking with ADT, we learned that “authorized agents” make their own arrangements and often will do a free install, but it tends to be subpar. We had actually gone directly through the company (in part to take advantage of a special discount we were eligible for) so we were responsible for the install fees. It wasn’t dishonest; we just didn’t understand how it worked. The tech showed us on the advertisement the language to look for to know if we are dealing with the company itself or a third party. And he explained about the quality of the work, which might have just been blowing smoke but it made sense since ADT had much more incentive to do a good install than a third party person whom you’d never see again. Plus he threw in a free keypad, which normally would have cost a few hundred dollars.

    Now, whether it be Amazon or anything else, I’m pretty diligent about finding out exactly who I’m working with and researching them. Wayfair recently showed up as the seller of a given product and I made sure to check them out before ordering.

    • “Plus he threw in a free keypad, which normally would have cost a few hundred dollars.”

      If I could get that markup………..

    • to note: often the makers of several brands are the same company/factory.

  4. We buy TV and data service from one of the giant cable companies. Last year we had a problem and, since I used to work on the tech side of that industry, I watched the service person work. At some point I mentioned that he had a complete set of diagnostic tools and knew how to use them properly. He got a big grin and said, “Yeah, the company finally figured out that paying the field repair guys enough that they want to stay, giving them real tools and the right training, plus stocking the vans with every spare part I might need, is much cheaper than sending some half-trained goof-off out to guess about the problem two or three times.”

  5. My Amazon orders seems to depend on the carrier used. ONTRAC (is that them?) comes the next day, even if ordered later in the evening. UPS is two days from West Coast, where I am, three to seven from East Coast. FedEx, who knows. Two to three business days often equals a week or 10 days.

  6. Of course it depends on the kind of shipping you order. With prime 2 days is 2 days. That also applies for those merchants that use Amazon for fulfillment. Prime actually makes it harder for someone to sell without using the service, as 2 day shipping for items from Amazon’s warehouses is included. I note that 2 day shipping is cheaper than 1 day because they carry the items from the warehouse to the hub on the return flight from delivering the overnight items, and to the destination in the afternoon/evening flight to get to pick up the items.

        • Supposed to be. Nothing unusual about that, though. When something reads 5-8 days for shipping, it’ll often come on the 9th. Or the last day after the “Arrive By” date on eBay. It’s one of the inconveniences of life out here. Like driving three hours to go to the doctor.

Comments are closed.