Read­ing fine print can help you avoid bad trip on Ama­zon

Fol­low these five tips to side­step all the has­sles

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Marc Saltz­man

For most Ama­zon shop­pers, the ex­pe­ri­ence likely is a seam­less one: You search for a prod­uct, per­haps read re­views and see re­lated items, and if you’re an Ama­zon Prime mem­ber, you’ll likely have it de­liv­ered quickly.

It should be that sim­ple — es­pe­cially when Ama­zon’s $178 bil­lion in an­nual sales rank the com­pany as the largest In­ter­net re­tailer and mar­ket­place in the world.

Alas, shop­ping on Ama­zon doesn’t al­ways go smoothly. You may have heard of a Ge­or­gia woman re­cently charged $7,455 to have three car­tons of toi­let pa­per de­liv­ered (she even­tu­ally was re­funded).

Or a Montana mom who, when try­ing to re­turn a T-shirt that was too small was asked to send a pic­ture of her as proof to the Ama­zon third-party seller. Sheesh.

The fol­low­ing are a few ways to re­duce the odds of a bad shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence on Ama­zon — es­pe­cially among third-party sell­ers, com­pa­nies that use Ama­zon’s site as a sales plat­form and now ac­count for about 52% of all sales. Nearly a quar­ter of all third-party sales are from global sell­ers, ac­cord­ing to Ama­zon, which means they could be an overseas com­pany.

Dif­fi­culty get­ting re­funds from third-party sell­ers has been at the heart of re­cent sto­ries about shop­ping on Ama­zon gone bad.

Con­sider these tips to avoid any has­sles.

Look for ‘Shipped by Ama­zon’:

“Read the fine print,” sug­gests Michelle Mad­hok, a New York-based on­line shop­ping ex­pert and founder of SHEfinds.com. “I’d rec­om­mend only buy­ing things that are shipped by Ama­zon,” be­cause third-party seller dis­putes are be­com­ing an “in­creas­ing prob­lem,” Mad­hok says.

Some third-party sell­ers ship their prod­ucts to Ama­zon’s ful­fill­ment cen­ters and let Ama­zon take care of the ship­ping and pack­ing, a ser­vice called Ful­filled by Ama­zon. Oth­ers ship from their own ware­houses and gen­er­ally aren’t Prime el­i­gi­ble and can take much longer.

Mad­hok ad­vises look­ing for prod­ucts that say, “Ships from and sold by Ama­zon.com.”

Based on Mad­hok’s ex­pe­ri­ence, third-party seller is­sues in­clude long de­liv­ery times and low-qual­ity items, es­pe­cially from China.

Coun­ter­feit con­cerns:

A re­port from the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­vealed many prod­ucts pur­chased from third-party sell­ers on five ma­jor e-com­merce sites, in­clud­ing Ama­zon, not only were coun­ter­feit but po­ten­tially harm­ful to your health. Some knock-off cos­met­ics were found to con­tain poi­sonous sub­stances such as mer­cury or cyanide, toys and other items con­tained lead, and un­of­fi­cial iPhone adap­tors may be more prone to fire or caus­ing elec­tro­cu­tion.

Mad­hok says some third-party sell­ers “scam” Ama­zon by clos­ing down and open­ing up un­der an­other name af­ter they’re paid by Ama­zon. “Cus­tomers will have money re­funded, yes, but it’s de­cep­tive,” she adds.

Be­fore you buy, read what the third-party seller of­fers by way of re­turns or re­funds.

Ama­zon says it of­fers an A-Z Guar­an­tee, which guar­an­tees “pur­chases from third-party sell­ers when pay­ment is made via the Ama­zon.com web­site.”

Cus­tomers who pay for pur­chases from an Ama­zon seller via the Ama­zon.com web­site are el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive up to $2,500 of the pur­chase price, in­clud­ing ship­ping charges.

“If cus­tomers have con­cerns or feed­back about their pur­chase, we en­cour­age them to con­tact Cus­tomer Ser­vice,” Ama­zon adds.

Read the re­turn pol­icy: Do your home­work:

But it’s up to you to look closely be­fore you buy to see if it’s com­ing from Ama­zon or a third-party seller — even if it’s a “Spon­sored” item. If it is a third-party seller, such as Xi­axue or iFunda, you can click on the name of the com­pany, which links to a small bio and might say if they’re overseas (Ama­zon says com­pa­nies do not need to dis­close their lo­ca­tions).

It’s also rec­om­mended to read the re­views from pre­vi­ous cus­tomers — be­fore you buy.

For re­views of third-party sell­ers or their prod­ucts, use a search en­gine to type in a query, or turn to friends, fam­ily and col­leagues over so­cial me­dia. You can also read re­views of prod­ucts at other shop­ping sites.

“As a gen­eral rule of thumb, al­ways shop with a credit card that of­fers good pur­chase pro­tec­tion,” Mad­hok ad­vises, “even though Ama­zon is good about re­fund­ing money if there’s a dis­pute.”

Hav­ing this ex­tra layer of pro­tec­tion, and peace of mind, is im­por­tant, re­gard­less of where you shop on­line.

Ad­di­tional buyer pro­tec­tion:

MARK LENNIHAN/AP

Ama­zon ship­ping hor­ror sto­ries put the onus on the shop­per to be care­ful when buy­ing.

AMA­ZON

Re­search what cus­tomers and crit­ics are say­ing about the prod­ucts at Ama­zon — and else­where.

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