So the Christmas shopping season has ended. Now comes the time for many happy returns. Or refunds.

But if you made a purchase from Amazon this may be much more difficult than you think. That is, if you think you made a purchase from Amazon.

I recently was window-shopping at the Amazon webpage for a few items when I got an email from Amazon congratulating me on my purchase. Of course, I had made no such purchase. But Amazon thought I did. In fact, they were all prepared to ship the item that I had been looking at to an address that I hadn’t used in more than 10 years.
When I got the email from the Seattle-based retailor I noticed that it described the item purchased and the shipping address, provided no mechanism for me to return the item, or to cancel the order.

I immediately called the toll-free number from Amazon. That’s when I had my revelation about electronic commerce.

You see, according to Amazon I have not purchased anything from Amazon. Sure, I had gone to the Amazon webpage. Sure I had looked at pictures and descriptions on the Amazon webpage. Sure, I had given Amazon my name, my address, my phone number, and my credit card number. But according to Amazon, I have not bought anything from Amazon. Rather, I had bought something from some other retailer somewhere else in the world. So, if I want to cancel the order, I had to contact that retailor and hope that they would allow me to cancel the order. If not, I would have to wait for the item to be shipped, and then ship it back. Of course, it was going to be shipped to an address I hadn’t used in more than 10 years.

This represents a growing, and disturbing trend distinguishing brick and mortar facilities from their online counterparts. For example, when I bought a new iPhone six from an AT&T store, I checked on the AT&T webpage to see how much money the telecommunications giant would give me on a trade-in on my old iPhone five.
But when I went to the AT&T store, they offered me less than half of what was being offered on the website. The website they argued belongs to a different AT&T then the brick and mortar store, and that they were not bound by the prices that their own company was advertising.
They also told me (quite correctly I might add) that the prices that they offer change daily, and sometimes even hourly. Therefore, the price I was quoted as a trade-in earlier that day was no longer valid. Similarly, when my mother-in-law received a new free smart phone from AT&T shipped to her in a box, and decided she didn’t like it she was precluded from returning it to her AT&T store because they were two different companies, or two different divisions of the same company.

This has to change.

When I go to the Westfield Montgomery shopping mall, and walk into a Nordstrom’s, I know that I am not making a purchase from Westfield mall, but rather from Nordstrom’s. However, if I buy Tommy Hilfiger cologne from a Nordstrom’s, and get a Nordstrom’s receipt, I expect that I can return it to Nordstrom’s, and don’t have to hunt down the corporate headquarters for Tommy Hilfiger to return the product. Apparently this is not true online

A company offering a website, whether it is Amazon, AT&T, or some other company develops a relationship with its customers. It cannot use internal corporate divisions to create a circumstance where it is a bait and switch for the customers. If the mechanism for customers to find out what products and services are offered online, those terms and conditions must be honored throughout the company.

Unfortunately, all disputes with AT&T, like all disputes with Amazon cannot be litigated but must be arbitrated. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at arbitration. So that’s how I’ll be spending my new year.

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