Amazon has been accused of showing contempt for UK consumer law by insisting that customers whose orders fail to arrive submit a police report in order to qualify for a refund.
Some buyers have been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket after the retail giant required them to report missing deliveries to police, then refused to accept their crime reference number.
Under consumer law, it is the responsibility of the retailer to ensure purchasers receive their goods and liaise with the courier if there is a problem.
In June, the Observer investigated a complaint when a reader was told to get a crime reference number after a package with more than £70 of goods was not delivered. At the time, Amazon claimed one of its customer service agents was to blame for the misinformation.
However, since then, dozens of others have reported that they have been left without their orders, or their money, after police declined to investigate delivery failures and Amazon refused refunds.
Sandy Fraser was told to submit a crime report after she received an unsealed box containing a power lead rather than the £1,184 computer she ordered.
“Police Scotland told me that, since the courier’s contract is with Amazon, no crime has been committed against me and I should get Amazon to sort it out,” she said.
“Amazon insisted they must confirm this with Police Scotland, but refused to spend the 20 minutes it takes to get through on the helpline. I asked the police to send me a report, which I sent to Amazon, but they refused to accept that, either.”
Customers who reported missing or incomplete deliveries claimed they were given misleading advice in an automated email seen by the Observer, apparently written for buyers in the US, saying missing deliveries were “costly for Amazon”.
When Francisco Martin failed to receive his £245 speakers, Amazon insisted the parcel had been delivered and advised him to obtain a police report. “The email said they will only accept the report if ‘it was created for stolen items/theft/larceny/incorrect delivery or similar crime’,” he said. “How are police going to react when I report an ‘incorrect delivery’ as a crime?”
According to Gary Rycroft, consumer rights expert at Joseph A Jones & Co solicitors, Amazon is in breach of the Consumer Rights Act, which holds the retailer legally responsible for goods until they are safely received. “In my view, its response shows a contempt both for the law and the customer,” he said. “The burden of proof is on Amazon to show goods were delivered, not on the consumer to show they were not. Given it uses terminology which reflects US law, it seems they cannot even be bothered to design a policy compliant with UK law.”
Customers who pay by credit or debit card can issue a chargeback via their bank, but, according to those who contacted us, Amazon is contesting their claims. Its stance comes amid soaring courier thefts, where parcels are taken from doorsteps or pilfered by delivery drivers. The number of overall claims for missing parcels jumped by 59% in the year to June, compared with the previous 12 months, according to technology firm Metapack.
Some Amazon Marketplace sellers have been accused of substituting worthless items that mirror the size and weight of an order to mislead parcel tracking systems.
If Amazon suspected a customer of fraud, it was the company that must report it to police, according to Rycroft, and refunds could not be withheld without proof of malpractice. Amazon refused to confirm whether it was company policy to demand a police report when expensive orders went missing, but admitted customer service failures in all the cases referred to it by us.
“We work hard to create a trustworthy shopping experience by protecting customers, selling partners and Amazon from abuse,” it said. “We’re sorry the experience has fallen short of the high standards we expect, and the customers in question will be refunded in full.”