Paul L. Caron

Thursday, July 11, 2019

College Student Rented $150 Textbook For $63; Amazon Charged Her Father $3,800 When She Was Four Days Late Returning It

Philadelphia Inquirer, College Student Was Late Returning a Textbook to Amazon, So the Company Took $3,800 From Her Dad:

Amazon logo (2018)Amazon tells customers that renting textbooks instead of buying them can save up to 80 percent off the purchase price: “Get your textbooks delivered to your door and save both time and money."

What Amelia SanFilippo, a thrifty college freshman, wasn’t expecting was that the Seattle-based online retailer would withdraw nearly $4,000 from her father’s checking account because she was a few days late returning the book. ...

In February, SanFilippo, 19, a cognitive science major, used her father’s debit card to rent Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age for the spring semester at the University of Delaware. Cost $62.70.

The book was due back June 24. She had asked her father, Anthony, to mail it for her. But it slipped his mind while he was packing for a week-long trip. On June 28, she received an email from Amazon with the subject line: “Your rental has been purchased.” ...

Cost: $3,800.60 — more than 30 times the price of the textbook. ...

SanFilippo, a writer for a political marketing firm, called Amazon customer service on Sunday, assuming it would recognize the $3,800 mistake and correct it. But company representatives refused to refund the money until they received the book. He’d shipped it that day and gave them a UPS tracking number. “That wasn’t good enough for them,” he said. ...

[O]n Wednesday afternoon, SanFilippo checked his bank account balance and saw that $3,800.60 had been returned. He never got an explanation from Amazon. But his daughter found an Amazon email from February, when she’d first rented the book. Sure enough, the “buyout” price was listed as $3,831.40. Contacted Wednesday by The Inquirer, Amazon declined to explain how that number was determined.

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Check around and you'll find quite a few outrageous prices on Amazon, including used books that cost many times what a still-in-print-and-shipping new one costs. The reason is simple. Amazon lets buyers set their own prices—or in this case apparently the "buyout" price. Amazon shouldn't be blamed for this particular price, but it should get the blamed for permitting it. It wouldn't be hard to set an upper limit on the buyout price and have humans, yes humans, what an astonishing idea, check those prices for reasonableness.

This father is fortunate. For quite a few people a charge that large would have drained their bank account, resulting in a lot of bounced payments.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jul 12, 2019 5:44:13 AM

This pricing scheme is beyond absurd. How hard is it to determine what the book should normally sell for? Amazon is a retail platform. It ought to know.

Posted by: Joan C Horton | Jul 12, 2019 6:11:39 PM