E-Commerce

Amazon account suspended? Is that legal?

It seems Amazon Germany has adopted an aggressive strategy against high return rates. Customers who allegedly return to many articles find their Amazon account suspended without warning.

Amazon accounts have been suspended without warning © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

Amazon accounts have been suspended without warning © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

Amazon account suspended

Many of those affected have found an outlet in Caschy’s Blog in which to report the account closures. The accounts have been blocked due to “repeatedly exceeding the average household amount of returns”.

But is Amazon allowed to take such action? Christian Solmecke, German lawyer and IT law expert at Wilde Beuger Solmecke, gives his opinion on the strategy:

Individual autonomy vs consumer protection

“The principle of individual autonomy applies to online shopping. This means that Amazon is generally free to decide with which customers to conclude contracts for the sale of goods. However, this freedom finds its limits in statutory provisions on consumer protection, and in particular in the statutory right of withdrawal.”

“This right permits consumers in distance contracts, including online transactions, to return a product within 14 days of receipt without needing to give a reason.”

“Businesses cannot simply block accounts of customers who choose to exercise this right, even if it is exercised to an unusually high degree. Such action would amount to an erosion of the right of withdrawal and customers would be discouraged from returning products and exercising their legal rights, for fear of their accounts being suspended.”

Additional right of withdrawal

“However, Amazon grants customers broad rights of return which go beyond those guaranteed by statute. Under its so-called returns guarantee, customers are given 30 days to send products back. This is true even for products which do not benefit from statutory protection, such as e-books.”

“It is individual autonomy which applies to returns subject this additional guarantee. This means Amazon may decide which customers should benefit from the guarantee and is free to suspend the accounts of customers who return too many products.”

“Nevertheless, Amazon can only suspend an account when the customer has had some form of notice. As Amazon’s general terms and conditions do not include any provision for the suspension of accounts in such circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that the company should have warned the customers first. Otherwise a customer is not able to assess whether they are close to exceeding to tolerated number of returns. Blocking Amazon accounts without warning is disproportional.”

Related Amazon services suspended

“A further problem is that related Amazon services, such as Kindle Shop or Amazon cloud, are linked to Amazon accounts. If an account is suspended, customers are also prevented from using these additional services. This is disproportionate and severely restricts customers’ rights. It is particularly serious if customers can no longer access important data in Amazon cloud. Blocking an Amazon account should therefore not encompass a prohibition on using such related services.”

“Customers should use these arguments to request from Amazon that their accounts are reactivated.”

Commercial activities

Amazon spokesperson, Christine Höger reacted to the incidents in a statement to Golem.de: “Amazon.de is a website for consumers who order non-commercial amounts of products. This is made clear in our terms and conditions and on our advice webpages. Measures such as suspending accounts are only taken after thorough examination, in exceptional cases and where it is absolutely clear from the purchase and return activity that the account is not being used by a consumer.”

Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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