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Amazon Slammed for Destroying As-New and Returned Goods (fortune.com) 209

Amazon is destroying "massive amounts" of as-new and returned items, raising the ire of the German government and environmental campaigners, local media reported. Fortune: The types of items being destroyed here go way beyond the "health and personal care" products that Amazon has long been destroying when people return them, for sanitary reasons. We're talking things like washing machines, smartphones and furniture. The revelation drew an angry response from the German government and environmental campaigners. "This is a huge scandal," Jochen Flasbarth from the German environment ministry told WirtschaftsWoche. "We are consuming these resources despite all the problems in the world. This approach is not in step with our times." Greenpeace's Kirsten Brodde said there was a need for a new "law on banning the waste and destruction of first-hand and usable goods."

Amazon Slammed for Destroying As-New and Returned Goods

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  • It's about cost... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeDataLink ( 536925 ) <mikeNO@SPAMmurraynet.net> on Monday June 11, 2018 @01:38PM (#56766218) Homepage Journal

    I sell some products on Amazon. In many cases (especially electronics) Amazon will not/can not determine if the product is actually good or bad (ex: a consumer firewall that customer claims is not stable or reboots). It's most likely cheaper to have Amazon destroy it than to pay to ship it back, pay an employee to test it and repackage it, list it on feeBay as used/open box to resell it, and pay to ship it yet again (if its even good).

    Mike

    • More than this, as a business do you want to take the chance sending someone a piece of furniture that's been infested with bedbugs by a customer who's returned it? Or deal with having to check for malware on every smartphone that's returned? etc.

      • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @01:47PM (#56766292) Homepage

        Does it have to be destroyed on the off-chance?

        There's plenty of people out there who'd take that risk if they could pay less than full price.

        • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @01:52PM (#56766336)

          There's plenty of people out there who'd say they'd take the risk for a lower price, but would then turn around and sue you if it turned out bad. They'd probably win, too, no matter what they signed; there are consumer rights you can't sign away. So Amazon can't resell this junk.

          • Pretty sure you can buy almost anything at your local secondhand store on an "AS-IS, No Refunds" basis.

            • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

              Yes but buyer beware works in that case because you physically inspect the merchandise before purchase. Some larger GoodWill stores even have a bench in the back where you can plug electronics in and stuff to see if they work yourself!

              That is hard to do online! So there would always be a question of did Amazon accurate represent the condition of the product, or did they not mention it rattles when you pick it up etc?

            • Pretty sure you can buy almost anything at your local secondhand store on an "AS-IS, No Refunds" basis.

              Yet many people are taken to court over as-is sales. Most plaintiffs lose. The only ones who don't can prove fraud. So guess what the plaintiffs claim. But you're still dragged through the mud.

              I still like my idea of shipping everything returned to Germany at full price plus shipping, all to be covered by Germany. Who could oppose that - especially when the good people of Germany are demanding to control what Amazon does? Step up and do your duty.

              • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

                So in countries with worse consumer laws what happens to returned items? How is it better than the EU?

                • They sell the stuff back as refurbished at a reduced price.

                  Then they end up getting Slashdot articles about how second hand stuff is being sold without being "properly" checked.

                • I live in the EU. Here, most returned items are being resold at lower prices. I've had some amazing deals on practically brand-new stuff, hardware indistinguishable from the full price one, with the exception of damaged box, for example, which who in their right mind would care about?

                  • I know the rules can vary depending on how you're buying it--returned-as-defective stuff tends to get sold locally where I am, because a physical inspection matters, though in theory you probably could sell known-defective items to people who won't have a chance to inspect it before the purchase is final as long as you're clear and accurate in informing the buyer about what they are purchasing. (I've seen a car listed online as going for, basically, just enough money to make it legally a sale--so the title

                • So in countries with worse consumer laws what happens to returned items? How is it better than the EU?

                  Some of them it's not an issue of 'worse' consumer laws--if the consumer laws say that, as long as I am informed of the risks ("This was returned for being buggy, may be firmware, may be software, may be hardware, may be luser error") then I cannot complain if, surprise surprise, I just got a buggy piece of hardware.

                  I know that where I live in the US, this applies for anything I can physically inspect before buying--if I knowingly choose to buy, say, a dead microwave? I'm probably going to look very silly

              • I still like my idea of shipping everything ... to Germany at full price plus shipping, all to be covered by Germany.

                Hey if it works for for Syrians, Somalis, and Iraqis... (also: how to get a -5 flamebait almost instantaneously)

              • by GNious ( 953874 )

                I still like my idea of shipping everything returned to Germany at full price plus shipping, all to be covered by Germany. Who could oppose that - especially when the good people of Germany are demanding to control what Amazon does? Step up and do your duty.

                I'm confused - do you think Amazon Germany should NOT be subject to German laws?

                • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                  by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 )

                  I still like my idea of shipping everything returned to Germany at full price plus shipping, all to be covered by Germany. Who could oppose that - especially when the good people of Germany are demanding to control what Amazon does? Step up and do your duty.

                  I'm confused - do you think Amazon Germany should NOT be subject to German laws?

                  Germany is only one country, As the European Union has shown, they want world domination. All of it - every single return sent back to Amazon must go to Germany.

          • There's plenty of people out there who'd say they'd take the risk for a lower price, but would then turn around and sue you if it turned out bad.

            In fact, you could be certain that some people would make a living out of doing this: accepting reduced-price or donated goods from Amazon, and then suing repeatedly.

            Do a search on "Gersh Zavodnik" as an exemplar.

          • by Kjella ( 173770 )

            There's plenty of people out there who'd say they'd take the risk for a lower price, but would then turn around and sue you if it turned out bad. They'd probably win, too, no matter what they signed; there are consumer rights you can't sign away. So Amazon can't resell this junk.

            And for good reason too, if you could sell goods "as-is" with no warranty they'd make it part of the standard boilerplate, which is what consumer laws are supposed to protect against. Not to mention all the shady companies that would send out faulty batches and pretend you got the lemon, too bad that's the risk you signed up for. And consumers who'd blame any problem they have on being a faulty return claiming you scammed them, even when it's unrelated. And there will be mental cases you've pissed off becau

          • Thiis is exactly right, it's all about legal liability. Next time you see some asinine rule or practice put in place by any organization, I can virtually guarantee it's there to limit liability.

          • So Amazon can't resell this junk.
            A returned washing machine or smart phone hardly is junk.

          • They can still donate it rather than send it to the dump. If they would have done it right they could turn this into a massive PR campaign.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2018 @02:02PM (#56766418)

          There's plenty of people out there who'd take that risk if they could pay less than full price.

          I think this is precisely the point. After accounting for risks, the business can't sell it for less than full price.

          Even if the business sells it AS-IS there is still the issue of having your name/brand on it.
          When some idiot buys AS-IS because it's cheaper, he'll still go on social media to complain about it.
          When the business says, sorry, but you bought it AS-IS, social media will still skewer the brand of the "heartless business" to shit.

          And for what purpose? Barely breaking even on shit merchandise?
          I don't think any business would sign up for that.

          Basically, if there is a law, Amazon is going to ship all the stuff to a huge flea market.
          There it will sit until the folks there figure out what the businesses already did:
          This stuff isn't worth crap, time to pitch it.

          Next, a law on disposal of flea market goods.

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          Does it have to be destroyed on the off-chance?

          There's plenty of people out there who'd take that risk if they could pay less than full price.

          Depends on the store. At the very least, it must be destroyed - rendered non-working. And stores take great care in this - stuff marked as destroyed cannot be sold or given to anyone but a recycler. (This is especially important if insurance claims are involved - a fire in a part of the warehouse may "destroy" everything, but insurance will require that every last ite

        • by orlanz ( 882574 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @02:19PM (#56766574)

          They would actually have to pay equal or more than full price. The logistics and stocking of these types of items is high because of the rarity and high defect rate. This is why non-profits and volunteers usually soak up the middle costs in getting used items to that low cost sector. However, unlike regular retail, there is no steady supply of the items, its a hit or miss. So the supply chains to move this stuff needs to be recreated over and over again which adds to the high cost.

          I have seen two local businesses that did just this, go out of business due to the overhead involved. They rented cheap space and basically got used/opened/defective merchandise from local big stores. Think perfect sofas with a broken foot or unopened laundry detergent with a ripped label. They got the stuff for like 90% off. They did their own transport. And for some stuff, they couldn't keep them on the shelves. But there was much they had to pay for disposal because it wouldn't sell and just took up space (again, no volume in disposal). So they had to be careful of what they took on and customers wouldn't find the same bargain every visit. The overhead involved in each specific item, just wasn't worth it.

        • Does it have to be destroyed on the off-chance?

          There's plenty of people out there who'd take that risk if they could pay less than full price.

          And that's exactly what Amazon says they are doing. They sell it at a reduced price and/or sell it to a liquidator. In some cases though, for a variety of reasons, things have to be destroyed. My dad actually is a liquidator. He buys random stuff from a variety of places. The FDA makes him destroy some stuff. He destroys other stuff because there is too much liability, it's been recalled, it costs too much to ship, it can't be tested, or he can't legally sell it for whatever reason. He once got a Har

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        A European government getting angry at an American company over a complex problem without proposing a viable solution? What a shocker. And look, Greenpeace is at it too, natch.
        • I think there is a solution to be found here.

          We most sell clothing in b&m retail stores. Customers get to see and touch the product, try it on, and have a higher confidence that it'll meet their needs. Our returns rate is usually 1% and we usually opt to have the retailer destroy anything they deem unsaleable. It's of course going back to a retailer that understands that product category and can usually make a pretty good call. We've sampled those returns from time to time, but the majority are truly un

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        how about checking for malware on every IoT washer or fridge.

        • how about checking for malware on every IoT washer or fridge.

          Wasn't there an article on here not so long about about how some IoT things were shipping with malware infestations?

    • Ummm... no.

      It's about the planet.

      At some point people have to wake up and realize it's NOT all about the money.

      • by orlanz ( 882574 )

        But that would be worse for the planet. There are many scenarios where the resources expended to "fix" something has a higher environmental cost than to just dispose of it. Heck the QA needed to determine when this is so adds to that environmental cost.

        If you had a steady stream of the same defective phone; like at the factory, sure it makes sense to review and fix them (more like fix the manufacturing process). But in this situation, the defect line is giving you a flat screen, followed by furniture, ce

    • by Baki ( 72515 )

      It would not be cheaper if they had to pay the fair price for pollution waste management.

      Unregulated markets are unfair markets, as much of the burden and real cost to mankind is shifted into the future or into other regions of the world.

      • So what you're saying is that the waste management companies should charge more, and presumably, write bigger checks to ... you, I guess? Amazon isn't a waste management company.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @04:01PM (#56767356) Homepage Journal

      I once volunteered for a group which tidied up and fixed used furniture and housewares and provided them to poor families.

      The economics of that was interesting. I once fixed an old Singer sewing machine that had frozen up because the old oil had congealed. Now if you paid me what my time was worth as an engineer that'd make no sense: you could buy a new one for that. But in fact I wasn't paid in money. The next week a family came in and the mom knew how to sew. When I loaded the sewing machine on the van I had the satisfaction of seeing something I'd fixed with my own hands go where it would mean clothes for the kids.

      Sometimes we got antiques or other pieces that were valuable. These went to auctions and the proceeds bought re-manufactured mattresses. Other times we got stuff that was just trash; this went into the dumpster, or if it were metal to a scrap dealer with the pennies earned going into the mattress kitty.

      I suspect the same kind of charitable sweat-equity economics could be applied to a lot of the things being destroyed by Amazon. They could go to community volunteer groups and diverted to local causes where they would do good without affecting the primary market for those goods.

  • Not new.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sqorbit ( 3387991 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @01:46PM (#56766286)
    This is not new, companies have been doing this for a long time. Companies now are probably destroying items daily. Amazon just happens to be big enough to get caught. Not that we should be defending Amazon or this practice but it's always easier to blame large companies.
    • Re:Not new.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Scarred Intellect ( 1648867 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @02:08PM (#56766456) Homepage Journal

      This.

      I spent a summer working in Office Depot's Returns Consolidation Center in Auburn, WA. We accepted returns from pretty much every Office Depot west of the Mississippi River. And Chicago. At times, I'd receive bubble wrap, or pallet wrap, or boxes...I could use all of these, especially the boxes for repack...but no. They have to get destroyed. They were brand new, unopened (or still folded, for the boxes) and immediately useful to us. But bureaucratic paperwork says it needs to be destroyed, so out the went.

      The amount of HP ink cartridges I received still baffles me. And whoever packed those water coolers for return that still had water in them, may your ancestors forever be cursed to torment in hell!

      • We accepted returns from pretty much every Office Depot west of the Mississippi River. And Chicago. At times, I'd receive bubble wrap, or pallet wrap, or boxes...I could use all of these, especially the boxes for repack...but no. They have to get destroyed.

        Common practice in retail for decades. Selling or giving away units is a tax liability and creates your own competition.
        There's absolutely no positives for the company in this, only risks.

        Sadly, because I'd liked to bring home and fix or tinker for pers

        • Except I was asking to use them FOR WORK. For repacking things that arrived in broken boxes, or for wrapping pallets RIGHT THERE.

          I absolutely understand they don't want employees to take them, then employees would just ruin things, or ask customers to run things, and then take them home.

          Instead, I'd have to patch boxes with excessive tape, and then use ridiculous amounts of pallet wrap to help keep it together on the pallet...

      • The amount of HP ink cartridges I received still baffles me. And whoever packed those water coolers for return that still had water in them, may your ancestors forever be cursed to torment in hell!

        You buy a printer for $50, then notice that it's $65 for one set of cartridges or $80 for 2, so you buy the two pack. Except that the printer breaks 6 months later before you've been able to use all of the ink. You go to buy another one, but your model isn't available anymore, and none of the new ones support your current stock of ink cartridges. Since your unused cartridges are now basically really expensive paperweights, you return them.

    • it's always easier to blame large companies.

      Also, changing their behavior causes huge changes. Changing a small company's behavior causes small changes.

  • Mandatory recycling for everything. I'm not talking, you recycle 80% of stuff and the rest gets shoved in a hole in the ground, I'm talking 100% is transformed into material for a product or becomes fertilizer.

    This isn't some absurd idea either because it's either this or we destroy the ecosystem and hope we engineer a way to survive.

  • by timholman ( 71886 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @02:03PM (#56766422)

    I ordered an external battery pack for a UPS from Amazon several months back. When it arrived and I unpacked it, the case was visibly bulging on the top. Not wanting to risk plugging it in, I contacted Amazon for a return. Instead, they refunded my money on the spot and told me to take it to the nearest recycling center.

    I could understand Amazon's reasoning. Why risk shipping a possibly defective battery that might pose a fire hazard? And for what I paid for it, it was hardly worth trying to repair or refurbish.

    From Amazon's point of view, if it's cheaper to dispose of the goods rather than repair or refurbish them, then that's the smart move. They can't even donate them, because what happens if a lawyer sues because someone was injured by a donated item that Amazon knew was defective? The much safer route, economically and legally, is simply to destroy the returned items. It's part of the cost of doing business at their scale.

    • A few years back I ordered something small that cost $12 or so. I think it was some kind of Park bicycle wrench.

      What they sent me was this:
      https://www.amazon.com/YELLOW-... [amazon.com]
      An air-conditioning test and charging manifold, that was priced $175 at the time.

      I got on the website and requested a return and explained what happened, and then for the next few days started getting two different sets of messages.
      One set was the usual automated set that said I had to return the item by a certain number of days
      • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @03:18PM (#56767052)

        A few years back I ordered something small that cost $12 or so. I think it was some kind of Park bicycle wrench. What they sent me was this: https://www.amazon.com/YELLOW-... [amazon.com] An air-conditioning test and charging manifold, that was priced $175 at the time. I got on the website and requested a return and explained what happened, and then for the next few days started getting two different sets of messages. One set was the usual automated set that said I had to return the item by a certain number of days or I would get charged for it. The other set was real people responding, telling me that I wouldn't get charged for it and that I didn't need to return the item and that I could dispose of it as I pleased. When I asked why they didn't want it returned, the real person said that some items are hazardous enough that if they make a mistake and send one out, they will not accept if back for any reason. I said that I had only opened the shipping box and not the sealed item box itself, and he said that didn't matter. I could keep it since they would just destroy it if it was returned, and the company didn't want to pay the return shipping cost just to destroy it. I never got charged for it either. I gave it to my AC repair guy, since AC maintenance is not a hobby of mine and it's not good for much else. Ever since then I have wondered however,,,, what is the most-expensive thing that Amazon has given away just because they shipped the totally-wrong item? I don't know how happy they'd be to talk about that, but it would be an interesting read...

        I bought a $400 android tablet from Amazon (a few years ago). They shipped it LaserShip and the courier tried to steal the package. I called LaserShip after they claimed it was delivered and video surveillance showed it was not. Guy tried to weasel out and make excuses. Eventually admitted that the courier had opened the package and the tablet box. I told them to return it to Amazon. I complained to Amazon and they gave me an instant refund. LaserShip then threw the box on my front porch and tried to claim it hadn’t been stolen - open boxes and everything. Video surveillance showed he literally threw it there from the street trying to stay of-frame in the camera. I actually found it on my porch and told Amazon about it. They told me they would not be able to keep it after it had been stolen by LaserShip. They told me I could do whatever I wanted with it and I still got my money. Still have that tablet to this day.

    • From Amazon's point of view, if it's cheaper to dispose of the goods rather than repair or refurbish them, then that's the smart move.

      Technically, it wouldn't cost Amazon any more to repair/refurbish them. They'd end up just passing the cost on to other customers via higher prices anyway, just like you're already paying for the items they dispose of.

      The problem happens when one company decides to "do the right thing" and repair/refurbish these items, while a second company decides to just dispose of th

    • It's not the liability, or at least not just the liability, for most items.

      It's customer focus. The primary focus of Amazon is customer obsession. The whole business orients towards that. A product returned by one customer is more likely to be a problem for another--it's more likely to be in, say, the bottom 10% of product quality for that item. Asking a customer to return a product is also a hassle for the customer.

  • I bought a refurbished Toshiba laptop from Newegg. Right out of the box, the wifi would constantly disconnect. The device appeared in the device list, it saw area wifi, but it looked like the card shorted out every 3 minutes or so and reset itself. It couldn't maintain a connection. It took me about 15 minutes of testing to determine that was it and I was only 100% sure that was the problem and not the driver's fault after replacing the wireless card with another one. Thanks, person who checked it out and s
  • ...that guy is the richest man on the planet for a reason, if there was a way to sell that junk _for a profit_, without getting sued to hell and/or get bad press, he would do it.
    Trust me.

    • The implication is he can make better profit on new than used.

      I guess we need some kind of infrastructure to handle this. New business venture?

  • to destroy items responsibly instead of burning yet more fossil fuel to ship them only to be determined to be scrap anyway.

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