If you need a product, the Internet can typically provide. For the hard-to-find collectible or for discounted, used items, there’s eBay. For groceries, there are companies like Fresh Direct and Peapod. Want something bespoke? Etsy is your best bet. And for everything else, there’s Amazon. And the best part is, you don’t even have to leave your house — just point, click, pay, and within a few days at worst, whatever you buy will be delivered to your door.
Buying online is not a perfect system, though, and it does have its share of inconveniences. And if you have ever tried to return something that you purchased through the Internet’s series of tubes, you have likely experienced one first-hand. The return process means finding a box big enough to put your item in (but not too big), figuring out how to print a label and restocking slip (even if you don’t own a printer), learning a half-dozen Wiccan chants, buying sixteen different varieties of packing tape, doing the hokey pokey while blindfolded, somehow summoning the UPS driver to your home, and then praying that he or she notices the dilapidated package and knows what to do with it.
And that’s all assuming you can navigate through the often murky return process on the online retailer’s website.
This past spring, an Amazon shopper named Evie Schwerin experienced these difficulties first-hand. She ordered a haggadah — a prayer booklet read by Jewish families at the Passover meal — only to realize that she already had plenty at home. So she went to return the item only to find out that she would have an easier time escaping from Pharoah’s Egypt. (For those who don’t celebrate Passover, that was a Passover joke and, if I’m being honest, a really good one. Take my word for it.) Four times she tried to get Pharoah to let her people go– I mean, four times, she tried to figure out how to return the booklet, and four times, she failed.
How do we know this? Because the fifth time, she went to Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos himself.
Bezos, like most CEOs of major corporations, doesn’t have an open-door office policy via which any random customer can just swing by to say hi or, more likely, to complain. He does, however, appear at the company’s annual meeting and take questions from the shareholders so gathered. And this year, Evie Schwerin showed up at that shareholder meeting, armed with a question — and with her unwanted haggadah. She got in line during the Q&A section of the presentation. When her turn arrived, she politely, but with a dash of snark, told her story and asked Bezos, simply, “could you please return this for me?”
Bezos took the question in stride and replied in with grace, humor, and an offer to help. He promised her that “we’ll get that taken care of” and asked her to hang out until the end of the session. Then, per Geekwire, he apologized that she “had to use this unusual venue to accomplish what should be a much simpler task” and stated that Amazon will “look into the root cause of why that happened.” And then, just to make sure no one else in line had a similar complaint, Bezos opened the floor, asking, “Anybody else have anything they need to return?”
From the Archives: The Lichen Loophole: How Amazon got its start — by gaming the system.