My Amazon.com Associates Nightmare…

Several months ago I started doing some pretty big numbers through the Amazon.com Associates program.  Before that I reliably made $1,000 – $2,000 every month with them.

But then my sites really took off.  My commissions for May topped $6,300.  Now, I’ve been an Amazon.com Associate for a long time (6+ years) and that’s a lot of money for an Amazon.com affiliate.  Consider that a lot of book commissions are less than $0.50 and you’ll get some perspective.

Things just got better from there.  Here are screen shots of June and July… when things really went nuts for me:

Amazon.com Associates June 2007

Amazon.com Associates July 2007

Ok… you can see we’re talking about “real” money here.  And here’s where I get incredibly frustrated with Amazon.com.

By my way of thinking, If I have a sales rep that’s bringing me in $250,000+ in revenue per month I’m happy to pay him his commission.  If that’s not profitable revenue for me then I obviously need to make my own adjustments… but I’m happy to have a salesperson that can sell.  Right?

You would think that Amazon.com would be happy that I’m generating these kinds of numbers… but I get the distinct feeling that they’re trying every thing they can think of to avoid paying me and get me out of their associates program.  And, come to find out, this is quite common for the Amazon.com Associates program… punish those that do really well and make up for it in masses of newly minted associates that will drive traffic to their site without ever have to pay them significant commissions.  You see, Amazon.com pays tiered commissions (or referral rates) that start at 4% and grow to 8.5% (I think that’s the cap) depending on volume.

I routinely hit 8+% on my referral commissions.  And, somehow, I think that makes me an unattractive associate for Amazon.com.

Why do I think that?

As soon as I made my first sizable revenue jump Amazon.com sent me an email stating I was in violation of the associate agreement because I owned a domain name with the word “amazon” in it.  I was ok with that.

They gave me 10 days to cure the problem and relinquish the website to them.

No problem.  It was a domain that wasn’t used and had no strategic value to me.  And, I figured that was just Amazon.com doing some homework on an up-and-coming affiliate.  The domain in question was one I registered awhile back before I realized I couldn’t use it… and I never used it.

And here’s where I start to have my issues with Amazon.com.  First off, if Amazon.com doesn’t have the most arrogant affiliate program around, I don’t know who does.  And I got to experience that first hand with the domain issue.

Amazon.com sends me this email right as they’re supposed to pay me my check.  Understand that they already have a dreadfully slow payment process.  It can take as long as 3 months to get paid a commission (they pay 60 days after each month end).  It’s an affiliate program that can eat up a lot of advertising expenses before you start getting paid on the other end… especially if you want to play at the high levels.

So now they send me an email saying they’re not going to pay me until they resolve the issue.  This is after they’ve already had 60 days to notify me of the problem but didn’t.

I send back a response within the hour.  Then I wait for their reply (they’ve given me a 10–day window to resolve the issue or they will cancel my account without payment).  And I wait.  And I wait some more.

Turns out Amazon.com’s associates program is an absolute black hole once they’ve flagged your account.  I sent multiple email responses.  No answer… not even an acknowledgement they got my response.

After a week I start to panic.  What if they’re not receiving my emails for some reason?  I don’t want them to cancel my account over a miscommunication.

I send more emails with a receipt request.  Nothing.  I use their web contact form (which hilariously says they’ll usually respond within 24 hours).  Nothing.

I frantically search for a support phone number.  NONE!  The only way I can contact them is through their web support which they aren’t responding to.

I’m in a dead panic now.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to find out if they’ve even received my response.

Finally, 15 days after they imposed a 10–day absolute window to resolve the problem I get an email response from them.  Several days later the issue is resolved without further complictions.  Heart attack avoided.

By the way… if you ever need to contact the Amazon.com Associates department, here is the direct (unpublished) phone number: (701) 787–9740.  They were thoroughly unhelpful with my request… but perhaps you will have better luck.  It seems to be just an army of drones that are there to tell you that the appropriate department will contact you when they are ready to contact you.  Goodbye.

Anyway… that’s just the beginning.  I know this is turning into a lengthy rant.. but I’m beside myself right now with anger and I’ve got to get it out.  Maybe not the wisest move I’ve ever made, but maybe this will help somebody down the road.

So a few weeks later and now Amazon.com owes me my first really big check (see June’s results above).  I’m excited.  And they already seem to have reviewed my account so I’m sure there won’t be any problems this month.

How wrong I was!

Once again, right before they were supposed to pay me I get an email from Amazon.com.  Once again they’v had plenty of time to ask any questions prior to payment.  Once again I have the mysterious 10–day window to respond.

Here’s their new compaint.  They don’t understand how I am doing what I’m doing.  They are once again suspending payment until I expose to them my entire business model and show them what I am doing.  Including, if necessary, giving them all software, etc. in how I am doing it.

And, get this, they throw in that they don’t think I’m following the spirit of the Associates program (my words, not theirs).  They say the associates program is really just to introduce new buyers to Amazon.com and not for people that are already Amazon.com customers…

“the Associates Program is designed to introduce new customers to our website… Given the relatively slim retail margins on our products and our strong discount pricing, the referral fees we offer to our Associates can only be sustained by meeting new customers through our Associates.  These customers may return to us in the future for items unrelated to the topics served by the Associate web site, and this future business helps to offset the referral fees we pay.”

Again… I understand the philosophy.  But that’s not part of the associates agreement.  That’s an internal issue.  Besides… really?  They only want associates to introduce new people to Amazon.com?  Like there are a whole bunch of internet shoppers that don’t know about Amazon.com?  Give me a break.  If that’s what your associates program is for then say it in the agreement.  Nowhere in the agreement does it state I can only drive new customers to Amazon.  I’ve been selling Amazon.com stuff for years and this is the first I’ve heard that line.

Once again I reply immediately.  This time it does take me a little longer (and multiple emails) just to answer their questions adequately regarding my business model, software, etc.

Once again I find myself in the Black Hole of Amazon.com Associates.

It’s now been 3 weeks.  I have not received even so much as an acknowledgement from Amazon.com.  I have called their Associates department multiple times and even their legal department.  They can’t even give me an estimate of when my issue will be looked at!

What?  How can they do business like that?  I jokingly said to the first rep I talked to that it could spill over into the next pay period (October) and I still wouldn’t have a check… and he agreed!  The second rep (whom I just spoke with this morning… hence my vitriol) sounded almost as frustrated as me.  They have absolutely (according to them) zero ability to communicate with or check on the status of the people who are actually handling my issue.

The best they could do was confirm they received my emails.  Although they couldn’t confirm they had even been opened.

And they want me to just wait until they get around to my issue.  No timeframe.  No urgency.  No commitments.  Worst of all, no communication.  Nothing!

I’ts absolutely maddening!  On the one hand I absolutely LOVE the tools and the excellent API Amazon.com makes available.  Very few companies are as forward-thinking as Amazon.com along those lines.  But their actual human interface is appallingly substandard.  What a nightmare!

Maybe I’m just naive… but I really expected Amazon.com to roll out the proverbial red carpet for me.  That’s certainly what other affiliate programs have done.  Instead, they’ve made working with them absolute hell since I started generating real income with them.

Reading the forums it turns out there are quite a few assoicates who’ve had similar experiences.  Eventually Amazon.com asks them to sign a new associates agreement that severely restricts the products they can sell and get paid for.

I’m assuming that will be the end result here.  I’m sure Amazon.com will come back and tell me that if I want to get paid I will have to sign a new restrictive associates agreement.  In which case… what’s the point, really?  Like so many others in the past I’ll have to drop my Amazon.com promotions (and their great developer tools which are critical to what I do) and move on to some other vendor.  It’s completely stupid.

And I feel like I’m getting bullied by Amazon.com.  It’s unthinkable in my book that I still haven’t been paid for items I sold (and Amazon.com got paid for) over 100 days ago.  That’s a joke!  And I’m HOT about it.  I’ve always put up with their policies because they’re the “800 lb. gorilla” but I think I’m done with Amazon.com.  I know it won’t make a bit of difference to them… but I’ll sure sleep better at night without them yanking my chains.

So… you want to buy some exclusive technologies that will let you make a bunch of money from Amazon.com?  Well… for a few months anyway… right up until they have to write your first big check.  Then you’ll have to pass them on to someone else as well

7 Comments My Amazon.com Associates Nightmare…

  1. Wes (MasterlessSamurai.com)

    I’m just as livid right now with Amazon. Ive have a flag on my account, and they kicked me out of their program without warning.

    Contacting them is a nightmare. Seems to me they’re doing this on purpose:

    1) hide their restricted terms in a mile long paragraph
    2) dont tell Google about their TM restrictions
    3) wait for affiliate to send them tons of sales
    4) keep all money, and kick out the affiliate
    5) claim trademark infringement as a way to cover their ass

    If their TMs are so important, why not make that in big bold lettering at the top of their terms? Instead its buried.

    A little shady if you ask me. Now I have to fight to get my account reinstated. May not be worth it.

  2. Angelo

    Wow, I can’t believe they’re THAT greedy. I mean you already get the short end of the stick when you’re in their associates program: you make them a quarter of a million in sales!

  3. sitco

    i just sign up but they give me the creeps wont be promoting them, but will be competing with them. hope to bring down the giant

  4. TJ

    Hi

    Same here got stung for nearly $6,000 and they won’t get back to me, closed my account and kept all money

  5. DavidS

    I know this post is quite old, but interesting read…So how does the story end
    today; are you still amazon affiliate today? I would think writing something
    like this, they they would have immediately banned your account, after all,
    you were never an employee of amazon, and you kept on them, but did you
    think you were the only affiliate making them good money? I would also like to
    think if you earn good income from amazon, then they ban you without cause,
    notice, or for no real reason then you could bring litigation against them….I would
    hate to think if I ethically earned $21k/mo from anyone, then I hope that
    i would not go down without a fight to get my account reinstated, and if a lawsuit
    has to come about because of their bad behavior then so be it. If you did something wrong and refused to take action to correct your actions is one thing, but to
    loose $21k/mo a month just because amazon can do without you is not right, so unless they go many complaints on how you did it, then it really should be none of their business, after all, you seemed to have been doing pretty good at what you were doing.
    I guess it is what it is, being affiliate has its pros and cons, and one con is being the affiliate means you own nothing, and if you are booted, then you loose in the end unless you have some legal way of fighting back, and $21k/mo is a good reason to fight….
    so please do let us know how the story ends…..

    1. Matt

      In the end, I was paid by Amazon. And I am still an affiliate in good standing.

      I wasn’t doing anything black hat or illegal… I was just using Amazon’s own tools to automate helping users in a way that Amazon didn’t intend. At the time, there was nothing in Amazon’s TOS saying I couldn’t do that. They’ve since revised their terms.

      The immediate aftermath was that Amazon eventually paid me. And then changed their Associate terms for the primary product I was selling within a few weeks.

  6. DavidS

    Im sorry; I did not read the very last paragraph…up til then you acted all innocent, then you imply you used some type of technology or black hat in order to give you an advantage over other amazon affiliates. I can see why they would have booted you now…..

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