Amazon Fumbles Gift Card Order

Amazon failed to deliver a $75 gift card reader Michael purchased for a business associate in 2004. Michael was notified of the failure in 2006, and issued a claim code worth $75. When Michael tried to use the code, it came up as invalid. Michael called Amazon and went through three representatives before reaching a supervisor.

She eventually decided that the reason the claim code was not working was because Amazon had expired it after sending it to me, and there was nothing she could do. It didn’t matter that Amazon’s web site said that gift certificates sold to people in Massachusetts don’t expire. It didn’t matter that Massachusetts state law required that the gift certificate remain valid for a minimum of 7 years (or forever if it doesn’t clearly state an expiration date, which is what actually applies to this case). It didn’t matter that Amazon had never sent the gift certificate to the original intended recipient, it didn’t matter that Amazon had told me it was valid right before expiring it, what mattered was that the gift certificate had expired and so there was nothing that could be done.

The resolution, and Michael’s email, inside…


Back in late 2004, I bought a $75 Amazon.com gift certificate to send as a thank you to a business contact. I found out in 2006 that Amazon never sent the gift certificate to him, and in December they sent me the claim code so I could use it. Except their web site never accepted the claim code, always giving an error message saying that I should “try again in a few minutes.”

So a few days ago I started calling Amazon to try to get this resolved. They’ve already embarrassed me with my business contact, held $75 of my money, and had me feeling like a complete idiot trying and failing to redeem the gift certificate myself on their web site. Over 2 days I reached progressively less helpful representatives.

Rep #1 reasonably quickly verified my account, verified the gift certificate, figured out that the claim code was not working but could not figure out why, and told me that her supervisor would have it fixed in a few hours. That would have been nice.

Rep #2 the next day had trouble finding my account, could not find any information about the gift certificate, and made me repeat everything at least twice. After 30 minutes, she offered to have her supervisor fix the problem or call me back, neither of which happened.

Rep #3 could barely speak English, could not find any information, was unsure what a gift certificate was, and forced me to repeat over 10 times that I wanted to speak to a supervisor.

Rep #4 was the supervisor. She eventually decided that the reason the claim code was not working was because Amazon had expired it after sending it to me, and there was nothing she could do. It didn’t matter that Amazon’s web site said that gift certificates sold to people in Massachusetts don’t expire. It didn’t matter that Massachusetts state law required that the gift certificate remain valid for a minimum of 7 years (or forever if it doesn’t clearly state an expiration date, which is what actually applies to this case). It didn’t matter that Amazon had never sent the gift certificate to the original intended recipient, it didn’t matter that Amazon had told me it was valid right before expiring it, what mattered was that the gift certificate had expired and so there was nothing that could be done.

She did decide that I was such a good Amazon customer that she would grant me a $75 good-will credit. It was important that I understand this was a special favor that she was doing, and she told me how sorry she was that I apparently misunderstood both Massachusetts state law and Amazon’s stated policies.

So through much persistence, at least I finally got my $75 back. But I’m left with the clear impression that Amazon gift certificates are a Very Bad Idea for everyone except Amazon (who gets to keep the money when they “forget” to send the gift card to the recipient or when they “accidentally” expire a gift card). It would be so easy for Amazon to let customers see whether a gift certificate they sent has been redeemed as part of their account information, but then customers might find out how many of these never find their way to the recipient.

How scurrilously intransigent of them. We still wonder why Amazon failed to deliver Michael’s gift card in the first place. We’re even more curious why it took Amazon over one year to notify him of the failure. Maybe Amazon could do us a ‘special favor’ and explain? — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER