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Amazon gives customer runaround after $2,100 watch missing from delivered package

A B.C. man ordered a $2,100 watch from Amazon. When the package arrived it appeared to be tampered with and the watch box inside was empty. A business and marketing expert says Amazon has “built-in obstacles” to make obtaining high-ticket refunds difficult.

Retail giant declines interview, says it’s 'working directly with the customer' to investigate

A middle-aged man wearing a hat and black coat stands outside a post office holding a torn and empty carboard box.
Leo Chteinberg was expecting to pick up a $2,100 watch he’d ordered from Amazon. Instead, the package contained an empty watch box and an additional silicone strap. (Submitted by Gord Kurbis)

Update: One day after CBCNews.ca published this story, Amazon told Leo Chteinberg he would be receiving a full refund. That money has since been applied to the credit card he used for the purchase. 

Leo Chteinberg lives in the small town of Tahsis, B.C. — a remote community nestled between the mountains and the ocean on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The software engineer moved there from Vancouver four years ago. It is "one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen," he said.  

Because of Tahsis's rural setting, Chteinberg says he does almost all of his shopping online. 

In October, he placed an Amazon order for a $2,100 Garmin watch. Ten days later, he received a notice that his package was at the local Canada Post office and headed straight over to pick up his package.

"I opened it right away because I was looking forward to it," said Chteinberg. But the package was empty.

He says what's followed has been "a nightmare" — many frustrating phone calls and emails with Amazon, with no resolution. 

Online shopping in Canada continues to boom after the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, sales hit $3.8 billion in August, up almost $400 million over August 2020. South of the border, Amazon dominates the e-commerce market. The company reported global net sales of $514 billion US last year.

WATCH | Runaround over missing watch: 

Amazon customer shares refund battle over pricey watch that never arrived

5 months ago
Duration 1:55
British Columbia man Leo Chteinberg told CBC’s Go Public about his battle with Amazon over a pricey watch he never received. He's now out more than $2,000 but Amazon won’t reimburse him.

Social media platforms such as Reddit are full of stories from Amazon customers battling over packages that weren't delivered, contained the wrong item, no item or the contents of which appeared to be stolen. 

Most people with smaller orders say they've had little trouble getting their money back. But it's a different story for customers with pricier disputes like Chteinberg. Many say they have to leap through hoops to get a replacement or refund.

In an effort to weed out fraudsters, Amazon purposely makes the process challenging on big-ticket items, according to an industry expert.

"[They have] built-in obstacles," said Eddie Ning, an assistant professor of marketing and behavioural science at UBC's Sauder School of Business. "The company only has to pay those most-persistent consumers."

Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait declined an interview request from Go Public. 

In an emailed statement, Agrait wrote that Amazon is "working directly with the customer to investigate the circumstances in this case."

Chteinberg says he hasn't heard anything from Amazon beyond the customer service reps who shut him down on the phone several weeks ago. 

Tampered package

Chteinberg says he was recently diagnosed with diabetes and high cholesterol and wanted a watch to help with exercise and fitness routines. 

He says he was "willing to pay more" for the Garmin, which monitors vitals such as heart rate and blood oxygen levels.

When he received the notification that it had arrived, Chteinberg says he raced to the post office.

"I told myself, 'I can't believe I'm going to have it in 30 minutes,'" he said. "And I guess I was right — I didn't have it in 30 minutes."

A drone shot of a small row of houses at the base of lush green trees on the side of a mountain.
Chteinberg lives in Tahsis, B.C., a remote community on the west coast of Vancouver Island. (Submitted by Gord Kurbis)

Instead, a corner of the package appeared to be torn. He left the post office and opened the box immediately. The watch box inside was empty, except for a spare silicone watch strap and some papers from Garmin.

As soon as he got home, he emailed Amazon customer service and received a reply several hours later. 

"Based on our investigation and your statements, it seems that the item has been stolen by a third party," said the customer service rep. "We urge you to contact your local police department."

Go Public asked Amazon how it determined the item was stolen by a third party, but Agrait, the spokesperson, would not answer the question. Nor would she say what procedures are in place to ensure that items ordered from Amazon get shipped from the company's warehouses intact.

Chteinberg called Nootka RCMP, which oversees several jurisdictions including Tahsis, and an officer took a statement on the phone.

He then went online and filled out a local RCMP report, and sent it to Amazon.

A screenshot from Amazon's website of a black watch with a thick wristband and large face. Details about the item are listed in small font on the right.
Chteinberg ordered this Garmin watch, hoping to use it for a new fitness regime and outdoor activities. (amazon.ca)

That's when things started to get frustrating, says Chteinberg. 

Later that same day, he got an email back from Amazon, saying in order for the police report to be validated, "it must be reported in the local jurisdiction … in which the package was reported delivered." 

The email also claimed the police report was missing key information, such as the name of the police detachment and the date the report was created.

Chteinberg wrote back, attaching additional screen shots from Nootka Sound RCMP's website, indicating the detachment's jurisdiction and contact details.

"They can go online and verify if they want to — all the information is available," he said. "I do not control the format of the police report." 

He says he sent numerous emails to Amazon but kept getting the same unhelpful response — emails saying the company could not provide any assistance. 

WATCH | Having trouble getting a refund? 

‘Be persistent,’ says industry expert

5 months ago
Duration 1:00
Eddie Ning, an assistant professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, shares advice for how to get your money back after a delivery mishap — and how to avoid the hassle in the first place.

Chteinberg says he also made half a dozen phone calls to Amazon — each time, wading through a 20-minute process to speak to a human being — but repeatedly reached customer service reps he says seemed to just want to end the call.

"They were just telling me, 'The manager already determined that this is invalid, we're going to hang up,'" he said. "It's as frustrating as it can possibly be."

Go Public asked Agrait, at Amazon, what information was missing to move ahead with Chteinberg's complain — she declined to answer.

Ning, at UBC, says a customer's experience can often become extremely frustrating if the process of getting a refund involves outside parties, such as the police. 

"There's a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong in that process. You kind of get stuck … and no one really has the incentive to push it forward," he said. "I think at that moment, a lot of [customers] have the urge to just hang up and quit."

A worker in black-and-blue vest lifts a large package out of an Amazon delivery truck.
According to Statistics Canada, online sales hit $3.8 billion in August, up almost $400 million over August 2020. Amazon reported global net sales of $514 billion US last year. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

He says a customer's decision to give up is profitable for Amazon, since the company doesn't lose money in such cases. 

Making the customer experience better becomes less of a priority, says Ning. "There's no incentive to move away from [frustrating practices]."

An RCMP spokesperson told Go Public in an email that it's extremely difficult to attempt to track all the movements of a package and the people who may have encountered it along the way and said there are "no identified avenues of investigation" in this case.

An exterior photo of a small office with a rectangular sign on the lawn that says Royal Canadian Mountain Police in both languages.
Chteinberg's home is in the Nootka Sound RCMP's jurisdiction. Chteinberg filed an online police report through the detachment's website — but Amazon said it was missing information. (Submitted by Gord Kurbis)

The spokesperson also said Amazon has not contacted the RCMP.

Canada Post told Go Public that Canadians should trust the mail service and that reported incidents will be investigated. The Tahsis postmaster told the RCMP the package appeared to have been tampered with when it arrived.

Scotiabank Visa, the card he paid with, was unable to help because Chteinberg had authorized the purchase.

A spokesperson for Scotiabank also said purchase protection on credit cards does not cover items ordered through the mail until they are "received and accepted" by the card holder.

Some provinces have consumer protection laws that could be used to squeeze a refund out of Amazon, but in B.C. those laws only apply to online orders that companies don't fulfill — not cases of apparent theft. 

The province runs an online Civil Resolution Tribunal for small claims up to $5,000, which Chteinberg could access, but says that's a hassle he doesn't think he should have to go through. He says Amazon should ante up.

"I ordered it, I paid them and they failed to deliver," he said. "So it is on them to refund me."

Meantime, he says, he'll vote with his wallet — order online from other companies and try, when possible, to shop local. 

"I've been [an Amazon] customer for decades," he said. "I'm not going to be one anymore."

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Erica Johnson

Investigative reporter

Erica Johnson is an award-winning investigative journalist. She hosted CBC's consumer program Marketplace for 15 years, investigating everything from dirty hospitals to fraudulent financial advisors. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, Erica continues to expose wrongdoing and hold corporations and governments to account.