Amazon's secret price guarantee!

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Jan. 3 2007 6:25 PM

Amazon's Secret Price Guarantee

The online retailer's Zen customer benefit.

Of the many responsibilities shouldered by this column, none is more solemn than its mandate to compel Web-based retailers to take phone calls from the public. But suppose you finally get one of these reclusive customer-service reps on the horn and become so flustered that you forget what it is you wanted to say? If the retailer is Amazon.com—customer-service number: 1-800-201-7575; to get a human right away, dial extension 7—ask him about that 30-day price guarantee.

Perhaps you are wondering: What 30-day price guarantee? Like Amazon's customer-service number itself, the 30-day price guarantee is not something Amazon publicizes. For instance, it isn't mentioned on the "Refunds" page. If you click here you'll learn all about Amazon's 30-day returns policy, which provides a full refund for most unopened items returned within 30 days. But that's different from the 30-day price guarantee, which requires only that you pay attention to whether Amazon lowers its price within 30 days after you purchase your item. If it does, Amazon will refund you the difference. No need to box up your purchase or fret about receiving only a partial refund because you removed the plastic wrap.

Is the 30-day price guarantee mentioned anywhere on Amazon's Web site? Yes. If you click here, you'll find, on a discussion board about Swiss Army knives, an Amazon customer who identifies himself as "Elmo Is Queer" spreading the gospel: "Amazon has a 30-day price guarantee—they'll reimburse the difference in any price drops within 30 day period. Look into it and stop whining. ;) Amazon rocks!!!" But Amazon doesn't rock so much that it's willing to state this policy in its own voice. On its "Pricing" page, Amazon says only that it will refund customers on a preordered item (that is, an item you buy today but won't receive until it's made available to the general public) in those instances when the price drops between the time of that item's preorder and its actual distribution. (If the price goes up, customers aren't required to refund Amazon the difference.) The pricing page also says, under the heading, "Price Matching," that "Amazon.com does not have a price-matching policy at this time." Technically, that's true. If you can find an item cheaper somewhere else, Amazon won't match that price. What Amazon artfully neglects to add is that if you can find that item cheaper on Amazon up to 30 days after your purchase, Amazon will, in effect, match its new, lowered price by refunding you the difference. But you have to ask. Particularly during the present post-Christmas shopping season, when prices typically fall on all sorts of items, Amazon is not about to shout from the rooftops that it's offering refunds.

Or perhaps I should say "shout through the forest." Amazon's 30-day price guarantee is a sort of Zen customer benefit. If a retailer offers a price guarantee but doesn't tell customers about it, does the price guarantee exist? Only for the few who hear about it somewhere else. News of the refunds has thus far traveled fitfully through mentions here and there on Web sites other than Amazon's. (A couple of Web sites actually offer to keep an eye on Amazon's prices for you; just enter the ISBN or other identifying number and you'll receive an automatic e-mail if the price on one of your items falls within the 30-day period.) As with sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, one longs for official confirmation. I myself learned of the 30-day price guarantee from my friend (and occasional Slate contributor) Joshua Green, who bought himself a plasma TV screen a few weeks before Christmas. Checking the price a few days after Christmas he found that it had gone down $20, so he dialed Amazon customer service, asked for his refund, and got it. After hearing this story, I phoned Amazon (don't forget, now: 1-800-201-7575, extension 7) and, like a tippler seeking entry to a speakeasy, uttered the secret pass phrase: "Does Amazon offer a 30-day price guarantee?" There was a pause at the other end of the line. Then, as if opening the door to a stranger, the customer-service rep said warily: "Yes, we do."

Happy New Year to you, too.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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