Holding Amazon To Account

PC Pro logo Posted: 10th September 2011 | Filed under: Press Articles
Author: Paul Ockenden
First Appeared in PC Pro 2011

I thought I’d tell you about some silliness around Amazon and its customer accounts.

It all began when I noticed that purchases I was making on my Kindle weren’t having any impact on the “Amazon Recommends” selection when I logged onto the website from my PC. And likewise my purchase of physical books wasn’t affecting the books that the mobile store on the Kindle was suggesting I buy. Stranger still, the website was trying to sell me a Kindle, even though Amazon must know that I already own one. There was an hour or two of intense hair pulling before I finally got to the bottom of this.

It seems that unlike just about every other etailer on the planet, Amazon doesn’t use your email address as a unique key when creating customer records. So it’s possible to have two accounts set up, with exactly the same email address but different passwords, and that’s precisely what I’d done – the Kindle and the website were both using different accounts because I’d used slightly different passwords for each of them. What’s crazy about this is that the email address is a key component of the login process – there’s no separate username. So the main identifier when logging in doesn’t have to be unique!

I’ve no idea why Amazon does this – I’m sure I’m not the only person to have been confused by it – but with Amazon’s normally brilliant customer service I was sure it would be easy to sort out. I’d just email them, explaining the situation, and ask them to merge the two accounts so that I have all my purchasing history in one place. You’d think that would be easy, wouldn’t you? The reply from Amazon was as follows:

“We understand that it is important to have a comprehensive record of your order history. Unfortunately, accounts cannot be merged due to their confidential nature and our system is not configured to do so. We hope that, as an customer, you will appreciate our efforts to protect your confidential information and record of transactions on each account. I am sorry for any inconvenience caused in this. Thank you for your understanding.”

So let me get this straight – despite both accounts being in the same name, with the same email address, same postal address, and with the same credit card registered to them, and despite me being able to prove that both accounts are mine (after all, I know both passwords!), Amazon won’t merge the accounts for reasons of “confidentiality”? Sorry, but to me that smells very strongly of bovine excrement. If the problem is that Amazon’s back-end systems simply can’t cope with merging customer accounts then the company should ‘fess up to that fact rather than hiding behind the smokescreen of customer privacy.

Beware, Amazon allows multiple accounts using the same email address

And if privacy really is as important as Amazon says, then a system where different customer accounts can share a single email address is surely a pretty broken one? Frankly, you could drive a coach and horses through the security implications that this non-unique account identifier issue throws up. Let’s hope the company stops hiding behind silly excuses and sorts this problem out quickly.

In the meantime, if you start to see strange things happening with your Amazon account, check that you don’t have two separate accounts registered to your email address. And if Amazon needs some e-commerce advice, it knows who to ask.