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Amazon Pay, Part 2: $2300 Lost and Found

A few weeks back I wrote about my struggles with Amazon Pay, and $2300 of customer payments I was unable to move to my bank because of a mysterious recurring transfer failure. Amazon Pay’s customer support was initially so robotic and ineffective that I gave up hope for ever finding a resolution, or even finding someone who could understand what I was reporting. My first angry Amazon Pay essay attracted the attention of someone higher up at the company, who apologized and was very attentive to my case, but wasn’t able to do much to explain why all the bank transfers were failing. Now after seven weeks of trying, I’m happy to report that the long-expected money is finally in my bank account. Who identified the problem and fixed it – Amazon Pay support? My bank? Nope, it was me.

Here’s what happened: my business bank account number is 10 digits, but the attempted disbursement transfers from Amazon Pay were consistently coming in with only 9 digits in the ACH transfer data, with the last digit missing. This caused several days of delay for each attempted transfer, culminating in eventual failure and reversal of the funds. I confirmed with my bank that the 10 digit account number was the correct one to use, and this number works just fine for ACH transfers with several other business services that I use.

But… I also have a personal account at this same bank, and it has a 12 digit account number where the first two digits are zeroes. I asked the bank about this, and they said the zeroes aren’t required on their end, but it’s OK if they’re present. So I went back to Amazon Pay, re-entered my account number as a 12 digit number with two leading zeroes, and boom! Money delivered.

Why didn’t the regular 10 digit account number work here? I think the only possible explanation is a serious bug in Amazon’s payment systems. That seems tough to believe, given how many transfers a company like Amazon must process every day, and the size of their team dedicated to electronic banking. But I’m confident I didn’t mistype the account number at Amazon Pay the same way multiple times, and the regular 10 digit number works fine with other payment processing services, my payroll processor, the California tax authority, and electronic transfers to suppliers.

Maybe Amazon Pay doesn’t allow for the possibility that a single bank might have different types of accounts with different numbers of digits? I just don’t know.

Whatever the underlying cause, I can understand that bugs exist. My real gripe is the Amazon Pay customer service experience, which was initially so unhelpful that I couldn’t get anyone to even understand what I was describing. Over and over, I was told the same thing about how to set up my bank account, with agents reading from the same script. I explained that I’d already set up the bank info, and then the attempted disbursement transfer had failed, resulting in the automatic removal of the bank info, multiple times. But this didn’t seem to be a node in the customer support decision tree. And rather than getting a reply like “that doesn’t sound normal and I’m referring this case to a banking specialist”, I just got scripted replies for problems that were not my problem, while agents seemed to willfully ignore the specific details I was telling them. To make matters worse, my support case was twice closed by Amazon even though it wasn’t resolved, with no way to re-open it, so I had to open new support cases and start the whole song and dance over again.

After my first essay about this mess, I was contacted by someone higher up at Amazon Pay. He apologized for my bad experience, and said he would talk with the customer support team and review their procedures to help prevent something like this from happening again. He was very nice, and I appreciated his help. But if I hadn’t possessed enough minor internet fame to get decent attention on that first essay, would I ever have heard from this guy? Or would I have been stuck in tech support purgatory forever? What’s most concerning is that even after this new person intervened, he still wasn’t able to solve the problem or find any explanation for it. In the end, it was up to me to hit on the solution. The Amazon rep promised to share the details with the appropriate engineering team, so maybe the next customer of my bank who signs up for Amazon Pay won’t have the same trouble that I did.

Read 5 comments and join the conversation 

5 Comments so far

  1. Micah Cowasn - January 25th, 2022 11:32 am

    Glad you fixed it! Can’t say I’m shocked that bugs like this exist for Amazon Pay, though it’s very disappointing.

    TBH, I’d been hoping Amazon Pay would catch on and eventually overtake Paypal, because my main gripes with PayPal are that their customer service sucks big time, and they have shocking bugs that don’t seem excusable for a company that does what they do, and are so ubiquitous. In PayPal’s case, bugs for me have included constantly presenting a mailing address as the default after it had been completely *deleted* from my accounts (as far as account management UI would show, that is).

    I thought Amazon Pay would be better just because I constantly use and rely on the safety of Amazon already, and it would manage the risk better if I don’t have to also rely on PayPal. But sounds like they’re just as crappy. 🙁

    “Hidden records” are a real problem with payments sometimes – similar to the mailing address problem above, I had a creditor (car loan) where they had established wire transfers with my bank. At one point I closed that bank account and established another, and entered all the details correctly, but transfers would always fail. I managed to talk to someone who told me the old account was still associated with the wire transfer records, and that in the meantime I should just call in the payments. But then one day the agent I spoke with insisted I pay the fee for making phone payments, and their manager backed them up, and no one understood (even though i had it from them) that it was their fuckup making me do that. I eventually gave up and just mailed paper cheques. This same lender (Kia Motors Finance) gave me major headaches trying to get the title from them after the loan completed (and I later heard from Bank of America, who refi’d one of the loans, that other customers had had many similar problems with them as well). The title problem happened with two separate vehicles through them – I will obviously never use them again.

  2. King Charles - January 25th, 2022 12:04 pm

    I’m very pleased you got your money, but it sucks that the underlying problem never got resolved and Amazon didn’t do anything to help. I’ve just had the same issue where I got my problem escalated to “Executive Support” by going outside the support chain, but even those people just ended up in the same support drone death-spiral.

  3. King Charles - January 26th, 2022 3:59 pm

    So, my bank was Square Inc (now Block). After I reached out to one of the managers via his personal cellphone he seemed very receptive to helping me, he escalated my request to their Executive Support, who were equally useless, but then yesterday the bank terminated my account for contacting their staff outside the online support process and now they have all my money and I can’t access it. They say I can withdraw it, but I don’t have another account to withdraw it into.

    That was all the money I had in the world. And now they have it all. I can’t pay my rent, nor my utilities. And I have a court order that requires me to pay my utilities or I go to jail. Crazy.

  4. Steve - January 26th, 2022 5:10 pm

    Jesus that is horrible. Can you open a new account somewhere else and withdraw the money, or will you just run into the same problem again? What was the original problem?

    I was also rooting for Amazon Pay, mainly because PayPal has such a bad reputation in so many circles. But to be honest my personal experience with PayPal has generally been OK. They don’t always give me answers that I’m happy to hear, but at least they’ve always given me answers.

    That experience with Kia Motors finance sounds dreadful. I think we’re all experiencing the predictable fallout from the Age of Automation. Forty years ago you could have walked into a bank, talked to a teller or manager, and gotten your problem straightened out. Now in many cases, there’s no human to talk to, or the conversation is so scripted and controlled that the human may as well be a robot. Phone trees and IVR systems and chat bots save companies lots of money, and make some labor-intensive systems possible where they may have been impossible before. We all benefit from lower prices, newer services, and other improvements. But when we have an unexpected problem that the automated systems can’t handle, it’s too easy to get lost in customer support purgatory without any way to escape. It’s like a horror movie or a nightmare where you can’t wake up.

  5. Larry - March 13th, 2022 7:46 pm

    Perfect example that Amazon’s leadership principle of customer obsession seems to take a back seat to customer self-service

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