By on September 9, 2010

I don’t normally do the “consumer awareness” stuff here on TTAC — we have plenty of very competent contributors for that — but I thought I would share a recent experience with all of you and perhaps save one or two of you a few bucks in doing so.

In the course of our extremely dilatory SOHC-to-DOHC switch on our #187 Plymouth Neon NASA racer, we here at Green Baron Motorsports realized we needed to replace our old TTI longtube header with one designed for the DOHC head. The smart thing to do would have been to call TTI and order their DOHC longtube header — after all, we’d gotten solid service for years from the old one — but somebody in the team who was not me had the bright idea to order a header from a company called “OBX”.

A quick search for “OBX headers” revealed that they were sold through Amazon. I’m an Amazon Prime member so this decision made itself. I ordered the header for two-day shipping.

When the header arrived, I realized that it was not a longtube header. Instead, it was the model that was designed to be used with a catalytic converter. That’s no good for us, and it was my fault for ordering the wrong piece. Time to eat the shipping and trade with Amazon for the OBX-R longtube variant. Right?

Wrong. When I initiated the return process with Amazon, I was referred to a page detailing OBX’s return policies, which are not the same as Amazon’s. Rather than a thirty-day no-questions-asked policy, the policy was five days. Not a problem; this was Day One. Also, OBX must issue an “RMA” via email. Again, not a problem. I didn’t want my money back. In fact, I wanted to buy a more expensive header. OBX was gonna make out. But when five days went by without a return to my email inquiry, I decided to call OBX directly.

That’s when I found out that OBX doesn’t list a phone number anywhere. They do business via email, because as far as I can tell, they’re simply a cloaca for a Chinese tubing factory. What to do?

Our next step was to try to sell the brand-new header for 33% off on the various Neon forums. It was there that I was primly informed, no doubt by a sixteen-year-old living in his mother’s basement, that all the smart kids knew you could get the OBX stuff from another importer at half price. I checked it out… yeah, that seems to be the case. Our $165 header was really worth $69.99. I got one offer from a Neons.org forum member: $45 if I paid shipping. I checked out the shipping cost: it was $28.

The header’s sitting in our shop right now, waiting for the day one of us buys a roadgoing Neon with a catalytic converter. Five days ago I called TTI. My header arrived today. Oh well. Sometimes it costs money to learn something. This is what I learned: Amazon.com can be a great place to buy car parts, but it can also be a lousy place to buy car parts. Read the fine print. And make sure you caveat a bit when you’re being an emptor, okay?

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40 Comments on “Lessons Learned: Buying from Amazon isn’t always buying from Amazon....”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yeah Amazon acting as a “front” for other businesses is something you have to watch out for.  Sometimes the same thing is avilable from the company in questions own website for less money.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Lesson learned: do your homework!

    • 0 avatar
      MarkySparky

      My recent experience as an Amazon Prime member bears this out.  The set of Craftsman tools I wanted were $90 (nearly 30%) more from Amazon (via a third party seller), even after Sears.com charged me for shipping.
      Of course, Sears’ byzantine website is another story.  Amazon is nothing if not a well-designed e-commerce site, especially as they continue to add more detailed sorting options.

  • avatar
    segfault

    I would have done a chargeback when they failed to respond to e-mail and issue an RMA.

    • 0 avatar
      turbosaab

      Yes, chargeback is the way to go. Either a) you get the merchant’s attention and they make it right or b) they don’t respond and you get your money back by default.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      This is why TTAC readers are called the B&B. I just called American Express and put that charge on lock, yo. Now they can argue over it. Thanks! Can’t believe I was too stupid to think of that.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Expensive lesson.  I guess poor  Amazon just doesn’t have the resources to police their vendors.  Wonder what their cut was on your $165?

    • 0 avatar
      oneday

      Amazon takes an absurd 12-15% of the total sale including shipping from the vendor for car parts—the rate varies depending on the type of item you sell (Amazon’s take on electronics is in the 5-7% area). If you find an item on Amazon and are observant enough to realize it’s being sold by a third party (Amazon is completely transparent with this process so I can only assume that Jack placed the order after his third or fourth single malt) see if the vendor has a private site or contact info. If they do, contact them and see if you can get a better deal since they won’t need to pay Amazon their cut.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Yup, I agree. It has to say “sold by Amazon” or “fulfilled by Amazon” for me to buy it from them. I never deal with any of their outside companies.  As mentioned above, I also do my homework, to make sure I’m getting a good deal. Free shipping is great, but you have to order over $25.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      Amazon Prime is free 2-day shipping, no minimum ($80/yr service charge). It’s definitely worth it if you order more than a few times per month, and shipping is guaranteed UPS (not stupid USPS).

      Thankfully, Amazon allows you to sort your searches by “Sold by Amazon,” which they didn’t offer until recently. Even the worst Amazon transactions are typically better than an average eBay transaction, so I’m not really complaining.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    This is a first.  A Neon owner who is worried about getting ripped off.

  • avatar
    ott

    No lucky. Much sucky.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Good advice for anything, really and I’ve shopped at Amazon countless times and at times via 3rd party vendors and it really pays off to read the reviews and such on such vendors as not all are all they’re cracked up to be.
     
    Normally, I buy from an Amazon supported vendor or by Amazon itself or is fulfilled by Amazon (Target for instance).
     
    So far, I’ve not gotten snookered, knock on wood.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Many people have fallen into that “Amazon Marketplace” trap. FYI, Amazon Marketplace is a pretty expensive way to sell things. For low volume, moderate priced items they take something like a 20% commission. Often you can do better dealing with the actual seller either directly on their website or over the phone.
     
     

  • avatar
    Stingray

    When I bought stuff from Amazon I checked who was the supplier. And even so, some of the things I bought were from a store different than Amazon.
    I bought baby stuff. I checked their car parts section and it sucked. In 2009, don’t know if it changed.
    I bought car parts from car parts sellers.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’ve bought lots of car parts from Amazon, mostly with good success regardless of the original seller.
     
    My real gripe about them is that shopping for car parts on their web site is very difficult.  The search settings are not ‘sticky’, so I burn a lot of time re-keying the same selections.
     
    And their part descriptions can be flimsy sometimes, such as when searching for a ‘front right’ component vs. a ‘left rear’ component.  So under these circumstances, I’ve had to cross-shop to determine the correct part’s part number, then hunt according to price.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    google shopping is what I mainly use for comparing prices. I used it for auto parts frequently. Look at it this way, you learned what could’ve been a $1000 lesson for $100. Not too bad.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Charge back would be the way to go.  Possibly report them to Amazon because they aren’t following their own return policy.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    When it comes to aftermarket parts, the first place to check prices should be Ebay and the god awful model associated forums. Caveat emptor indeed.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    “they’re simply a cloaca for a Chinese tubing factory.”
    Hilarious throwaway line, I’m totally stealing that.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Mighty fine article with note-worthy comments.
    Joy in the shanty at the momentary diversion from the harsh cold realities of a country and culture undergoing the gut-wrenching impact of class war apparently much more noticeable to the working-poor class and those who have undergone lengthy unemployment periods.
    Here within the humble shanty during the past when periods of employment intruded upon job losses, out-sourcing and other periods of economic inactivity and a meager amount of discretionary income allowed expenditures for sundry low-cost items such as printed material of interest to a Coot, Old, one each, MilSpec 1332-4445-AD-445 .
    TV in the background showing a pre-game affair with some young attractive babe singing away while draped in a semi-short flesh-exposing dress. Criminey, somebody feed that gal a sandwich or sumpthin’ before a gust of wind sends her reeling off into the sunset or she freezes to death when the ambient temperature drops below 70 degrees. Fahrenheit.
    Amazon.  Always good luck with the firm here.  Used for sending gifts to kin the few times I bothered with gifts… basically just Mom for birthdays and Xmas and waited for prices comparable or less than brick-and-mortar prices.
    The having the shipping/wrapping done for me was convenient and Mom didn’t need fancy actual “gift wrapping.” There was the “excitement” factor of something arriving at the front door that added to the subjective “mental factor” influencing receiving a goody via a stranger at the front door.
    The thread ensconced above does provide a good reminder to take care, even with Amazon, due to possible “hazards” embedded in the Amazon sales models confronting us now.
    I have bought goodies for self from 3rd-party vendors, most recently a battery pack that allows jump-starting a vehicle with a carried-on-board rechargeable portable device.
    Locally, saw a couple different devices but both were sub-par quality wise and over-priced for the quality offered.
    Much better selection at Amazon with a better bang-for-the-buck offering.
    Situated in a geo-political region as I am with a relatively low population number and density ones’ shopping choices are incredibly limited when compared to larger areas such as LA, Bos-Wash, Chicago and environs and other regional hubs serving much larger population centers than this backwater hillbilly haven.
    It’s what allowed Sears, Montgomery Wards, etc. and their catalogs to thrive for so long until personal transportation via motorized carriages wiggled their way into mass usage and suburban sprawl sent malls and various retail outlets to elbow their way onto the landscape.
    Amazon and other retailers using shipping are useful to many but especially to those of us residing in relative backwaters still existing in areas less “well-endowed” retail-y than our brethren surrounded by hordes of retailers.
    The skinny gal departed (passed out from hunger???) and has been replaced by a bunch of long-haired hippy types playing their long-haired hippy music.
    This is related to football? Not that I give a rodents’ rear about football but it is a background diversion while rambling the Web.
    Whatever happened to presenting good old-fashioned stuff such as cheerleader butts?
    Alas.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    Check into Amazon’s A to Z guarantee. It should apply. The guarantee covers Amazon Marketplace purchases too.

    In that sense, buying from Amazon is always buying from Amazon.

  • avatar
    Ion

    Amazon is like a giant virtual mall. I’ve noticed several times that they’ll have an item listed twice for different prices. I’ve gotten several additions to my diecast collection for double digit prices as opose to the tripple digit prices they normally go for mearly becuase I scrolled through all the listings.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I’ve bought lots of Internet stuff, but none from Amazon. Its prices and policies are uncompetitive.

    • 0 avatar

      My experience is 180 degrees opposite, for the things I’ve bought. And, I’m pretty sure I’ll get it without getting ripped off.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      geez – I can undercut the local big box retailers like Staples and Officemax by 50% on computer stuff. I can even do better than some of the other stores too. I tend to divide my book shopping between AbeBooks and Amazon – used books. I avoid our local Books-A-Million b/c I am carrying a grudge. Our favorite local bookstore went out of business at the same time BAM arrived. Ugh! Back then I never bought books online.

  • avatar

    Another good way to check prices is to use Google Product search or Froogle.com  Some of the results include the shipping and say so.  Not the be-all end-all because of the way items are listed, but a good resource if you have the proper search terms.

  • avatar
    niky

    Only one comment: OBX?!?!?!?
     
    Who the hell buys OBX?
     
    I mean… seriously?
     
    Jack, I still respect you, but come on… OBX is just the bottom of the heap when it comes to aftermarket headers. For any car.
     
    Sell it, suck up the loss, and get what you were planning to get in the first place.
     
    By the way… the car looks great. Can’t wait to see pictures of the first dings and scrapes. :D

  • avatar
    hotdogmaki

    I know that I’m going to come off as a troll, but I fail to see what the lesson is. Can it get any clearer than “Ships and sold by [insert name of merchant].”?

    • 0 avatar
      gimmeamanual

      The lesson is (as it applies to the digital age in which we live/shop) you can’t drive back to Amazon and get your money back and really give that sales kid a piece of your mind, and just because you bought it at a certain site, doesn’t mean you bought it from a certain site.  I think.

  • avatar
    racebeer

    I have to agree with you here.  ESPECIALLY since TTI headers had already been used previously (come on Jack, you showed you ain’t THAT cheap!!!).  It’s like going from gold to cheap tin.  I’ve got TTI stuff on the Polara, and their tubing is absolutely top notch.  Sometimes you just have to pay for quality.

  • avatar
    obbop

    http://www.resellerratings.com/
     
    The linked-to site MAY be helpful with on-line buying.
     
    Ratings for a LOT of on-line merchants.
    Have trouble with an on-line seller?  Leave a bad rating. Good experience, let udders know.
    Merchant not listed? Add them!!!!!
    Message board, also.
    At times, especially good deals surface.
    A few years back followed a “good deal” post link and obtained three free music CDs from a new CD selling firm.  Free!!! No shipping fee, either.  No spam!!!
    Still, always use common sense on line!!!!
     

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    What were customer ratings and comments that component and on OBX?

  • avatar

    Jack – get your parts on eBay – I built a Civic race car (car included) off of eBay for $2,500 total.
    As long as the steel is mandrel bent and stainless, as long as the tubing is the appropriate diameter, and as long as its for your car and fits properly, you’re good to go for dirt cheap.
     

  • avatar
    christopher277

    This isn’t really a fair article.  It may be true that there are other dealers on Amazon with completely different return policies.  But Amazon does not allow it’s sellers to just not respond to email inquires.  All you would have had to do is file an A-to-Z claim.  Amazon would have then given the seller about 10 days to respond, and you would have either had to return the item to get your money back (Amazon would have enforced this), or if the seller didn’t respond amazon would have refunded you and let you keep the item.  Amazon would have taken care of it.  Believe me, I know.  I have been selling on Amazon for several years.
    Please make sure you have all your details correct before you put out negative publicity about a company.


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