Dammit, Amazon.com, will you please let me use my store credit?

It’s only eleven days ago that I got to write the heart-warming story about a local pub that, when I forgot to collect my cashback, drove it round to my house.

Today, I write in a very different mood.

Mostly from this blog’s book reviews, I — and Englishman living in England — have accumulated a tasty account balance of $274.28 at Amazon.com.  And thanks to a sequence of appallingly stupid policies on the part of Amazon themselves and various publishers, that balance is almost completely useless to me.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that in today’s shiny, integrated, global digital market, it would be easy to make use of my balance?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Plan A: transfer the store credit to Amazon.co.uk

Obviously the correct thing to do, right?  I’ve not done the numbers (I am scared to), but I know that I spend a lot more than $274 (=~ £176) at Amazon.co.uk every year.  So just move the credit across and start buying all those books, DVDs and MP3s I’ve been wanting.

If that option exists, I’ve not been able to find it on the Amazon.com web-site.  Someone please tell me it’s there, but concealed beyond the wit of any honest merchant?

Plan B: use the credit to buy an amazon.co.uk gift card for myself

Can’t be done.  Amazon.com sells gift cards only for Amazon.com.  I quote from the Terms and Conditions:

1. Redemption.

Gift Cards must be redeemed on http://www.amazon.com, or its affiliated website http://www.endless.com, toward the purchase of eligible products […]

2. Limitations.

Gift Cards may not be redeemed for the purchase of products at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.co.jp, Amazon.ca, or any other website operated by Amazon.com, its affiliates, or any other person or entity.

(By the way, I notice that the link to the Terms and Conditions page doesn’t work, because Amazon.com stupidly adheres to the stuck-in-the-1990s policy of generating session-dependent page addresses rather than linkable URLs.  It’s almost as though they don’t want people to be able to see their T&Cs.)

Plan C: use the credit to buy an Amazon.com gift card for an American friend, who can reimburse me via PayPal.

As if.  Those Terms and Conditions again:

2. Limitations.

[…] Gift Cards cannot be used to purchase other gift cards

Gift Cards cannot be reloaded, resold, transferred for value, redeemed for cash or applied to any other account, except to the extent required by law. Unused Gift Card balances in an Amazon account may not be transferred.

Why?  In the name of all that is rational, why?  How does it hurt Amazon.com if my friend uses the store credit instead of me?

Plan D: use the credit to buy MP3s

Nuh-uh.  I wrote about this one before.  Not gonna happen: Amazon and the music publishers who sell their stuff at Amazon would prefer that their customers pirate music instead of buying it from them.

Plan E: use the credit to buy a Kindle

This was my happy plan yesterday — many thanks to everyone who gave me advice on how to make this work.  Makes sense, right?  A Kindle is valuable and light, it’s not a disaster to ship it across the Atlantic; then I can link it to my Amazon.co.uk account, and off I go.

You would think.

Yeah, not gonna happen.  They won’t sell me a Kindle.  Because, you know, anything might happen if they did that!  I might use it to buy e-books from them, and they wouldn’t want that!

So as far as I can see, this brings me right back to …

Plan Z: buy heavy dead-tree books and have them expensively shipped from America to England

Come on, Amazon — is that really the only thing you can do with my store credit?  Are so so very determined that everyone outside the USA should be screwed over?  Are you actively trying to waste time, money, fuel and environmental cleanliness by physically moving chunks of paper around the planet?

Seriously.  What is your excuse?

And are you going to fix this?

Because it’s a pretted darned poor show from the world’s leading e-commerce store.

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44 responses to “Dammit, Amazon.com, will you please let me use my store credit?

  1. Plan C': Find a trustworthy friend in the US who wants $280 worth of Amazon.com merch, buy it for him, and have him Paypal you the money.

  2. Yes, Plan C’ is a pretty good one as it goes. Unfortunately, my Trustworthy Friend In The US Who Wants $280 Worth Of Amazon.Com Merch (hereafter TFITUWW2WOACM) is a moron, and bought $280 worth of Amazon.com merch a couple of weeks ago without telling me.

  3. Would something like this help? http://www.citibank.co.uk/personal/banking/international/eurocurrent.htm

    Get Amazon to mail you a US$ cheque and deposit the cheque into a UK account that doesn’t charge you to convert the money.

  4. Thanks, antgiant. Something like that might be helpful going forward (i.e. with referral fees that I earn in the future), but so far as I can tell there is no way to get Amazon to do this with the credit that I have already accumulated.

    (Also: I don’t really want to have a whole nother bank account just so I can be given money. My bank is First Direct, which I like a lot. It charges a flat fee of £7 to accept US$ cheques with values up to £250, which I think is acceptable — it would cost me more in time to maintain another account just to avoid those charges.)

  5. Then perhaps your TFITUWW2WOACM could ship you their Kindle and your credit could replace it?

  6. Oooh — clever! I’ll get onto my TFITUWW2WOACM and see what he thinks. Thanks!

  7. How about plan E1?

    Buy the Kindle, have it shipped to your US frined’s address (as a gift) and then they can ship it to you (you could then pay them for their cost of shipping the package.)

    Or is there something horribly arcane in the way of this that prevents you doing it?

  8. Sorry, didn’t notice antgiant’s post above

  9. There’s one good reason that Amazon US won’t ship the Kindle to Europe anymore: The Kindle, at least the first version, includes 3G hardware to enable webbrowsing and OTA delivery of books.

    The data rate is included in the ebook’s price, and the webbrowsing is probably enabled as a courtesy/free-by.

    Now, consider the roaming charges across borders.

    That’s (possibly) the reason why Amazon made the Kindle available in Europe as soon as it was a successful product.

    As for the inability to move credit from Website A to Website B: It is very likely that Amazon US and Amazon UK are different legal entities, both owned by an Amazon Holding Inc. Accounting, tax, and business laws make it pretty much impossible to move money from corporation A to B without an exchange of goods or services taking place. Otherwise, it could be a case of money laundering and/or tax evasion, which is Bad News.

    So, while the internet doesn’t have borders, nations still do, and those are way less integrated than the internet makes it appear. *sigh*

  10. Plan F:
    Tweet about this with amazon-baiting hashtags and hope a human being who works for Amazon, somewhere out there, can help.

  11. Rob, I’ve never used twitter and wouldn’t know how to start. But if you fancied implementing Plan F on my behalf and linking to this article, I’d count it a kindness.

    Phillip, the 3G argument won’t wash for the Kindle that I wanted to buy, which is WiFi-only. Whatever Amazon’s arcane reasoning is for not letting me buy their stuff, that isn’t it.

    As for the money-laundering argument: that sounds very tenuous, too. The point here is that it’s my money, not Amazon’s. And since they can and do allow me to spend it on Endless.com, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to let me spend it on Amazon.co.uk.

  12. Yeah, in case of a WiFi-only Kindle, that argument doesn’t wash at all.

    Though, in that case it could be a) taxes and duties on electronics when importing stuff into the EU and/or out of the US, and/or b) that Amazon.co.uk has special agreements for electronics, which bars it from fulfilling orders like yours (they won’t send electronics to Germany from the UK, either, alas).

    And while the money is linked to your account, it is not, technically, yours. It’s store credit, and as such doesn’t really exist in the usual money supply, until someone cuts you a check for the money. And while it does exist in an “accounts payable [And not even a normal accounts payable, since the money cannot disappear, only used as a discount]” in the bookkeeping software, transferring it from Corp A to Corp B has us run into the money laundering cum tax evasion laws again (or even accounting laws in the US/UK/EU).

  13. Would it be possible to buy the kindle in the UK, link it to the US account and then just buy kindle e-books using the credit?

  14. anothem, that’s another interesting idea. I don’t know whether Amazon would continue their Don’t Let Mike Be A Customer campaign by preventing me from linking a UK Kindle to their US store, though; and I am sure I don’t want to invest $270 in DRM’d content that could vanish in the blink of an eye. I plan to use the Kindle, if I ever get one, mostly for reading out-of-copyright and otherwise free works. (Then I wouldn’t have had to buy myself three Chesterton books in dead-tree format this Christmas.)

  15. Plan AA: Move to the US.

    Hey, just throwing that out there. :)

  16. Perhaps the Kindle restrictions have to do with deals with the publishers? Can folks in the UK purchase a Kindle on the .co.uk store without a git card? If not then there you go — restrictions placed on Amazon. If UK folks can purchase it on .co.uk without credit/gift cards, then yes, this is just some weird arbitrary rule, like region-coding, that only makes sense to oily executives.

  17. Yes, Kindles are available at Amazon.co.uk — the exact same model so far as I can tell. Apart from the usual US/UK price difference (Amazon.com’s price of $139 is about £89, compared with Amazon.co.uk’s £109), the issue is that I want to use my useless Amazon.com store credit on this significant purchase.

  18. Hm…

    My problem is just the opposite – I want to but can’t buy the kindle from amazon.co.uk as I don’t live in the uk. I must buy it from amazon.com store.

    As I live in Europe this means it needs to be shipped all the way from the US. As Kindle is priced below 150€ you’d think I could avoid import taxes – nope – in their infinite wisdom amazon.com adds another charge to the bill to be used in case import taxes apply. This naturally brings the price of me buying the damn thing to 153€ – just enough that import taxes do in fact apply :)

    So how about I buy you Kindle from US and you buy me Kindle from UK?

  19. Goran, I literally laughed out loud at your final suggestion.

    How on earth did everything get as screwed up as this? Like the Randy Stonehill song says, it’s a Great Big Stupid World.

  20. Plan E: use the credit to buy a Kindle

    Others have already made the suggestion I was about to: get someone in the U.S. to buy the Kindle and ship it to you. But, as you note, there might be problems bringing your U.S. Kindle to the UK (or vice versa), or problems with the content.

    I know I’ve read about people who have a U.S. proxy; when they go abroad, they log into the U.S. proxy, buy whatever books they want from Amazon.com and load them into their Kindle.

  21. On the US store, did you select “United Kingdom” in the intended country of use field, under “Import Information”? When I do this, it allows me to add the following item to my cart:

    Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6″ Display – with New E Ink (Pearl) Technology [Includes USB Cable for Charging. For International Shipment]

    That looks like a different item than the one you added to your cart.

  22. Chris, I was never offered that opportunity, and there was never any “Import Information” at any stage in the process. Weird.

  23. I’m the TFITUWW2WOACM in question. Moron, eh? Sad how quickly your anger at Amazon was redirected against the innocent.

    Then perhaps your TFITUWW2WOACM could ship you their Kindle and your credit could replace it?

    That won’t work, because the TFITUWW2WOACM’s Kindle is inextricably linked to the TFITUWW2WOACM’s Amazon account, so the only way for Mike to use it would be if I gave him my account information. It would also go to him with all of my books installed, and I’d have to re-buy or at least re-download (for the numerous free ones) all the stuff I’ve already got, and that ain’t gonna happen.

    AFAIK, a Kindle is just a Kindle is just a Kindle until it gets linked to someone’s Amazon.com–or Amazon.co.uk–account. If you bought a Kindle from Amazon.com with your pile of credit and had it sent to me as a gift, it would not become my Kindle. It would still be tabula rasa (literally!). The thing weighs nothing; I could mail it across the pond for a pittance and when it arrived on your doorstep I don’t think there would be any meaningful way for you, the Kindle, or Amazon.co.uk to know that it was a dirty foreign device. It would be no different than if I’d bought the Kindle, had it shipped to myself, and then mailed it to you as a present. You should be able to link that blank Kindle to your Amazon.co.uk account and start rocking out.

    This plan has the advantage of coming with a built-in Plan B: if it turns out that you can’t link the US-bought Kindle to your Amazon.co.uk account because it somehow knows that it’s a US device, you should still be able to link it to your Amazon.com account and load it up with e-books using your credit.

    And there’s a Plan C, which is that if your US-based Kindle won’t let itself be linked to an Amazon.co.uk account or an Amazon.com account belonging to a Brit–if, in fact, it is completely useless to you–send it back to me, on my dime, and I’ll put together a coalition to buy it from you and give it to my dad for his birthday in February.

  24. Sorry, I meant “Important Information”, not “Import Information.” Weird that you’re not seeing that, though.

    I don’t know how much it will cost your TFITUWW2WOACM to ship overseas, but if it’s any help, we have family coming to visit us (here in Canada) from Derby for Christmas. Derby doesn’t look _that_ far from Ruardean. As for me, (1) I’m not far from the Canada-US (BC-Washington) border and/or (2) shipping from Amazon.com to here is possible and reasonable.

    Probably unnecessary but I thought I’d mention it.

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  26. Chris, that is a very generous (and complicated) offer! I’m touched, but I’m not going to take you up on it, because Matt’s suggestion is simpler and fails safer. Appreciated, though!

  27. A tunnel to a host in the US would solve a lot of your problems. Basically run VPN software on a small box at your place and on a host in the US, and route through the US host when you need to use Amazon and the like. It would cost you some sort of monthly fee to rent a host in the US and you’d have to do a bit of work to set up the tunnel, but you seem to like learning new things. :)

  28. See im having the same cinda problem only in reverse i have loads of UK amazone Credit but i want to buy of the US store . COM cos its a hell of a lot cheaper and have it shipped to a family connection in the US then on to the uk. but they wont let me use my credit. so either i spend more on the .co.uk version just to use my credit or spend less but my own money on the .com

  29. Pingback: The music industry finds another way to shoot itself in the foot | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  30. Actually, you can basically transfer all the credit to a friend by buying them mp3’s as gifts which they can decide to convert into amazon giftcards for themselves at this point instead of downloading the music. It will definitely take awhile to transfer all $274 of it this way, but it can be done.

  31. Interesting! The idea of buying MP3s as a gift hadn’t occurred to me, and I didn’t know they could be converted into cash. Thanks for the tip.

  32. I can’t order anything from Amazon.com! I live in the uk and have tried my affiliate gift card on virtually everything! no go! won’t be using it again!

  33. Hi Mike, I’ve got your same problem.
    Could you please explain how the MP3 to cash conversion works? It may be an interesting solution.
    Thanks in advance

  34. Massimo, I’ve never made an effort to make it work. If you’ve read the comments, you know as much as I do.

  35. I’ve got the exact same problem – google ‘package forwarding’.

    It’s more expensive, obviously, and I’ve never tried it, but it seems to be the only solution for those of us without an american friend…

  36. Let me start off by saying I’m extremely pissed at Amazon because of how they have their gift credit locked down. To me, it should be illegal, and the “store credit” analogy should not hold up. With as many avenues that they’ve infiltrated to get people to turn cash into amazon credit (i.e. most gift card swap sites, coinstar, etc.) their practices make their credit look much more like currency than just having store credit. And if they get their “commission” off each transaction, why not allow people with credit to simply convert it back to cash? Anyway, I digress….

    I have thousands in my amazon account and have tried many things to convert it to cash in the cheapest way possible. I’ve sold at 10-20% discounts to people in my hometown, but that was too expensive.

    Here’s the best I’ve come up with: have your “trusted friend” create an Amazon Seller account and list a cheap computer for sale that will be priced at the amount of credit you have remaining, including shipping. Then “buy” the computer from him with your Amazon credit and have him send you the net proceeds back to you via PayPal once Amazon credits the money to him. Of course, he won’t actually have or send you a computer, but as long as he shows it as “shipped” and you don’t complain, then there’s nothing that will ever come up (leave positive feedback to help him, too :-) ) Why a computer? It’s the cheapest commission item at 6%, versus 8-15% for everything else. Consider it a small “exchange” fee.

    Here are the caveats, though, and I’ve had other Seller accounts shut down by amazon because their systems found “related account” issues. But a one-and-done transaction for a relatively small amount should get by very easy.

    1. Don’t use same IP address, name, or anything that could be connected as a “related party” that amazon could catch. Once they tag you as a suspect, it can be a pain to get rid of that tag.
    2. Preferably, use a Seller that already has an open Seller account with some history and feedback, since the likelihood of catching a single transaction is very low. If you create a brand new account and suddenly buy the same day, it could raise red flags.
    3. If you do have to have your friend open a new account, know that amazon will hold funds in that persons account for 2 weeks before disbursing to their bank account for the first time. So be prepared for the wait.
    4. Make sure you don’t under-price the item and accidentally sell it to someone else!

    Hopefully this helps! I’d love to say I’d be willing to help with the transaction itself, but the risk of further investigation by “Big Brother” Amazon is too much. And I’d want a small fee, which is counter to what you’re trying to accomplish. Good Luck!

  37. Yup, over a year later and I’m having the exact same problem. ‘Cept I’m in Canada, which is theoretically right NEXT to the USA, touching it, in fact. An hour away, at a leisurely driving pace. Yet the credit is virtually useless; I forfeit a minimum of $9 on shipping any item, with additional per-item charges for everything I add to my cart. What a scam!!! :-(((

  38. In the future shop in your own country. You got what you deserved (through your politicians lack of free trade). You tried to avoid the cost of protectionism and got burned. (The cost of protectionism is not just in money, but lack of choice in products, just to be clear).

  39. “Shop in your own country” is an astonishingly outmoded idea.

  40. I’ve got the exact same problem, but don’t like my chances of making friends with an american… who reads.

  41. “Shop in your own country” is an astonishingly outmoded idea.

    Oh, please. It’s actually a very popular concept in many places where residents like to support their home economy instead of pumping valuable money into foreign countries.

  42. Same boat different country! As a Canadian I really apreciate how the customers was never really consulted when they drafted all those free trade deal.

  43. When I was in a similar situation and needed to cash out my amazon credit I just bought something at myhabit.com – amazon’s flash sale arm. I used http://www.sortedby.com to find all items that I can buy with my balance (it lets you specify a price range for all myhabit items, something you can’t do on the website directly). MyHabit ships to the UK and a lot of other countries for a flat fee.

  44. For some reason, spambots keep posting to this article, and I have to keep moderating them. So I’m closing comments on this post. If for any reason someone really, really needs to comment here, just drop it onto the most recent post, and I’ll move it across.