7 On Your Side

Comparison shopping confusion leads to pricey purchase

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today you can buy all kinds of stuff on the Internet with just a few clicks on your computer. However, one man says it got him into trouble. His tale is a warning about online shopping, especially on your smartphone.

Scotts Valley resident Ty McConnell was trying to be a careful shopper by using a shopping app to compare prices. He says he wound up buying a big-ticket item he never intended to order. It cost him $1,300 and he is still trying to figure out exactly how it happened.

McConnell showed 7 On Your Side the Google shopping app he put on his smartphone.

"I listened to my son who thought this was a really neat thing to have on your phone," said McConnell.

He snaps a picture of a product and the app displays the retailers who sell it.

McConnell thought it was a great way to compare prices, but one afternoon, he says his point-and-click browsing got way out of control.

"It's too late. It's being shipped," said McConnell.

It happened when he was shopping for a power washer. He saw one machine at a Home Depot store for $740. He wondered, "Is it cheaper somewhere else?" He whipped out his phone.

"I got a number of places I could buy it. The first one at the top was Amazon.com," said McConnell.

So he clicked on Amazon.com. The website displayed the power washer, but it cost a lot more than the one at Home Depot. McConnell says he closed the page and forgot about it, until he received an email an hour later.

"The email was from Amazon.com. 'Thank you for your order for your $1,389 power washer.' And I couldn't believe it," said McConnell.

Amazon had gone ahead and put through an order for that power washer, even though McConnell says he was just checking the price for it. Amazon charged the credit card on file with McConnell's account.

"I didn't order it, I didn't want it. I didn't even...I didn't log on to Amazon.com. I did not use my username, I did not use my password," said McConnell.

McConnell emailed back saying "I do not want this item." But it was too late. The seller was actually a third party company that sells through Amazon called Damlow Prices. That company said the order was already on its way. Nine days later, the 75 pound washer landed on his doorstep.

"Right in front of the garage door and I just had a sick feeling in my stomach," said McConnell.

He also had a $1,389 charge on his credit card. He said he immediately shipped the washer back to the vendor, but the company cited its return policy and only refunded half the price. McConnell was out $700 plus $131 for return shipping.

"It's like a nightmare. I couldn't believe it," said McConnell.

Even more disturbing, he says he could not figure out how it happened.

"They probably recognized my phone, but I don't understand how that substitutes for logging into an account," said McConnell.

McConnell contacted 7 On Your Side, who asked Google. A spokesperson there said the app only displays a list of retailers and it does not connect the phone to any account.

Next 7 On Your Side asked Amazon, "How did the order go through if McConnell was just comparing prices?" Amazon declined multiple requests for an explanation except to say, "It isn't possible.'' And they referred 7 On Your Side to its checkout procedure.

The company also said, "If customers ever have a question or concern about an order, they should contact Amazon customer service."

Amazon did not respond to 7 On Your Side's request to see the transaction records, but later said it does not discuss customer accounts. So 7 On Your Side set out to trace what happened.

"Somehow it got me logged onto that account," said McConnell.

It turns out McConnell had used his smartphone six months earlier to buy a book on Amazon and the Amazon 1-Click feature was turned on for his account. 1-Click lets users bypass the log-in, password and checkout process. Instead, the consumer simply hits the "buy" button on a product page and they have now put through the order. Amazon charges the purchase to the credit card it has on file with the customer's account and ships to the address on file.

McConnell isn't the only one to claim an inadvertent 1-Click purchase. 7 On Your Side found similar reports online -- consumers saying they were just checking prices and found the charges on their account.

Consumer Action's Joe Ridout says this case shows that shopping convenience may be a little too convenient.

"If it's becoming so easy to sign up for 1-Click, that you can be unaware that you've done so, perhaps this quest for efficiency has gone too far," said Ridout.

Damlow Prices has not returned numerous calls requesting comment.

There is good news for McConnell. He later disputed the charge with his credit card company and he was refunded the full amount for that power washer. Not only that, he says Amazon recently offered to refund his shipping costs with a credit on Amazon. And he says he's given up on the idea of buying a power washer altogether.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
shopping, smartphones, cellphone, apps, amazon, google, 7 on your side, michael finney
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