Amazon Prime auto-renewal charges frustrate customers

Amazon has introduced its Prime subscription delivery service in Canada alongside other measures that have ramped up business.
Amazon customers are venting their frustrations about Amazon Prime’s automatic membership renewal policy after signing up for a free trial of the service. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

TORONTO – Canadians interested in a free trial of Amazon Prime got more than they bargained for – $90 more, actually.

Turns out the free trial’s terms of service – legally binding agreements notorious for going unread – warned users about an automatic membership renewal.

And if the complaints on Amazon’s help page are any indication, they aren’t happy about it.

“I didn’t want to get a prime membership but grabbed it from my wallet by force, like a robber without any permission or notification. I just cancelled my prime membership immediately,” wrote one user.

“I was misled that I would have 6 months free to try it. Is this a new scam of theirs? I am seeing a lot of people being charged on the same date here for memberships they did not want. Hmmm…..a little fishy,” another added.

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Amazon Prime is a membership that gives customers free two-day shipping and access to Amazon’s video and music streaming services.

Complaints on Amazon’s website date as far back as October 2013 and as recently as Friday.

Many users have opened threads asking about the $90 charges.

Global News contacted Amazon regarding the customer complaints and asked if the company would refund any customers who were not aware of the auto-renewal. The company did not comment.

An Amazon spokesperson did provide a link to the webpage explaining the terms and conditions of the free trial, which notes, “While you won’t be charged for your free trial, you will be automatically upgraded to a paid membership plan at the end of the trial period.”

The terms of service website also provides a link for users to end their Amazon Prime membership.

Some of the customers who posted on Amazon’s help page said they did receive a refund from the company, but one user pointed out that Amazon may only refund the membership if none of the Prime services were used.

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Buyer beware: Terms and conditions are there to be read

Not everyone agrees Amazon customers have a right to be angry.

Some users on the site’s thread were quick to dismiss others’ complaints, pointing out that customers were warned about the automatic charges.

“People are being charged because they sign up for the free 30-day trial of regular prime but neglect to read that it says you will be charged $79 if you don’t cancel before the 30 days was up. Nothing fishy about that at all,” wrote one user.

“Amazon didn’t force you. You or someone on your account signed up for the free 30-day trial of prime and didn’t notice when signing up where it said if you didn’t cancel before the 30 days were up you would be charged for the years membership,” said another.

Amazon isn’t the only company whose auto-renewals have garnered complaints.

Video streaming service Netflix auto-renews users’ subscriptions after free trials. So do many online dating sites.

John-Kurt Pliniussen, marketing expert and professor at Queen’s University School of Business, agrees the onus lies on the consumer to read the fine print when it comes to signing up for online sites and services.

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He should know: Pliniussen himself was one of the Amazon customers who forgot he signed up for Prime; however, he uses the service often enough to justify it.

“When I signed up for Prime I was well aware that there was auto-renewal – and there is no problem with that from a business standpoint,” he said. “We are inundated with all of these sites – we do forget,” he said.

But Pliniussen added that businesses should be more proactive in sending emails to customers reminding them that their free trial is up, giving them the option to opt out of the service.

“That would be more consumer-oriented.”

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