Will Amazon care if I return an identical, but not the same, computer for a refund?
March 4, 2011 12:03 PM   Subscribe

In returning a computer bought on-line, could there be problems if what I send back is an identical computer obtained from a different retailer, rather than the one they originally sent me?

So, I've been trying to buy a newly-released tablet (this one, to be exact) that has been in very short supply. I placed orders with both Amazon and Microsoft Store, the two places that seemed likeliest to get them in stock soon, and have been in Pre-Order Hell for the past few weeks. I recently found out both are shipping -- the one from Amazon should arrive today, and the one from MS Store within a week or so. All well and good--both retailers have straightforward 30-day return policies, so I should just spend the weekend happily playing with the Amazon one, and return the MS one when it arrives, right?

But here's the deal -- I got the one from the MS Store for a $150 discount (due, I am sure, to an error made by someone there w/r/t their Pres Day sales), and I've confirmed that MS will (grudgingly) honor their policy of charging the lower price if a price drop occurs while an item's on pre-order. So it would save me $150 to return the Amazon one instead.

The thing is, I'm really, REALLY eager to get my hands on this device. So if I go ahead and open the Amazon one and start using it, can I then take the MS one from its shipping carton when it arrives, stick it in the Amazon shipping carton, and return that one to Amazon? Will anyone notice? Will this make problems, if I haven't opened the actual product box?
posted by Kat Allison to Shopping (25 answers total)
 
Yeah, these things have serial numbers, and that's a pretty dishonest thing to do regardless.
posted by The Michael The at 12:07 PM on March 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


That wouldn't be returning would it?
posted by leafwoman at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really, how far apart can the arrival dates be? Just deal with having to wait longer.
posted by theichibun at 12:10 PM on March 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's probably some sort of registration number associated with each individual tablet that wouldn't match up if you sent the wrong one back. Probably a Windows product key if nothing else.

Is it worth $150 to you to get to play with your new toy for an extra few days? If so, then go for it. Returning the wrong one (aside from being douchey) could cause you to be without this cherished gadget for several weeks getting the mess all sorted out.

You kind of come across sounding like a kid trying to poke around in his parents' closet for Christmas presents when it's only the first week of December. Let's say you could get away with it (I don't think you could)--don't do the dick thing.
posted by phunniemee at 12:10 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can pretty much guarantee Amazon will notice. They're experts at logistics.

Have patience. As my dad likes to say, you've managed to survive this long without it.
posted by mkultra at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The serial number is on your order, on the box, and on the device. The computers will notice. Whether or not anyone cares is another issue entirely.

(I bought a computer from Amazon once; and eeepc 901. The first one they sent me had a defective SSD. The second one they sent me had a defective keyboard. I transplanted the working keyboard onto the second device, and returned the first one. That nobody noticed, because the keyboard doesn't have the serial number on it, the sticker on the bottom does. And anyway, I saved them from having to receive two returns and having to send me a third possibly-defective device :)
posted by jrockway at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2011


Serial numbers plus preloaded OS's and other stuff is usually licensed through the seller.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:16 PM on March 4, 2011


The fact you are asking this here rather than calling Amazon and asking them gives you your answer, I think.
posted by jtfowl0 at 12:17 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The products will have serial codes. They will Not match you will end up having to pay for return shipping for the "mistake" it will be a MAJOR pain in the ass!

I have no ethical concerns but logistically this will not work for any electronics and even software. It would work for socks, books, dvds. I expect YMWnotV.
posted by saradarlin at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2011


They're on to this. You are not the first person to try the ol' swicheroo. Not gonna work.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 12:20 PM on March 4, 2011


OK, thanks for all the good info on serial numbers, etc.--that's what I didn't know. I sure don't want to do a dishonest thing, but was figuring "Hey, they send me a brand-new unopened item, they get back an identical brand-new unopened item, where's the damage?" But I will use this as an opportunity to practice self-discipline and build character!

(And jtfowl0, my reluctance to call Amazon honestly comes from some hellish experiences trying to get questions answered by their CS staff -- I was mostly trying to spare myself some headaches, not rip anyone off.)
posted by Kat Allison at 12:21 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My only worry would be about serial numbers not matching up. Amazon probably has a pretty thorough inventory and stocking system. The guy who handles it might not notice or care but if you don't want to go through the hassle of having to sell the device yourself if they ship it back then just wait. That said if it this wasn't Amazon and instead like, Walmart, I'd probably do it.
posted by grizzly at 12:27 PM on March 4, 2011


If you spend the weekend happily playing with it, it won't be unopened, now, will it?

And yeah, the devices have serial numbers that are tracked. And you're not returning something if you don't return the something that they gave you.
posted by The World Famous at 12:34 PM on March 4, 2011


This would be fraud.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:35 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a wrong thing to do, and not just because of the risk of getting caught. I am sending you mail about this.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:57 PM on March 4, 2011


In the unlikely event you did manage to accomplish this switch, having a receipt with a different serial # than the computer would leave you without warranty coverage.
posted by zombiedance at 1:03 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth has it. This would be fraud.
posted by The World Famous at 1:07 PM on March 4, 2011


Worse sorts of fraud than this happen all the time, but yeah, it is fraud.

Amazon and Microsoft are both giant corporations, and one could easily dismiss them as faceless, evil, etc. But think for a moment. Would you do this same thing with two mom and pop shops in your town? If not, then don't even think about it.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think fraud is not an accurate word to describe receiving an unopened item and returning an identical unopened item, particularly given that the dictionary definition of fraud requires that the action be a deliberate deception resulting in harm. However it is likely a violation of the terms of return and yes, they will certainly notice the difference in serial numbers.

Detecting malicious practice of this sort of thing is exactly why the number is printed on the outside of the box in machine readable (barcode) form. Buy it at a Best Buy or the like and you'll notice that their computer system even forces the cashier to scan that code, making it impossible to buy the item without them recording the number.

You're not intending to cause harm here but for what it's worth it's possible that even with an unopened unit you could be putting the vendor at risk for harm; even if THEY didn't record the number it's possible the manufacturer might and might refuse to take returns or provide refurbishment credit/service or whatever for a number they don't have record of selling to a retailer.

And those of you banging the fraud drum and not even answering the question - if you're so big on rules you might consult the ones for AskMe, helpfully displayed at the bottom of the page: Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Your moral indignation is neither.
posted by phearlez at 2:35 PM on March 4, 2011


Thanks, phearlez; I'll admit I was surprised by the tone of many answers, but then I realize I also didn't do a good job of clarifying my intentions and preconceptions in the question. For the record, I take full culpability for being a total ignoramus about how the retail world works; and even so, I probably would have had at least a dim idea of some inherent problems if I'd thought the whole thing through more carefully. (I was overly excited, typing in haste, etc.)

But I want to be clear that I have no intention to defraud or cause retailers any problems; I honestly did not have a clear conception of the importance of the serial number in the retailer's tracking and in their transactions with the manufacturer, figuring that two unopened machines of the same model were basically fungible. Again. probably would've been obvious if I'd thought about it more carefully, but hey, too soon old, too late smart.

Again, thanks to all who clarified these processes and relationships for me. That's the information I needed, and I will absolutely refrain from any product-substitution shenanigans, now that I understand the implications.
posted by Kat Allison at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2011


Let me get this straight - you've bought two items that are in very short supply? And you got a $150 discount on one of them? And you're worried about what to do with the second? Ebay is your friend...a very quick search gives this for $1399. Yes it is a higher spec model than yours but...you should be able to sell the tablet and recoup your purchase price plus at least *some* of that $150 discount.
posted by humpy at 6:56 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interstate fraud and the conspiracy to commit it. Just because you're over-eager? I suppose that's "less worse" than any number of other scams going on out there today, but it's still a bad idea.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:25 AM on March 5, 2011


I think fraud is not an accurate word to describe receiving an unopened item and returning an identical unopened item, particularly given that the dictionary definition of fraud requires that the action be a deliberate deception resulting in harm.

Its the definition of fraud in the state's criminal code that I'm concerned about. This is, pure and simple fraud, and would be actionable on the civil side as well.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:48 AM on March 5, 2011


And those of you banging the fraud drum and not even answering the question - if you're so big on rules you might consult the ones for AskMe, helpfully displayed at the bottom of the page: Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Your moral indignation is neither.

I'm merely an attorney actually bringing a suit for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. A technician. Dear OP, please do not take my technical commentary as any moral indignation. I'm hoping we were able to dissaude you from actively misrepresenting facts to a party to a contract you entered into, that's all.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:27 PM on March 5, 2011


You can't call amazon, FYI.
posted by spitbull at 6:46 PM on November 11, 2011


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