If you have ever purchased anything through Amazon, you may have noticed that the expected date for delivery is often two or three weeks ahead of the time you made your purchase. Just now, I was looking at items that would be purchased on March 17th and would come with an expected delivery date of March 29th. Usually, these items arrive by the 23rd or so.
Have you ever wondered why Amazon does this? If you only give it a passing thought, you might figure that Amazon is trying to take advantage of the underpromise/overdeliver psychology tendency that often causes satisfaction. If they tell you that an item will arrive on the 23rd and it arrives on the 23rd, you will think that the item arrived when expected. If the expected delivery date is March 29th and you receive the good on the 23rd, you might send warm thoughts to the deliver company because it arrived early.
While this psychological phenomenon does exist, there is also a legal angle that explains why Amazon grants itself this leeway. Amazon, like other firms that deal in goods, is often bound by the Uniform Commercial Code that outlines the legal responsibilities for buyers and sellers when goods get sold. When we are talking about the delivery goods, the relevant portion is 2-508(1) which states:
“Where any tender or delivery by the seller is rejected because non-conforming and the time for performance has not yet expired, the seller may seasonably notify the buyer of his intention to cure and may then within the contract time make a conforming delivery.”
The significance of this passage is important if you ever receive an order that is broken, damaged, or not what you expect. Your obligations, and potential entitlements, depend on whether the goods arrived at the time you expected or before. Most people do not know this, but if you purchase an item that arrives defective, you have to give the company a “reasonable opportunity” to cure the issue before the expected date.
Say you order a giant Easter Bunny today that is scheduled for delivery by March 29th. If you purchased it directly from Amazon and receive coffee spilled over it on the 23rd, Amazon still has the legal ability to remove the spill or give you a new bunny by the 29th. Now, of course, some companies can voluntarily establish a higher standard and offer refunds (within 30 days, usually) for all items no questions asked, but this is a competitive policy used to lure customers rather than the legal baseline that otherwise exists.
If, however, the bunny with the coffee stain arrives on the 30th, you the consumer can call off the transaction and give the Bunny back to Amazon, or you are entitled to keep the bunny and receive payment for the costs of the spill. The latter option is usually the closest you can come to receiving a windfall because any payment for fixing costs paid to you by Amazon would likely be greater than your cost to clean the bunny yourself. The point is that the power shifts depending on the delivery rate compared to the expected delivery date—if it arrives early, the seller gets an opportunity to fix the good before the expected date. If it arrives on or after the expected date, then you can get a refund because it is defective or keep the good and demand that you receive payment for the damages done.
The most notable exception to these general rules involves car purchases and what is called “the shaken faith doctrine.” If you buy a car on eBay Auto and it arrives ahead of time with transmission trouble, you are entitled to demand a refund or call off the sale without being forced to give the seller a reasonable opportunity to repair. The logic is that car problems put your safety at risk, and as a consequence, you may still have emotional insecurity when you drive a car that was delivered with problems. Because car purchases are significant expenses, and because there is a trust component to car repairs, you don’t have to wait around for a reasonable cure if you do not want one.
As a matter of marketing, Amazon does a persuasive job advertising on its website that over 90% of orders are delivered ahead of schedule. Their claim is not a lie. But there is a backstory—the dates are set out far in advance, and this is done because it affects legal rights. Defective goods that arrive ahead of time can be fixed by the seller (the seller can keep the contract alive!), but on-time and late arriving defective goods turn some of the repair powers over to you, the consumer, and you have the power to seek a refund if you act immediately.