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Amazon sellers fuming over auction glitch

Several auction sellers say the e-tailer hasn't been promoting their listings on one of its most heavily viewed pages--a service the sellers say they've already bid on and paid for.

Several Amazon.com auction sellers say the e-commerce giant is not delivering a service they say they have bid on and paid for.

Sellers pay Amazon to promote their listings in prominent places on its auction site. But in the past several weeks, sellers have said Amazon has not been promoting auctions on one of its most heavily viewed pages, even though it has continued to charge sellers for the service.

"It's pretty upsetting," said Dan Kuschill, an Amazon seller who works from his home in Fairfield, Calif. Kuschill estimates Amazon has overcharged him about $250 for listings it did not feature. "I think there's a lot of people that are spending a lot more money than I am, and they're all getting screwed."

Representatives for Seattle-based Amazon did not return calls seeking comment. But Amazon customer service representatives told prospective auction sellers that the company was aware of the problem and would refund promotion fees paid during the glitch.

Dozens of sellers could be affected by the glitch. But because Amazon has not yet acknowledged the problem on its announcements board or on other public places, few may know about it.

Amazon's auction site has battled a number of glitches and outages in recent months. In March, a series of outages caused numerous auctions to disappear from the site. Earlier this month, a glitch prevented buyers from purchasing items they won on Amazon Auctions using the company's proprietary online payment system. Amazon requires all sellers to accept payment through its proprietary system.

Despite being a part of one of the largest e-tail sites, Amazon's auction service has struggled to compete with eBay, the online auction giant. Amazon representatives say the company has around 800,000 auction listings, compared with about 5 million for eBay. Outside observers and analysts such as Jeetil Patel of Deutsche Banc Alex Brown estimate Amazon's total listings to be fewer than 200,000.

Amazon sellers bid against each other for prime placement of their listings on Amazon's home page and individual category pages. Amazon lists the featured auctions in descending order, according to how much each seller bid.

Among the areas where sellers can feature their auctions is on a page that allows auction buyers to browse all of Amazon's categories. But Amazon has not promoted any auctions on that page since late last month, Kuschill said. Kuschill, who auctions discounted travel packages, said he noticed it about six weeks ago, but he did not report it to Amazon until earlier this month.

"It's not unusual at all for Amazon's site to have these types of problems," Kuschill said. "But usually these problems clear up in a short amount of time."

Despite several e-mail exchanges with customer service representatives about the glitch, Kuschill said Amazon has only refunded him about $13 of the promotional fees he paid.

Kuschill is not the only seller affected by the glitch. Earl Moshinsky, who sells jewelry on Amazon, estimated that he lost hundreds of dollars in promotional fees and thousands of dollars in lost sales because of the problem.

Moshinsky said he called Amazon's customer service line after receiving an e-mail from Kuschill. Although Amazon representatives acknowledged the problem to him, they refused to credit him for the fees, Moshinsky said.

"I think it's like stealing," Moshinsky said. "I think it's a crime."

Meanwhile, Deborah Linder, who sells antiques through Amazon's auction site, says she has lost "a bundle" because of the problem.

"They haven't answered my e-mail concerning this yet, but I am canceling my auctions if they don't contact me within 24 hours," Linder said in an e-mail to CNET News.com.