It started with an unexpected knock on Sophie Stone’s door. It was Sunday afternoon, and the 32 year-old from Southampton was relaxing at home when the Amazon delivery man arrived. Confused, she opened the parcel to reveal a nine carat white-gold diamond necklace, RRP £107. Had her husband bought her a gift? She rushed to ask him.
It was her five-year-old daughter, Bella, who answered her question. “Oh, my necklace! My necklace has arrived!”
In September 1999, Amazon.com patented “1-Click” ordering. This revolutionary tool allowed customers to buy things online with a single click, without the need to find their credit card or go through a cumbersome checkout process. It was and is incredibly convenient – unless you have kids.
“I pressed a button on that and it came,” explained Bella, when her mother questioned her about “her” necklace. The night before, Sophie and her husband had gone out and left Sophie’s sister babysitting. “If they get too much, just put them to bed with their tablets,” Sophie had instructed her sister.
Another order came to £287.76. As well as the necklace, Bella had ordered 12 (twelve) “Maui’s Magical Fish Hooks” – a children’s toy from the Disney movie Moana – and digital copies of the movies Trolls and The Boss Baby. Using Amazon’s voice recognition service, Alexa, she had searched for and purchased the products on an Amazon Fire tablet.
“I panicked,” says Sophie, “but luckily we got off lightly”. Amazon agreed to refund all of the items (should you find yourself in a similar position, see their help page on accidental purchases) and Sophie’s story went viral this week on a Facebook page for mums, The Motherload.
“I didn’t really tell her off too much because it’s my own fault,” says Sophie, over the sounds of her children playing in the background. “They don’t know what they’re doing; they’re just pressing buttons I think.”
Children’s stories are full of objects that you can press, rub, or tap to get exactly what you want – be they the Queen’s Nose, a genie’s lamp, or William’s very own Wish Wellingtons. One-click buttons across the internet have now become that magical item for many children, ready to grant them whatever their heart desires. Last January, Amazon’s Alexa ordered a child a £169 dollhouse after she asked the smart speaker: “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?”
“I don’t think you even think about it until it happens to you,” laughs Nicola Stocks, a 38-year-old from Worcestershire. Last month, her son Jesse, then four, ordered a PlayStation game via the console’s online shop. “I was in the middle of working. I just noticed a PayPal notification come through for about £57,” explains Nicola. Jesse had ordered the Star Wars Lego Game (platinum edition).
“Being so young I don’t think he realised the implications of the fact it costs money to do that,” says Nicola, who was refunded by PayPal within ten days. Five-year-old Joe from Manchester was much luckier: he got to keep his purchase.
“He has my phone, sometimes, because he likes to look on YouTube,” says his 41-year-old mother, Sam Hilton. “And I had the Amazon app on my phone” – she emphasises the word “had”, indicating it is now deleted – “and he ordered himself a Batman visor with a light.”
The Batman mask cost £27, plus more for delivery. “I was oblivious to this,” says Sam, whose son ordered the item on a Saturday before it was next-day-delivered on the Sunday.
“Ooh it’s my toy!” she says he said. When she checked her phone she realised Joe had not only ordered the mask with 1-Click, but had filled her basket with £500-worth of items. “It was dressing up things, like children’s chain mail… he’s only just learnt to read, so he must’ve clicked on something and all these things had come up.”
Sam found it funny, and let Joe keep his Batman toy. Like the other parents I speak to, she doesn’t blame Amazon, as most are now aware of the parental controls offered by online services. As voice recognition tools like Alexa and Google Home become more common, tech companies may face the blame for accidental orders – but for now, these stories have relatively happy endings.
Bella’s 12 Maui Magical Fish Hooks have now been returned.