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This is a thread about the dark side of @Shopify, which began destroying our family bookstore and stealing money from our customers one day after our first independently published work, The Deadwood Bible -- a book 3 years in the making -- arrived from the printer. 1/
157 replies and sub-replies as of Jul 10 2022

The Deadwood Bible was funded through Kickstarter in 2019. With heroic assistance from 12 people, I finished it despite the deaths of my wife, my father and my mother and the impact of the pandemic, which raised production costs until we had to take a loss to finish it. 2/
The Bibles arrived June 15, a blessed day. Then, on June 16, @Shopify froze us. It continued to take money from customers but refused to deposit it in our company account, for reasons that to this day they have never explained. 3/
Despite this blow, my partner, sons, and friends have continued to work to fulfill the original Kickstarter orders and the pre-orders we took through our store, which has been hosted by @Shopify. And we are migrating to a new site, We will persevere! 4/
The Arts Bookstore of the InternetFormerly UNDER CONSTRUCTION)“Outside of a Dog a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.” ~Groucho Marx
I hope this thread will illuminate the predatory behavior of @Shopify, which has tormented and robbed many small businesses while hiding behind Terms of Service and refusing to explain their destructive and often bizarre actions. 5/…
First, @Shopify froze our payments account, which depleted our company funds and made us have to dip into personal money to pay for postage and supplies to fulfill existing orders. We continued filling store orders until a week ago. 6/
Next, @Shopify customer service made like a petty bureaucrat in a Kafka story, telling us that "financial services" had frozen our account but refusing to connect us with anyone in that department or allow us to speak to a supervisor. 7/
Several email exchanges later, a banner appeared on our admin page stating that we needed to produce a reseller's certificate to prove we had the legal right to sell "trademarked" or "branded" material. We don't carry any of that. We are a bookstore. 8/
This notification included a link to the "Star Wars" section of our store & stated we had to produce bills of sale for all 50 titles in the section or else delete the section, plus all admin inventory entries. We did both things, to demonstrate compliance with @Shopify. But: 9/
We were never clear on whether @Shopify considered the "Star Wars" section to be infringement, or if they were offering it as a hypothetical. We asked for clarification on this point. They didn't give us any. Regardless, Shopify was legally in the wrong here because: 10/
The First Sale Doctrine guarantees the right to sell, lend, or gift copyrighted material that's been purchased once. Basically @Shopify wanted us to produce a (nonexistent) license to sell books while claiming the demand was about branded products. 11/…
At the same time, @Shopify began frivolously demanding we produce documents and authorizations to sell nonexistent branded goods. I had to submit our vendor's license from the state of Ohio to them *twice*. I also had to submit my driver's license to prove I owned the store. 12/
At no point in this tortuous, demoralizing, nonsensical "process" did @Shopify respond to our repeated requests to tell us what books in our inventory were allegedly "branded" material or what we did that might have triggered their bullying onslaught. 13/
As of this writing, @Shopify has collected about $7000 from our customers without depositing it into our company account. Any small business owner will tell you that the regular churn of commerce is what keeps the lights on, pays for postage and supplies and gas, etc. 14/
We're in a tough spot now because of the platform's behavior. If we continue to process orders, we are paying but not earning. We have applied for a loan to replace the money @Shopify stole from us. 15/
I am confident that we will recover the stolen money after we migrate all 900+ of our titles to our new site, and I am optimistic that the loan will come through to help recover fulfillment/shipping momentum that slowed because of @Shopify. However: 16/
If you are an entrepreneur of any kind and you are considering using @Shopify, don't do it. Even if they seem like good partners at first, at some point they will turn on you, strangle you, steal from you, and get away with it. Go with anyone else! 17/
I've heard theories from publishing veterans about why @Shopify is acting like mobsters busting out restaurants to make their monthly nut. One is the lawsuit against them by textbook publishers, which has made them overcautious about booksellers: 18/
Shopify sued by publishers alleging copyright violations
Five major textbook publishers band together in a lawsuit accusing e-commerce hub Shopify of enabling digital piracy.
Another theory for @Shopify's petty gangster behavior is their shaky financial state. Their stock price has tumbled, they've radically restructured and laid people off, and they're terrified of getting WeWorked. 19/
Shopify Stock Sinks After Earnings. Covid Gave, Now It Takes Away.
The company also announces plans to acquire fulfillment technology provider Deliverr for about $2.1 billion.
At first we thought that some chaos agent made a false report of infringement over our Deadwood products. That might be possible (who can say?). But all of our Deadwood items are critical, journalistic, or transformative & HBO legal told me they're fine with them existing. /20
David Milch's family and HBO itself encouraged and helped facilitate production of all of our Deadwood material, arranging interviews, providing research material and personal photos, and otherwise cheering @MZSPress on. So I don't think Deadwood is the problem. /21
One persuasive theory is that @Shopify getting its ass kicked legally over platforming unauthorized digital downloads of textbooks made their bots flag MacMillan, Pearson and other publishers (which we carry). But again, @Shopify won't clarify anything to us. /22
I close by encouraging @Shopify store owners, past and present, to share their own horror stories here, and spread the word about these bullying thieves who call themselves a commerce platform. /23
Update: we refunded every dime collected by the store after @Shopify froze our account. 12 hours after this tweet thread was posted, they lifted the hold. However, the financial damage has already been done. We are leaving the platform. 1/2
If you are a @Shopify merchant, tag me on any thread where you describe problems you’ve had with the platform, so that I can amplify and try to make them address the problem. 2/2
I’m gonna have an update for you later today on my continuing communications with @Shopify. They are now asking for purchase receipts to sell Star Wars books on their platform. This is both illegal and nonsensical.
When you refund people's money on @Shopify, they still take their transaction fee and %. We just did a refund (out of the funds Shopify was holding hostage from us) & found they still took their percentage and transaction fee. For a canceled and refunded order. NEVER USE SHOPIFY.
continues to be awful. More details after I speak to a couple of experts. Never use @Shopify!!!!
I pity @ShopifySupport, as it's clear that the company doesn't keep them abreast of their chaotic, self-contradicting, and bullying financial/legal practices, letting them be surprised by fallout. I don't think they know a tenth of the shadiness directed at merchants.
So far we've dealt with customer support, legal, and now accounting, and in every case, threats and specious assertions were made (all subsequently withdrawn by @Shopify) and they made it clear that they would shut us down unless we meekly obeyed them. This company is rotten.
UPDATE 7/8/2022. @ShopifySupport @Shopify Weeks ago, Shopify threatened to shut down our bookstore unless we provided documentation proving we'd bought unspecified books that once were in our "Star Wars" section (which we preemptively deleted a week earlier to satisfy Shopify).
As detailed higher up in this thread, neither Shopify nor anyone has a legal right to demand documentation in order to sell, resell, give away, or otherwise dispose of published material, according to the First Sale Doctrine. Big thanks to Twitter mutuals for hipping me to this.
After being publicly embarrassed into unfreezing the thousands of dollars they were holding without explanation or legal justification, Shopify sent us an email saying the account was unfrozen.
Shopify also claimed "the hold was placed by our banking partners as part of their standard review of supportability on Shopify Payments" but never said which "partner" did the review. (That they expect merchants to give financial records to unnamed third parties is also fishy.)
But they wanted us to jump through 2 more hoops: state that our attestation of the right to sell trademarked or branded goods was accurate (we submitted one of those years ago, even though we have never sold "trademarked or branded good") and sales records for Star Wars books.
I responded with an email restating that the First Sale Doctrine makes such a request both nonsensical and illegal, and asked a few more questions.
I warned that "I will screenshot all of this thread, including your responses and share them with my followers [who followed] every detail of what Shopify has done to strangle our family-owned bookstore, and...include experts in trademark, complex litigation, and copyright."
"I will be contacting the legal departments of LucasFilm and the Walt Disney Corporation to confirm that they consider their licensed books, produced by legal arrangements with book publishers, to be "branded goods" that they can control after they've been sold to retailers."
"I have never heard of such a thing, and I have spent over a decade publishing books that involve intellectual property rights management issues."
"Many of my books are published by Abrams Books, which for many years has been an authorized producer of Star Wars books, including companions to the recent trilogy and various Disney channel shows. So it will be very easy for me to check any assertions you make."
"Who is this "financial partner" that has allegedly made a complaint or stated a concern about the Star Wars books we used to sell? I have a right to know who you are asking me to turn my confidential financial records over to."
"Are you accusing me of selling stolen books? Yes or no. If you are not accusing me of selling stolen books, from what legal statute or authority are you asking for purchase receipts for Star Wars books?"
"If you are invoking a legal authority over the selling of books in the United States, why are you applying it to Star Wars books and not to any other sort of book?"
There was more from me in this vein. See attached.
We subsequently got a reply from @Shopify (June 30) that again failed to provide specifics/answers of any meaningful sort, but appeared to back off, and included the language "no further information is required from Shopify or our partners at this time." {see attached]
We thought we were out of the woods and concentrated (or I should say "were allowed to return to") satisfying Kickstarter and Shopify patrons who were awaiting their copies of The Deadwood Bible, and at the same time migrating to, a new platform on @ecwid.
The Arts Bookstore of the InternetFormerly UNDER CONSTRUCTION)“Outside of a Dog a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.” ~Groucho Marx
Yesterday there was a new threatening email from @Shopify. This was about chargebacks we'd issued against Shopify for charging $5888 in two transactions from our checking account without any explanation beyond "invoices." Our own bank flagged the transactions.
The threatening June 7 letter, from somebody named "Wade" in the "risk assessment" department, flat out warned us that if we did not reverse the two chargebacks against Shopify and give written proof of the withdrawal, they'd shut down our admin June 9 at 9 am ET.
We responded with a long letter to Shopify risk assessment and support ("Wade" didn't give a dedicated email we could reply to). I am reprinting it line-by-line here, because I think it lays out the full scope of this company's practices.
"Dear Shopify Legal and Shopify Risk Assessment: You first withheld customer payments from us without telling us why. Then you said it was part of a "standard review." Then you changed your story and said it was due to a "trademark" or "brand infringement" concern."
"Then you said you required a reseller's certificate from us (twice) and asked me for a driver's license to prove my identity as the owner of the store. "
"You returned to the "trademark" and "brand" issue a second time, all the while continuing to hold our customers' funds. You threatened to shut us down three times with just 48 hours notice (shutdown dates were June 25, June 27 and June 29, as detailed in admin banners)."
"The third shutdown threat demanded records to prove that we had purchased the books we were selling, never saying which books you were concerned about."
This left us in the impossible position of having to collate nearly three years of purchase orders and give them to unknown and unspecified entities ("a financial partner" was all you'd tell us) in a 48 hour time window."
"All of this was not only unnecessary but illegal as covered by the First Sale Doctrine."
"At no point in this process were we ever given details to explain what had precipitated our treatment by Shopify, other than to blame an unnamed "financial partner.""
"The store is three years old and nothing like that has ever happened to us before. That fact alone would seem to require further explanation by Shopify."
"But we have never been given an explanation as to why Shopify would freeze funds that our customers paid for books while at the same time expecting us to continue satisfying existing orders by paying for postage, shipping, and labor."
"As you well know, this is financially unsustainable and devastating to a merchant, as it leaves us with only three options: 1/2
"...deplete whatever funds we have and/or go into debt; refund all the money from unfulfilled orders; or incur the wrath of customers who cannot receive their goods because of Shopify's unexplained and ultimately punitive actions against the store. 2/2"
"You hold someone's funds if you believe they've done something wrong. If you believe they've done something wrong, you owe it to them to tell them what they are being accused of."
"This is standard practice. It is also a matter of professionalism. And simple decency." "
"Throughout our ordeal, Shopify customer service was no help in clarifying anything, and refused to let us speak to a supervisor or connect us with financial services. "
"We had so little information to work with that we didn't even know if the "financial partner" that was supposedly concerned about "trademark" or "brand" issues was our own bank. So we spoke to our own bank."
"In researching the issue, our bank found multiple suspicious charges by Shopify that they brought to our attention as "suspicious activity" by Shopify."
"Since we had not been permitted to speak with anyone at Shopify about financials, Shopify left us no choice but to dispute the two largest charges, both occurring April 25."
"Ladies and gentlemen, we do not understand how Shopify could take $5888 from our checking account in two transactions on the same day and not explain it beyond a single word: 'Invoices.'"
"That's why we did the chargebacks. If you were in our position running a small business, you'd do the same. Shopify's business practices left us no other choice. "
"Now we are once again being threatened with shutdown. This time it's our administrative side that's slated for closure. And it's because of the two chargebacks."
"In an email from risk assessment (from "Wade") sent yesterday, July 7 [SEE ATTACHED], we were told that if we didn't reverse the chargebacks ... for suspicious charges totaling $5888, and provide written proof of the reversal, our admin would be shut down at 9 am July 9."
"This was yet another instance of Shopify threatening us with shutdown within 48 hours. This impedes us from fulfilling our obligation to our customers without even explaining to us what the $5888 in charges were for."
"It reads and feels as if you are intimidating our business over the two chargebacks."
"In our experience, it appears that Shopify is in the habit of taking money from the merchant without providing necessary information as to why the funds were frozen or taken; vaguely implying that the merchant has done something to trigger the withholding or taking; and 1/2
"...threatening the shutdown of the store and/or its administrative capabilities unless Shopify's demands are met within 48 hours." 2/2
"This appears to be a codified practice at Shopify, across departments and divisions. Certain patterns recur, including the denial of escalation or transparency and the 48 hour time window."
"It has already happened to us three times. And now it is happening again. But this time, the instigator is yet another department of Shopify."
"Our store's experience with Shopify has been called to the attention of the public in a Twitter thread that currently has over one million views, and I am screenshotting every new email by Shopify and every response from my store and adding it to the thread."
"Your company now appears to be trying to bully us into reversing chargebacks on unexplained Shopify withdrawals from our checking account -- withdrawals that our own bank flagged as suspicious activity. This is unacceptable and unconscionable. Matt"
One typo: the letter from Shopify demanding we reverse our charge backs was July 7, not June 7.
Holy shit, just catching up with this thread. Absolute madness. So sorry you’re having to deal with this, Matt.
Bloody heck. Hope they really stop with the harassment and just refund you what they owe you
I’ve been thinking about migrating my online shop to @Shopify but after reading this thread I absolutely will NOT
squeeze their grapefruits until they pop, matt. this is fuckin beyond shady.
Jesus what a gross company
I am developer, I was thinking about using @Shopify @ShopifyPartners @ShopifyEng API for a store I am gonna build for a friend with literally millions of followers. But guess I will not, disgusting.
I look forward to reading your eulogy for this company.
They took five grand out of your checking account for no apparent reason (‘Invoices’) & are threatening you with closure if you don’t let them keep it?
So, basically if Shopify was a flesh-and-blood employees you'd not only fire it on the spot, but immediately call the cops, a locksmith and a forensic accountant to do an emergency audit?
I own a small sneaker store and as of 12 days ago Shopify is holding close to $30,000 my partners and I are trying to figure out the best way to go about it currently.
Give ’em hell, Matt. ✊🏻
Heard you on the Ticket the other morning...James Caan and returning back to Dallas...nice.
I was stunned when I got your email detailing their actions. Are other shops having similar issues? Maybe there’s a class action to be had. Best wishes for a complete and satisfactory resolution of this bullshit.
is a good chap. Not sure if legal will allow him to comment but he can probably do a root cause analysis and make sure the payments go through to someone they can verify.
I know you've had an ordeal with this so I am not complaining. But I was just curious, if I pledged and backed the book in July 2019, should I already have a copy? If so, I am worried something might have been off with my information, as I know some have already been delivered.
No, we are in the process of fulfilling all Shopify orders. It’s gonna take a while because we are having to address all of the envelopes independently of the Shopify postage system. There are also cash flow issues – we can’t do 1000 packages at once, it would be the end of us.
No worries. Just wanted to make sure I should not have already gotten mine. Sorry you are having to deal with all of the nonsense.
We appreciate your patience and loyalty during this complicated time!
Hang in there. “Pain, or damage, don’t end the world. Or despair. Or fuckin’ beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man. And give some back.”
If I pre-ordered the Walter Hill book a few months ago, do I have to change anything?
Ordered! Can’t wait to see it.
Are the hardcovers on the new site signed? Or was that for kickstarter?
All the hard covers are signed
If we placed an order on the old store (several months ago) for the hardcover Deadwood Bible and we haven’t received any notification of shipping, will this come from the new or old store if it still gets fulfilled? Sorry to have read the thread re:Shopify.
Actually, I just checked the original email (out of curiosity since I didn’t receive an email notification) and it shows a label has been created and will ship soon. Please disregard.
If I preordered the Deadwood Bible via Shopify a while back, but still haven’t received word about shipping or anything, should I cancel and reorder via the MZS store or just be patient? I’m fine either way, just want to be sure.
Hey Matt, just FYI: the initial shipping estimate defaults to the most expensive option, which could easily scare (intl.) customers away. Almost closed the tab based on my country estimate (pic 1)—luckily I stuck around to fill out the form and get to the next page (pic 2).
Unfortunately we didn’t design the platform! — I’m glad there are options and that you were able to choose one that worked for you. We appreciate your support.
Wow... what a horrible story. Glad you've found another platform and are online now! Honestly, there's a trend for similar cases, unfortunately. It's not only about Shopify, it's about any big online platform, be it Facebook, Amazon, Shopify, or even Twitter. Unfortunately.
paypal repeatedly faced class action lawsuits over their freezing accounts with no explanation.
Wow what a tale!
I take it there never was an answer to why this happened from them?
Matt, what you went through is just awful, especially after the devastating past 2-3 years -- and then all the love, work, and care that went into your DEADWOOD BIBLE! It just feels extra-cruel that you had to go through THIS stuff, too. Hang in there and thanks for the warning.
And PS -- thank you for continuing to fulfill DEADWOOD BIBLE. I can't tell you how excited I was when I got notified that it was being shipped. I'm just sorry it literally cost you so much to do so. I'm definitely going to treasure it. I can't wait to finally read it!
What a nightmare. I'm so sorry! My in-laws own a bookstore, and they use a pretty dated-looking but very reliable online portal thing. I will make sure to pass on how terrible Shopify is!
Is there any chance the Ohio State Attorney General is decent? Mine probably would be open to an investigation, but he's very liberal.
I somehow doubt an official in Ohio is going to go after anyone breaking the law
Wow! Etsy is garbage, but at least they refund me the fees when I cancel and refund an order.
I'm so sorry Matt
Is there anything you can do from a legal sense? Anything a lawyer might have said or you’ve consulted with? This seems outrageous.
Maybe @doctorow knows something about this part of the law. Does a retail platform or their “financial partner” have the legal right to demand purchase receipts in order to sell books about Star Wars?
With a problem happening just to one person here like this that happens to have a platform the way MZS does, imagine how often this occurs with those who don’t have the same. What’s the potential that this could be a big lawsuit waiting in the wings?
Can we DM about my pre-order from mid-April when you have time? Shopify wants me to install the app to track and I'm not going to open a claim or request a refund through them or the store.
Damn. I have had the opposite experience shopify. They bent over backwards with real actionable help at the outset of covid to help keep my small (one person) business afloat. People have no idea how hard this is until they are doing it themselves without backers. Ugh.
Hi Matt, I can’t DM you but my store is facing the same issue currently with over $20000 being held up. Were you able to get this resolved??
If this ever happens to anyone else, just remember you can file a lawsuit for $8k - $20k in small claims court without a lawyer in <2 days. If Shopify doesn't show up to court you win by default and get to literally take money from their corp. bank account
SO everyone knows...we refunded the last of our customers on the 29th WHICH EMPTIED THE ACCOUNT & THEN THEY UNFROZE IT! @Shopify still hasn't released the funds not until July 1st and they still kept roughly 4% and 30 cents for every transaction. They STILL got $$ FOR NADA
This is worrying. I just started a store on Shopify and am in the middle building it out. Maybe I need to make other choices. What new platform are you using?
Hi Matt. I hope this isn’t a repeated question: I bought the paperback version of the book some days ago. Is it better for you to cancel my order and make a new one once you sort this situation? or is it better to wait? Best
We're so sorry you and your family had to go through this, Matt. We'd like to help you get back online with 3 free months of StoreBuilder. We'll DM you.
We've got it covered at the moment, but if the situation changes, we will be in touch!
Sorry, Matt, for what sounds like far beyond mere incompetency and bureaucracy run amok, but something closer to avarice and meanness on a grand scale.
Thanks for this. Also own a small independent book store and was considering them in future, but will steer clear now. Appreciate the linked alternative :)
Don't get involve with @Shopify. We are still discovering new layers of their shadiness.
I'm sorry you had to deal with all of that, Matt. Some businesses don't care who they hurt. I'll keep your warnings about the company in mind.
The use of “dark” as a synonym for “bad” is a microaggression that results in macro-oppression. The constant devaluing of darkness is flawed because the visual spectrum does not confer morality. #ChangeLanguageChangeMinds
Thank you for the warning. I was looking at places to stay selling art but it seems like @Shopify is a horrible platform
Web3 should fix this
Hi Matt & anyone else reading this. Awhile back I compiled a list of resources on who to contact to report if you've been ripped off or scammed by a company. My first contact is usually to the @bbb_us. "How to Report a Fraudulent Businesses":
What a rollercoaster of shit and let us all hope @Shopify returns your money soon as possible. Also, another reason to stick to WordPress + WooCommerce since you own everything you create with WordPress.