Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't get ripped off on Amazon

Amazon has lots of "shops" which are individuals who sell books through Amazon. And some of these shops are not particularly scrupulous.

Many of them promise the lowest price on Amazon for a "new" book but what they sell you is a used book in good condition. That isn't quite the same thing. A new book generally would mean a book which the dealer has bought directly from the publisher or a wholesale distributor. It is not a used book in good condition.

I noticed recently two dealers offering "new" books which clearly are not new. One was for a title which we publish. They made sure they dropped their price 1 cent below our normal list price to offer it. Now this may well be a used book in very good condition but it is not a new book which they are offering. I can say this because I know they did not buy the book from us and we are the publisher. We wholesale directly to bookstores but not to wholesalers for that title. This dealer didn't buy from us and couldn't have bought it from a wholesale outlet. That means they either bought the book from a customer or from another bookstore. In either case it was a used book when they bought it.

Another dealer which I noticed was offering a title that we sell, but don't publish. They, of course, offered a "lower" price for this "new" book. The problem was that they were a Goodwill store. Goodwill doesn't buy new products. People donate items they owned to Goodwill. It is a charity I've supported with donations. But a donated book is a used book. Again it might be in good condition but it is not a new book.

One way that some dealers compete is by over-rating the quality of the books they are offering. They purchase a used book from someone for $2. A used book in good condition might sell for $8, but by calling it "new" they can sell it for $12 or more, as an example. They purchase the item paying for it as if the book is "used" but then retail it as if the book is "new".

Also keep your priorities straight. The price difference of a few pennies -- sometimes much less -- can be deceptive. Consider the customer ratings that we have. Our current rating, for the last 30 days is 100% from customers. For the lifetime of LFB at Amazon that rating is 99%. For most of the year, since ISIL took over. our rating has been 100%. One outlet that had undercut us by one cent had a rating of 88%. (To see our current rating click on the image above.)

Now 88% on a test looks good. But consider what it means for a customer. If you are not fully satisfied 12% of the time that means that one out of every eight customers, who left a rating, was less than completely happy with the service they received. Does saving one cent on the book cover the downside of increasing the risk that you will be unhappy with your purchase?

Before you buy check out the rating. But in fairness you should also look at the comments and replies from the dealer. Not every complaint is what I consider legitimate. We got a huge number of orders before Christmas, many of which were literally placed just a couple of days before. Yet we had individuals demanding their money back because the order did not arrive in time for Christmas. There was no possibility the orders would arrive that quickly since they waited to the last minute to purchase it. The most bizarre complaint came from a woman who placed an order on December 31st. She then wrote us on January 2nd demanding to know why her book had not yet arrived. Of course, the post office was closed on the 1st. But even if it wasn't it, there was no way the book would travel across the country and be delivered in 24 hours unless she paid for overnight delivery.

None of these complainers ordered expedited service. They all purchased the slowest delivery method possible because it was the cheapest and then were unhappy that they didn't get a delivery method which they didn't pay for.

Reading the complaints is important. The worst rating we received was from a libertarian who ordered a book from us. He then wrote us, before the due date for delivery saying he had not received it. We suggested he wait until the delivery date arrived and told him that if the book was still missing he should email us and we would replace it. He never emailed us so we naturally assumed the book was delivered. That is what normally happens, a customer jumps the gun on when they expect the book and waiting for a day or two usually clears up the problem.

Instead of telling us the book still had not arrived he went another month and then wrote us angry email because the item still had not arrived. Remember we had offered to replace it for him and just asked him to wait a few days -- not a few weeks. At that point he didn't give us the opportunity to replace the book as we promised to do. He is free to do that, of course. But he then gave us a very low rating, the worst rating ever in fact. Yet his book had been shipped and we had offered a second replacement copy when it was lost in the mail. Reading the comments of the rating section would make that clear.

One of the strangest ratings we received, which was clear if you read the comments, came from someone who received the book they ordered and received it very quickly. He also saw a list of what other books we sell. He down rated us, not because of the service he received, but because he decided he didn't like one of the other titles we sold. He was a leftist, as he made clear in an email to me, and rated us low simply because we are libertarian. I should note he eventually changed his rating realizing he was being unfair.

So, not all low ratings are the fault of the dealer. You really do need to look at the ratings but you also have to go through the negative ratings to determine why someone rated them lowly.

One last caveat is not to be fooled simply because a dealer has a 100% rating either. It is a good rating but you have to see how many customers rated them. There are plenty of dealers that have 100% but were rated by one or two individuals only. This is hardly a representative sampling. The larger the number of ratings the more likely it is that they say something. We are small potatoes compared to some but we have 1187 ratings. So when our current rating is 100% that means something. Currently we are getting about one new rating per day.

And the dealer I mentioned with the 88% rating had several thousand customers rate them. That one in eight of them was less than happy is a real warning flag as far as I'm concerned. I've had enough experience with customers to realize that perhaps one to two percent of them are just unreasonable. But to have 12% of them less than fully satisfied is a problem.

Buying on Amazon has its problems. Often your best bet is to contact a dealer directly to purchase an item. Amazon restricts the options that dealers have and the public often doesn't know this. Amazon also makes customer service very difficult as the dealer is forbidden to contact the customer directly -- in fact Amazon hides the email from the dealer. So all emails must go through Amazon. That practice means that some emails just never get read, often to the detriment of the customer, the dealer, and sometimes to the detriment of both of them. Amazon doesn't worry about this lack of communication because the dealer will often get the blame.

Also remember that Amazon sets the postage rates, not the individual shops. One of our problems has been that Amazon often charges people far more postage than is necessary. This is especially true for Canadian orders, or for anyone ordering more than one book. Amazon will charge you a flat rate of $3.99 per title. Yet typically adding a second book to an order may cost between 35¢ and 70¢ in additional postage.

Contacting the book dealer directly allows you to find out whether a book is in stock. Often Amazon blocks a dealer from listing books. This gives the impression they don't have the book when they do have it. At any one time we are blocked from listing numerous new titles. The net result is that a customer going to Amazon will see the Amazon list price and pay that instead of the lower price we offer. We can't tell the customer the book is in stock because Amazon has blocked us from adding it. Normally these blocks exist for several weeks before they are lifted, precisely the period when many people are most likely to make their purchase.

It is always to your benefit to work with the dealer directly. Amazon certainly offers a service that makes it easy to order. But it also works intentionally to block communication between you and the dealer. And that often means that if there is a problem you don't know about it or the dealer doesn't know about it. Going straight to the dealer, when you can, means better service. We welcome customers calling us directly with their queries or orders and promise they will speak to one of our staff, not to someone at a switchboard in India (we don't oppose outsourcing but it is not a great way to get customer service). You can call us at 866 686 7210 and we will do our best to help -- always.

2 comments:

Michael said...

I recently ordered some books thru Amazon. Had no problems, by and large.

Then I decided to make a larger purchase, this time trying to fill out a series of books. I want to save myself money, so I looked for who had the best price, found one seller who had a large number of these books and at a great price.

Then I ran into the $3.99 postage per book issue. Added that much postage for EACH book made the order a looser (ie, I'm not saving any money). No option of contacting the seller, no option of a small additional amount for additional books from the same seller (like on Alibris, eBay, etc).

So the seller lost out because of Amazon's policies.

I will probably use it for one-off purchases for single items I can't find elsewhere, so long as its the lowest option, but that's it.

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