Alibris To Open UK Site (and Resolve a Longstanding Shipping Problem)
By Michael Stillman
Alibris has announced that it will be opening a UK site in November, to serve the British and European markets. In the past, there has only been one site, with all orders passing through it. With the establishment of the UK site, it will resolve some of the pricing anomalies that have made it difficult for British and European booksellers to sell competitively in their own markets.
Currently, UK and European sellers ship their orders to Alibris' warehouse in Sparks, Nevada. While a reasonable enough procedure for American orders, it is monumentally inefficient for a UK dealer selling to a customer down the street. The British customer must not only wait for the book to make it back and forth across the Atlantic and most of the American continent, but pay for all of that unnecessary shipping. Ironically, the British bookseller's books were more expensive, even in Britain, than his American counterpart, since the American only had to cover the cost of shipping once across the Atlantic, while the British paid to needlessly ship over and back. Building in these costs naturally made Alibris less than fully competitive for European sellers in their own markets.
So how do you resolve this? Step one, obviously, is to allow British and European sellers to ship directly to customers in their own market. Now a book shipped from a London seller to a London buyer two miles away need travel only two miles, instead of over 10,000.
Step two is a bit trickier. How do you reflect this reduction in costs? You cannot simply reduce the London dealer's prices, because most of Alibris' customers are in the U.S., and an upcharge is needed to reflect his extra shipping costs to America. You cannot account for the change by reducing the shipping charges to London, because most sellers are still in America and must pay to ship across the ocean. So even while the actual intra-European shipping costs will come down, there is no easy way to reflect this on a website where most buyers and sellers reside in America. The solution, then, was to create a site where the assumption is buyers and sellers are European, rather than American.
On the new Alibris UK, shipping charges to England/Europe will be lower, to America higher (a reversal of regular Alibris), the assumption being the seller is located in Europe. The upcharge will be added to American sellers' prices, to take into account their extra cost of shipping to Europe. This will not increase the cost of American sellers' books to European customers, the upcharge being balanced by a reduction in the listed shipping charges to European destinations. However, it will enable Europeans to reduce their prices to their home markets to reflect their lower shipping costs, making their books more competitive.