Anatomy of a Transaction Gone Bad
By Renée Magriel Roberts
I'm sure you have all had them ... transactions whose downside far outweighs whatever profit might be gained. I've seen many a discussion of book rip-offs -- these surely qualify as poor transactions. We've received books that were not as described or poorly packed for their journey from other booksellers, including just recently a book that had a big bunch of pages amateurishly laid in, and a pamphlet lacking its last page. But, generally speaking, these events are fewer than they used to be.
We go out of our way to buy from dealers we can trust. We examine listings and books received much more closely. We insure all our packages going out, coming in, and even transported by and to third parties, domestic and foreign. All in all we try to decrease our risk and when something bad happens to us, we deal with it if we can and don't get overly excited about it.
We email customers when an order goes out and give them realistic arrival expectations. When possible we also include any other information related to their package which they will need to know.
But, even with all these precautions, over the holidays, a transaction went bad. It went bad and it cost us plenty. And so this is something of a cautionary tale.
Like many other booksellers we are using not only the U.S. post office, but courier services for domestic and foreign delivery. At Christmas, we received many orders for the books we publish from overseas, including some from England. For these, with certain weight classes, we use Pitney Bowes.
Pitney Bowes pays for delivery via UPS from our shop to their New Jersey distribution center. This leg of the journey is tracked with a UPS number. From there, our packages are divided up by destination country and then flown overseas via major carriers (like Royal Mail) where they are placed in the local foreign mail stream. Priority packages take around 10 business days to arrive; standard packages take 5 days longer.
We almost always use priority services because of the time sensitivity of customers to lengthy waits. It only costs $1 per lb. more and is well worth the added price in customer satisfaction. We've found that especially over the holidays, it is extremely important to get material out right away.
So, on one day in mid-December, we get three orders, all from the U.K. for two customers and a bookseller. Let's call them "Mr. Smith", "Ms. Jones", and "Viper Books", for argument's sake. We have never sold to any of these people before and these are relatively inexpensive books, the costliest being $65.