Alibris Returns Returns To Their Sellers (And Opens Up Direct Contact)

- by Michael Stillman



We asked specifically what would happen if a potential customer attempts to negotiate price with a dealer. What if a customer demands a discount, and the seller is willing to make such an accommodation to close the sale? Wouldn't a seller be forced to conduct the transaction outside of Alibris even if he or she did not wish to deprive Alibris of its commission? Mr. Kohn said, "this is likely not to happen often" (we are not quite so sure), but if it does, the dealer can go to the Seller Hub and change the price. That change will appear on the site generally within an hour, and then the buyer can proceed with the purchase. This is one answer that left us a bit uneasy, as one of the cardinal rules of retail is to close the sale now before the purchaser has a chance to reconsider. Our guess is that even sellers who do not wish to deprive Alibris of its commission will have a hard time swallowing this approach. Our experience is the higher the price of the book, the more likely the buyer is to negotiate, and Alibris either needs a better answer to this issue or must accept a loss of some commissions even from the most scrupulously honest of booksellers.

Here is our take on the changes, and it all goes back to A.J.'s earlier comment, "sellers have requested this for many years." Many booksellers have been saying that they never requested a change, and that is probably true. The majority generally is a silent majority. Nonetheless, the most commonly heard complaint about the websites is that they control the booksellers' business too much. The dominant call has long been for the listing sites to match buyer and seller, and then, for the most part, stay out of the dealer's business. Perhaps this is a case of getting what you wish for, but Alibris has reduced its participation in sales transactions, and left more in the hands of the sellers. The sellers can now provide improved descriptions, better packing, more courteous service, whatever it takes to reduce returns, and, naturally, improve repeat sales. Sellers have been calling for more responsibilities, and many of them have welcomed this change. Dealers who want to keep their business simpler may not like it. However, every change that increases seller participation is an opportunity for the best to raise their performance above that of the average bookseller. This is a positive for the customer, and ultimately, positives for the customer are good for the business overall.