Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2009 Issue

Anatomy of a Transaction Gone Bad


Like any other day, we pick the books, pack them carefully, address the packages, and drop off the box at UPS. UPS dutifully delivers our box, with the three packages, in two days.

We start to hear from our customers in about a week. Mr. Smith and Viper have not received their books. Since it is too early to expect delivery we send our regular "please be patient" letter to both, reiterating the time it takes for delivery and cautioning that especially with the holiday rush, the mail may take even more time than usual.

A few days later we hear from Ms. Jones, who has also not received her book. She is particularly anxious because, as you might suppose, it is supposed to be a Christmas gift for her husband. I try to provide what cold comfort I can, but she must be out of town, because once I hear from her, I can't raise her again via email. Once a book is put into the mail it is impossible to track, unless it has been sent by very expensive courier service to begin with. In our experience very, very few books are actually lost and even those sent to rural South Africa have eventually found their way to their owners.

However, having three customers complain who were all sent books in the same box to the same country alarmed me. So I got on the phone with Pitney Bowes.

As I expected they track our package with the three orders into and out of their distribution facility, but from there only an act of God can figure out where they are or when they will arrive.

In the meantime, I check our account on Amazon.uk and discover that these three customers have already posted negative or neutral feedback. Ms. Jones says her book has not arrived, Mr. Smith's note is sweet, but neutral, and Viper, who has received his book says that it arrived late. In one day, our feedback rating on this site has gone down from 100% to 77% because of the skewed method Amazon uses to compute ratings and because most of our other happy customers have not posted feedback recently.

We have to act quickly and we do. First I send letters of apology to all and finally I hear back from Ms. Jones. I offer to fully refund her purchase and send her a signed book priority mail to replace the one that has not yet arrived (even though I am quite certain it has not been lost), which she graciously agrees to. She removes her feedback, which gets us up a few notches, but not before Amazon.uk semi-closes our account because we have fallen below their feedback satisfaction levels.

By the time they contact me, I have already been in touch with Pitney Bowes, and they have drafted a detailed letter, with the names of the three customers, a statement saying when I shipped each book and when they received it; and when they dispatched the books from their warehouse to the air carrier. While they cannot track the packages beyond that, an officer in the company says quite plainly that any delay is their fault and not mine, that the packages should have arrived before Christmas, but were probably delayed because of the volume of mail, and that they take full responsibility for any problems.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Il Ponte, Feb. 27-28: KUPKA, Frantisek (1871-1957) - Quatre histoires de blanc et noir. Paris: Marcel Baque, 1926. €5.000-€8.000
    Il Ponte, Feb. 27-28: VASI, Giuseppe Agostino (1710-1782) - Raccolta delle più belle vedute antiche, e moderne di Roma disegnate ed incise secondo lo stato presente. Rome: A. Vasi, 1786. €4.000-€6.000
    Il Ponte, Feb. 27-28: SALAMANCA, Antonio (1478-1562) - [First map depicting the bay of Naples]. [Rome: 1538]. €3.000-€5.000
  • Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: A JAMES MADISON THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: A JAMES MONROE PRESIDENTIAL SERVICE SOUP BOWL. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: A FRANKLIN PIERCE BRUSHED SILK TOP HAT. $10,000 - $15,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: LINCOLN ENDORSEMENT: "I AM ALWAYS FOR THE MAN WHO WISHES TO WORK." $15,000 - $20,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: A RUTHERFORD B. HAYES CIVIL WAR-ERA TRAVEL DESK. $4,000 - $6,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT'S FINAL PRESIDENTIAL AUTOMOBILE FLAG. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: GARFIELD LS AS PRESIDENT ALLUDING TO THE "STAR-ROUTE" SCANDAL: "REGRETTING THE EMBARRASSMENTS WHICH THE EVENT HAS CAUSED US BOTH." $25,000 - $35,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: AN 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL WILLIAM MCKINLEY INAGURATION POCKETWATCH. $15,000 - $20,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: A JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL MOTORCADE FLAG. $80,000 - $120,000
    Bonhams, Ending Feb. 21: PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S LAST DAY: OFFICIAL SCHEDULE ANNOTATED BY SPECIAL ASSISTANT DAVE POWERS WITH A MINUTE-BY-MINUTE DETAIL OF THE DAY'S ACTIONS. $40,000 - $60,000
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions