Home » Amazon » Amazon is telling third-party booksellers they must speed up delivery times by up to 40%

Amazon is telling third-party booksellers they must speed up delivery times by up to 40%

9 August 2017

From CNBC:

Those of us who were around for the early days of the internet remember when Amazon was just a bookseller, or “Earth’s biggest bookstore,” as the company fondly described itself.

Amazon has since expanded to just about every market imaginable, becoming one of Earth’s biggest companies altogether. But books — even the physical kind — remain a popular category, and Amazon is a big platform for large and independent booksellers to distribute their titles.

Starting Aug. 31, those third-party merchants have to adapt to a significant and costly change. According to an email that Amazon sent to sellers of books, CDs and DVDs, distributors to the lower 48 states will have to deliver items within a window of four to eight days, down from four to 14 days.

“We are launching new capabilities to help you set faster delivery times for your Seller fulfilled products. Customers are more likely to purchase products that have a faster estimated delivery time at checkout,” the company said in an email to sellers that was obtained by CNBC.

. . . .

The company is putting in place a number of policies that force sellers to provide the same speed and quality of service that customers have come to expect from Amazon. Last week, CNBC reported on a new measure that makes it easier for buyers to get refunds at the seller’s expense.

. . . .

An East Coast seller, who asked that we not use his name for fear of retribution from Amazon, said he’s been selling books on the site for 13 years, generating over $1 million in gross revenue, and this is the first time he’s been forced to alter his delivery time. He expects his shipping costs to increase by 25 percent to 50 percent because he will no longer be able to rely on the U.S. Postal Service for cross-country deliveries and will instead have to use a more expensive express option.

The USPS has a special rate for media items and says on its website that delivery times range from two to eight days. But sellers told CNBC that coast-to-coast shipments often take a few days longer than that. The risk to missing Amazon’s guaranteed delivery window is that a seller gets bad reviews, which means losing visibility on listings and can eventually lead to suspension.

Link to the rest at CNBC

PG says Amazon really understands the value of a customer and is not going to permit third-party sellers to disappoint that customer. Would that all retailers were committed to customer satisfaction to same degree as Amazon is.

Amazon

45 Comments to “Amazon is telling third-party booksellers they must speed up delivery times by up to 40%”

  1. But is it necessary to create a hardship on businesses?
    I think Amazon needs to stay out of other businesses’ business. the customer will vote with their ‘feet’ (take business elsewhere) if they don’t like the service/delivery time.

    To me, this just feels like squeezing the little guy.

    • Amazon is interested in having a system where consumers can be confident they will receive a given level of service.

      If a supplier isn’t performing up to Amazon’s standards, then it’s reasonable for Amazon to get rid of him. Amazon cares much more about the consumer that the seller.

      It doesn’t matter if it’s a big guy or little guy. Amazon places higher priority on the consumer.

    • I tend to agree, I don’t get why Amazon is doing this. If both parties agree on the price, if the purchaser is okay with delivery in seven to ten (or whatever) business days, I’m not sure why Amazon would or should care.

      The only caveat I’d stick in there is if the third party seller is consistently claiming expected delivery in X number of days, but actual delivery is typically taking Y number of days, with Y being a noticeably higher number. I think in that case Amazon would be right to step in. Not sure how they’d police that, however.

      • Richard Hershberger

        “I don’t get why Amazon is doing this.”

        That’s easy.

        You are viewing the business-customer relationship as being between the buyer and the third-party seller. Amazon is incidental to this, acting merely as a go-between to connect the actual principals. This makes perfect sense from the seller’s perspective. They have a product, they want customers to buy it, and they are using Amazon for their marketing.

        Things are different from the customer’s perspective. People don’t go to Amazon to locate third party sellers they want to do business with. They go to Amazon to buy stuff. Whether Amazon or someone else is the seller is irrelevant to the customer. From this perspective, there is a weird semi-random category of products that will take a lot longer to deliver than the others. Slow deliveries affect customers’ response to third-parties sellers in general if Amazon is lucky. If not, it affects customer’s response to Amazon in general.

        So from Amazon’s perspective, it is improving the experience of its customers in general. This may not be good for the dilatory third party seller, but there is no mystery about the motivation behind it.

        • Exactly.
          Bad experiences through Amazon.com are blamed on Amazon, not on “Joe’s White Van books”.
          Amazon is lending their brand to Joe…as long as Joe doesn’t undercut the brand too much.

          • Not even blamed. Just “Oh, if I want that, I’d better shop local.”

            I once needed three flip charts for an out-of-town conference. I ordered them on Amazon, even though I could buy them locally, because I’m generally very satisfied with Amazon.

            But the flip charts were three days late, arriving after I left town. I had to stop along the way and buy three more. That cost me time and money.

            It was a third-party seller, so not technically Amazon’s fault; but the next time I need flip charts, I’ll head to the local office supply store. Amazon doesn’t want that.

        • Yep. And I’ve been in this situation. Last Christmas I ordered a set of headphones with kitty ears for my daughter. In the busyness of the season, I didn’t notice that they hadn’t arrived. And while preparing my taxes and going back through my Amazon orders, I noticed that the headphones had never made an appearance. I contacted the third party seller (based in China, to probably no one’s surprise) and they informed me that the headphones had in fact, arrived at my house. I looked up the tracking information on Amazon, and there was no delivery date. Just that it was in transit. When I told the third party seller this, they offered to refund me $5.00 (I had paid over $20 for the headphones). Which infuriated me. I thought that was an awfully nice scam; they never send out the merchandise, claim that they did and offer to refund a fraction of the purchase price. And it upset me that Amazon allowed this sort of thing to take place on their site.

          So I went to Amazon and complained. And of course, within minutes they’d issued me a full refund, apologized and said they’d be speaking to the third party seller.

          And I’m glad they did, because it wasn’t about the “random seller in China,” it was about Amazon allowing that entity to behave the way that they did. And if something similar happened in the future, I would blame it on Amazon. I would hold them responsible.

          Which to me means that they are well within their rights in insisting certain performance levels from their third party vendors. As someone accustomed to Prime, it irritates me when I have to wait more than a couple of days to receive what I ordered (my husband and I were just talking the other day about how we used to order something online or from TV and it would take like six weeks to arrive). I typically refine my searches to only show me Prime items for that reason, but sometimes when hunting down something in particular (especially an old book), I have no choice but to buy from a third party seller, and it typically takes weeks for said item to arrive. Which annoys me as a customer.

          • That happened to me with a keyboard. I ordered it, the delivery date said two weeks and after I ordered they change the delivery date to two months. When I complained to them they came back and said it takes a long time to ship things from China.

            Amazon refunded me and sent me a different keyboard. Lesson? Don’t order from vendors in China.

            • I’ve ordered stuff from Hong Kong vendors and the Netherlands. The Hong Kong products typically arrive faster than other third party vendors.

              As they say, mileage will vary.
              There’s good players and bad players everywhere.

              Amazon is just looking for a better mix.
              And if the bad ones go to their competitors, so much the better. 🙂

    • what hardship?

      the shipping cost will just be passed on to the buyer.

      • It’s a price elasticity problem. If price rises 10%, will unit sales fall by more or less than 10%. In one case the seller is better off. In the other, he is less well off.

        The seller who had been delivering within Amazon’s new standards gains an incremental competitive advantage.

  2. Books I’ve ordered have taken so long that I forgot I’d ordered them. In several cases, I accidentally realized later that they never arrived.

    This is not service.

    I don’t want to do business with businesses I feel sorry for. I have plenty of people in my personal life who need my sympathy and support, and I don’t need to wonder if the mom-and-pop seller can handle my needs. That’s why I buy from Amazon, where I know price is not the only factor.

    With my leftover energy from not worrying about certain things I’ve been promised, I can choose how to spend my time.

    I might have been more sympathetic, but knowledge of the huge inefficiencies and unfairnesses in the book business have hardened my heart about other businesses. An occasional glitch is not reason to change suppliers – but a product has to be unique for me to tolerate frequent glitches. Ironically, the unique products I acquire all come from companies which value service, and get the products to me toute suite.

    • True, but will you feel the same way the next time Amazon screws authors over and those authors go whinging to their readers?

      • As an author, I am happy with the exclusive service I’ve received so far from KDP, CreateSpace, and KU.

        Now, if I could just get them to spend more of my ad money, and help me locate my tribe, I would be happier. But that’s on me, and I’m trying to learn what works for me as an indie author of mainstream novels. I think it can be done, but I haven’t figured out exactly how yet.

        I read about the problems authors have had, and I watch as the solutions happen; I hope I don’t get one of the scammer bots which seem to be plaguing some authors right now.

        And I listen to the stories about other venues.

        I’m good for now where I am, and I don’t think of Amazon as trying to ‘screw’ me. Ask me in five years.

        Meanwhile, I write.

        And, as a disabled person, get most of my purchases from Amazon. And a couple other tested suppliers online.

      • True, but will you feel the same way the next time Amazon screws authors over and those authors go whinging to their readers?

        Authors are just another supplier. Nothing special about them.

  3. Al the Great and Powerful

    This sort of chintzing on delivery speed from 3rd parties happens all the time to Hawaii (and, I’d guess, to Alaska).

    Let the 3rd parties stand up and take full credit for slow delivery, or make them ship faster. Either way, the blame for slow shipping needs to be put where it belongs.

    Al Who Wants His Stuff in the Time Promised

  4. You can get used books for less, with media mail shipping, on AbeBooks.

    • Amazon has no problem with that.
      (They own Abebooks.)

      This is all about branding.
      They are protecting the Mall’s reputation and also nudging the vendors that low-ball products they don’t have and wait for an order to arrive before *trying* to acquire them.
      It also hits offshore vendors.

      I’ve recently seen a growing cry of complaints about products bought through Amazon that take forever to ship. So Amazon is reacting to protect their value proposition.

      Don’t expect customers to object.
      Vendors that do object can still do business through eBay, Walmart, Rakuten, and Alibaba.

      Plus, this will drive at least some of the more reputable vendors to sign up for Amazon fulfillment. 🙂

  5. This is rich, coming from Amazon.

    I routinely order books, DVDs, CDs, from Amazon, and they will sit on my order for a full month in many cases. After three orders have sat there unshipped, they will bundle them all together into one monster box bursting at the seams, or they will split up my orders into many different small pouches, mixing the orders together.

    Amazon shipping gets worse when they are pushing Prime. Yet other times, they will ship same day that I order. No rhyme or reason to their shipping.

    Yet I will order used books, DVDs, CDs, from third parties, through Amazon, and those packages come on time, while Amazon is still sitting on my prior orders.

    I don’t have much to complain about Amazon, but shipping is not there best feature. They invoke the “Are You Kidding Me” response all too often.

    • This is extremely different from my experience. The only time Amazon shipments to me are late is when they’re third party shipments. And even that is rare, but it happens.

    • I don’t have Prime, but I’ve experienced this too. They’ll hold certain items for a week or two before shipping them all in one box. Which gets there in two days.

      It’s because they are pushing Prime.

      I can wait. I get free shipping without Prime so I can live with the delay.

      • It’s more common for me to get the opposite. I’ll make one big order (I have Prime) and it’ll get split into a bunch of smaller shipments, some of which ship and arrive the same day. Which is actually kind of annoying to me, depending on if I had to give my physical address instead of my PO Box because one item wouldn’t ship to the PO Box, and I end up getting a bunch of smaller shipments, most of which could have just shipped to the PO Box. (I’m thinking of my recent Subscribe & Save experiment. They made me make all the items in one order to get the discount, then shipped them in many smaller packages. Quite a nuisance.)

        It’s pretty rare that something takes a long time to ship for me, although I think it’s even rarer that I actually receive something two days after I order it.

        • It depends on what warehouse has the goods. They try to keep everything balanced. If you are a seller,and use Amazon fulfilment, they will tell you how many units to ship to different warehouses.

          So, if you tell Amazon you want to ship them 100 units, they will respond with a sheet listing where to send them, and how many to each destination. They provide the UPS shipping labels (at their very low rate), and charge the seller’s account.

          Does it work for the seller? It all depends on dimensions, weight, and price of the goods.

    • Since I posted my comment above, I have ordered twice and Amazon is still sitting on my orders. I have also ordered three different used books by third party vendors, that have already shipped. The scary thing, is that the shipping rates in many cases went from $3.99 up to $4.99 and even $5.25.

      So Amazon is forcing vendors to respond faster, thus increasing shipping cost, while Amazon itself can’t be bothered to ship what I ordered in a timely manor. As I said, that’s rich.

  6. Ashe Elton Parker

    I’m pretty sure my Mom got burned by a 3rd party vendor with a shipment of dog food. Vendor held the dog food until the last two days of the 10-day shipment window and sent it by a carrier we’d never heard of before then: On Trac. While Mom religiously researches products with regards to reviews, I don’t think she pays much attention to who the actual seller is when she’s on Amazon; she assumes everything’s fulfilled and shipped by Amazon.

  7. I humbly disagree, PG. When I purchase things online, I purposefully choose the cheapest shipping option because I plan my purchases ahead of time and don’t care if it takes a month or two to get to me. This change, however, is going to increase prices for everyone in order to make up the difference. “Free shipping” is a misnomer because the true shipping cost is simply hidden in the sales price. TANSTAAFL.

    • Ditto. I often buy things (e.g. out-of-print books for research) where I really don’t care whether it turns up next week or next month, as long as it turns up by the time I need it. If it saves me a few bucks in shipping, I’ll take the slow boat option.

      I’d much rather Amazon didn’t make that choice for me.

  8. It was Amazon that changed the original restrictions so that sellers could have more time. Judging from how long it takes to be informed that a book has shipped, many sellers have been taking advantage of this to delay shipping. There is rarely any reason for a book to take more than 8 days in actual shipping time. Send it out the same day or the day after, or get out of the business.

    Amazon created the problem, so now they have to do something about it. Personally, I’m very glad to see the change. I’m tired of waiting as much as three or four days before I’m notified that my book has shipped. For most sellers it doesn’t mean extra costs; it just means they have to get off their lazy asses.

  9. My thought is that this is nothing more than Amazon trying to drive more people into using their Fulfilled by Amazon services. That eliminates the cross-country shipping that causes the delay AND earns more for Amazon (but at another cost to the seller).

    • Amazon fulfillment offers both savings and costs to the seller. It all depends on the price and dimensions of the goods. It’s impossible to say if it is a net cost or savings until one runs the actual goods through the fulfillment calculator.

  10. Amazon could do this – or they could add a flashing warning on pages that have delays:

    “WARNING! You may have to wait as long as 3-6 months for delivery of this item.”

    Don’t you know those ‘slow’ on delivery will howl if Amazon were to do this (just as H and the rest of the qig5 howled when Amazon removed the pre-buy buttons on books they didn’t know if they’d ever get.)

    People see ‘Amazon’ and expect quick deliveries. Amazon doesn’t need third parties dragging their heels (as H was also doing at that time as I recall) so Amazon’s choices are getting the deliveries in a more timely matter – or remove those third party pages when the don’t have goods ready to actually sell/deliver.

  11. I was happy with Amazon’s delivery times 15 years ago. I don’t understand this mania for speedy delivery. It’s mail order–I expect it to take time. If someone is in such a hurry they absolutely have to have it by noon on Friday, they can buy it from Amazon directly and skip the third party folks operating at leisure out of their basement or garage. It’s not like I don’t have anything else to read and there’s always the library.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      This isn’t just about books any more. It’s also about other products sold by third party sellers. While Amazon’s delivery time for non-book products is good, other vendors are not up to similar standards. This displeases customers who conflate the third party vendor with Amazon. Third party sellers are essentially chipping away at Amazon’s good reputation by their lax (and sometimes non) delivery of non-book products they sell through Amazon.

  12. My wallet was stolen last week. At first I thought I had lost it, but the police showed me the CCTV footage; it was stolen. Emailed and called my bank. Wells Fargo stopped my credit cards and promised to overnight replacements to me. A week later, I still have no cards.

    Go ahead. Tell me fast-as-promised doesn’t matter.

  13. Fast-as-promised matters. In fact, it’s a gold standard. But I have no problem with a delivery that takes months if that was the promise.

  14. If Amazon forces third-party sellers to increase their postage costs, they are going to force higher costs onto to their customers or squeeze lots of little-guy sellers out of the market for books priced under $4.00 or $5.00.

    Here’s how it works.

    Amazon charges these fees for selling used books.

    1) $0.99 item fee, flat fee
    2) $1.80 closing fee, flat fee
    3) 15% referral fee calculated on the total of the price of the book plus shipping

    So let’s say you price your book at $4.00 plus $3.99 shipping.

    Amazon will charge you:

    1) $0.99 item fee
    2) $1.80 closing fee
    3) $1.20 referral fee

    TOTAL AMAZON FEES: $3.99

    How much does shipping cost?

    Some sellers use terrible packaging and risk damage in transit. If you use bubble mailers from a place like U-Line, depending on the size of the envelope, you’re looking at around $0.25 to $0.38 cents per package. Then you have somewhere around $3.00 postage.

    So you get $3.99 for shipping and spend $3.25 which nets you a whopping $0.74 while Amazon gets $3.99.

    The break even amount right now is a book price of $3.41.

    But, John, I see books priced for 1 cent!

    Sure, those are folks who sell tons of books each month and pay $39/month to waive the 99 cent item fee. The 15% referral fee on $4.00 ($3.99 shipping + 1 cent) is 60 cents. This leaves them $3.20 cents for shipping, postage, and profit. Somehow they’re getting slightly better rates on postage and shipping than your regular Joe Blow and making a few cents on each transaction.

    But if you’re a seller that’s not selling that many books. If you’re Joe Blow with a 1,500 book inventory, selling a dozen or two books a month, then you had better either (a) stock only higher priced books or (b) be happy with the fact that you’re busting your chops to fork over the lion’s share of the revenue to Amazon.

    Up the shipping costs, and that will either go straight to the customer or raise the break even and force all the smaller guys out of markets where the books are selling at $4.00 – $5.00 or below.

    Force them out, and there’s less competition on price because there are fewer sellers, and the price will go up a bit.

    It’s Amazon’s business. They can do what they like. But it’s becoming less and less of a welcome place for smaller sellers.

    • If I’m reading your figures right…

      The used market is a golden goose for Amazon. I can understand how they might want to tighten up performance to attract more consumers. They make more on one used book at $4.00/$3.99 than they make on a paper book for $13 that they ship.

      This would suggest that they would prefer a consumer buy used for any book under $13.

      It seems a bit too good to be true. Do I have it right?

      • They got into used books long before they got into ebooks.
        The tradpub establishment went equally ballistic both times.

  15. BTW, those shipping rates above are for media mail. Force sellers to quicker options, and you’re going to dramatically increase the postage.

  16. Al the Great and Powerful

    “If Amazon forces third-party sellers to increase their postage costs, they are going to force higher costs onto to their customers or squeeze lots of little-guy sellers out of the market for books priced under $4.00 or $5.00.”

    I think you mean they will squeeze the little guys out of AMAZON’s market. Which is not a public utility. Do little traders get to walk into the New York Stock Exchange and start trading among the big guys? Selling things at cut-rate prices is a mugs game, and amazon is making it harder for the cut-raters.

    So yeah, if you’re a seller that’s not selling that many books, if you’re Joe Blow with a 1,500 book inventory, selling a dozen or two books a month, then maybe Amazon is not the market for you.

    ——————————————————–

    As for the issue of delivery speed; as a customer I expect that when a store says they have the item in stock, and takes my money, and promises to send me my package right away, that they DO THAT, ALL OF THAT, including sending it. Too often when it comes through Amazon from a third party seller, they don’t even bother picking the item and taking it to the mail until the first day the package is supposed to be AT MY HOUSE.

    I’m quite aware it takes time to ship stuff to my tiny island home. It has gotten a lot better. I also know that more money will get things here faster. Shippers lying about how fast they will ship are cheating – they don’t want to admit they will take the slower option, they lie about their speed so I don’t pick a seller (for more money) who gets me what I want ON TIME.

    • Of course I’m talking about the Amazon market. What other market would we be talking about in this thread?

      Get off your high horse. Nobody here is saying that Amazon must allow anybody at all to sell in their store. As I said before–it’s their business. They can do what they want with it.

  17. Al the Great and Powerful

    Get off my high horse? For agreeing with you that Amazon upping prices will drive out the cheap end small scale sellers? You seemed to be under the assumption that Amazon WAS the market, but then you say this “…force all the smaller guys out of markets where the books are selling at $4.00 – $5.00 or below…” which isn’t clear at all. How many markets do you see at Amazon? Are you breaking them down by genre? Price? Cover art? Tell me more, I love to see folk typologies in action.

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