Amazon, billing, and shooting feet

(updated 2017.5.17, 2017.8.9)

For those who are boycotting Amazon for other reasons, you may skip this.

I feel I have to use a cost-effective vendor, despite other factors. Up until recently, Amazon has worked well for us. People could make up lists, share them with me, I could use those to create orders, I could use a credit card which saves me from doing as many Requisitions/Purchase Order approvals myself, and it used to be pretty straightforward. They had a huge number of items in stock and accounted for when orders would arrive, for the most part.

Then, they shot themselves in the foot. Maybe both feet.

It’s not just me. I’m hearing (from a competitor, granted) that a number of libraries are dropping Amazon, at least as a primary vendor. (The competitor normally handles academic libraries, but now has public libraries asking them for service. The traditional wholesalers have changed and reduced a lot in the last few years.)

It seems we are going to have to join the exodus, and it’s not political or other high-minded reasons; it’s pure bookkeeping practices.

Amazon has become non-cost-effective, due to their new credit card charging methodology. This has been going on for several months, but it’s become, frankly, untenable.

Lemme ‘splain this. (tl;dr*)

Amazon has taken to combining charges from their Printable Order Summary.

amazon For example, you see multiple charges on here. The total will be $276.17.

However, despite what it says on the page, that IS NOT WHAT AMAZON CHARGES to the credit card.

The Order Summary has three shipments listed, for $105.61, $37.16, and $133.40.

They add up to $276.17, true. But this IS NOT WHAT AMAZON CHARGES to the credit card.

Look at the summary of charges at the bottom of the Order Summary. Not the same as the shipments.

Now combine them to get the actual charges on the credit card statement.

$14.99 plus 79.84 = 94.83, and the rest add up to 181.34. We were actually charged $94.83 and $181.34. The total is still $276.17. We haven’t been treated dishonestly as far as the amount charged; only in how it was actually stated on their (digital) paperwork.

However, the only one of those charges on the order summary for a shipment matches $37.16 for the middle shipment of three on the Order Summary. And that one was combined with others to get a charge of $181.34 on the credit card. The amounts on here do not match the shipments or the credit card charges.

$105.61 and $37.16 and $133.40 (the amounts on the shipments in the Order Summary), cannot be combined to get the two charges on the card, and yet those book titles are on this order.

Summary

To sum up: The charges listed as charged to the card on the Printable Order Summary DO NOT MATCH WHAT IS ON THE CARD CHARGES: 14.99, 79.84, 90.62, 37.16, 53.56 are NOT charged; $94.83 and $181.34 are charged for these books. Where does it say that? On the spreadsheet.

Spreadsheet

Spreadsheet? Yes, I managed to get a customer service person for corporate accounts on the phone (their people are usually fine to deal with but are stuck with this). They now have a spreadsheet that you can download (not listed, at this time, among all the services they show for accounts). I was sent a special link to it. Then I have to download it. Then I have to go searching. The spreadsheet has columns out to AE (over 30). This, apparently, is a kludge made available for all the squalling customers demanding to know what charges equal what.

First, you find the total amount (in this example, 276.17). Then you slide over (about a page and a half of columns) to see how it’s broken down to — not the charges they claim on here — the actual charges on the card (94.83 and 181.34). This is the only place where they tell me what they are actually charging to the card, so I have no regular packing slip/invoice/order summary to show my receiving person or my business office or the state auditors. How are we expected to match the shipments and charges up to what is on the credit card statement, without a research project to decipher this spreadsheet?

Aside from this spreadsheet, I have nothing to show my people here or the state auditors, who want specific amounts that match. The only comfort I can take is that this is going on all over campus, and probably all over the state and nation. So at least the state auditors cannot blame just our library.

Now, I understand that Amazon is probably having to adjust their bookkeeping so they can pay the new taxes that states have been demanding they begin to charge (and starting March 1, here in Arkansas) but we already pay that on our own. I suspect this may have something to do with how they handle bookkeeping for that, or maybe an attempt to reduce credit card fees by reducing the number of transactions. I can allow for changes.

End Result

BUT: you cannot do business this way. It takes far too much time for the customers to account for this, and it does not correspond to any acceptable accounting procedure to claim you made these charges when you actually made those charges, even if they add up the same on the spreadsheet. Spreadsheets, especially ones like this, are not intended to substitute for proper customer notices — spreadsheets are primarily for internal use, and cannot substitute for showing correct amounts on the (digital or print) paperwork. The additional time it takes to track all this down is just dirty icing on a very unpleasant cake (pardon the unappetizing metaphor). The fact that it is not technically dishonest in the amount being paid does not excuse the appearance of something being off, somewhere.

We’ll still use Amazon for creating want lists, but I never used those just for ordering via Amazon in the first place, if I wanted prebinding, or a complete set of a multi-volume set. Rush items can still go through, or items from associates (which are somewhat more likely, but not always, to end up on separate shipments/charges), or anything only Amazon seems to have. I may try shifting back to a personal account to see if that works better, but the customer service person thought it was all going to be the same. The bulk of the business they once got from us is going to have to move to somebody else, at least until they straighten this out.

Amazon is welcome to contact me to explain, correct, show me an easier method, or whatever, assuming anyone there ever reads blogs like this. I’ll be happy to post corrections or recommended methods (working or otherwise, from my point of view).

Update as of May 17, 2017:

The higher ed rep for Amazon has been in contact several times now, and agrees with the need to fix this. He’s been working at his end.

He called today with the discovery that the information we need does exist and if you want to burrow down some, it can be found, with some limitations. Thanks go also to his colleague – she found a way to dig this out from the screen.

On the printable Order Summary, go down to the bottom:

 

 

 

 

 

Click on the link for “To view the status of your order, return to Order Summary.” That sounds like it would just loop you around to where you came from, which is why I never used it (and the rep didn’t expect it either), but instead you get this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, now click on the Transactions link under the address.

 

 

 

 

 

AHA! The long-missing actual charge amounts that were not visible (except in the cockamamie spreadsheet).

Click on the amount you want, and get:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There, finally, is the list of titles that went on the actual charge made on the card for $94.83. Ta and da!

Of course, as I pointed out, we really need a subtotal for each shipment as well, and ALL of this needs to be out front, easy to find, preferably on the Order Summary. Instead of the charges listed as being charged, which are not actually being charged.

The main point is, the information is there and already, for the most part, extracted – they just didn’t make it easy to find and the link terminology is vague. That means, IMHO, that it should be possible to pull that out, with some reprogramming, and put it on the Order Summary so we can provide that to our people for reconciliation with the credit card statement.

The wheel that squeaketh doth receive greasing.

Oh, and BTW: the more places that complain about this, instead of just quietly changing vendors, the more push we have to get this fixed at Amazon. SPEAK UP! The phone for the corporate accounts at Amazon is 866-216-1072 (if you are on a business account). Call and gripe!

I also lost them some more business today with a potential new account (juvenile correctional facility) that wanted a source for buying books. They have to account to the state auditors as well, so I had to warn them off dealing with Amazon right now. Which I, of course, reported to the rep as additional ammo for doing something about this. Squeak, squeak!

Update 2017.8.9

Amazon has updated their view to make this a bit easier.

Click on the Order link in the email and you now get:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below the shipping address is the “Transactions” link which takes you to the actual credit card charges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare the actual Transactions to the Order amount to see what Amazon is really charging on the card.

In this example, they match. For larger orders/shipments, that may or may not be true, but this makes it more convenient to tell, at least. I will give Amazon that.

I’ve had no other information from Amazon; I just noticed this when I tried an actual order. I don’t know if they are matching Transactions to shipments or whatever.

====================================

*tl;dr means Too Long, Don’t Read unless you want to.

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Amazon Kindle for Windows 8

Controls

The Kindle app software on Windows 8 comes out a bit of a mystery.  Where the heck are the controls?  Nice they don’t intrude, but I need them.

Google search, and I discover that I have to right-click to get them.  That’s apparently press-and-hold in Windows 8, or I can unfold and use the keyboard’s touch pad, or just use a mouse.  Maybe an explanation on that first time I used the app would have been nice.

Upper right corner, and a title bar appears so I can close or minimize, thanks to a Microsoft update on apps.

Display mode

Pages show up in two columns in landscape mode, but make a very nice full page in portrait mode.  I’m very happy with that so far.

I prefer to use the white on black setting to cut down on glare.  Also, the less strong light directed at my eyes late at night may help me to get to sleep more easily, or so some sources claim.

Library display

The library display is, by default, all the covers.  Nice, but there are advantages to a simple list with thumbnail cover displays.  You don’t get that option (or any other) on the Windows 8 Kindle from all I can discover.  Hasn’t Amazon seen even the Adobe Digital Editions — which is not perfect, either, but still ahead of Kindle on this.

Suggestions for Amazon

Amazon is, IMHO, not doing themselves any favors by not making it easier to manipulate their collections.

I need to be able to change to an alternate list format, see what I have already read (VERY important once you get more than a dozen or so books), sort by author or title in each list, group books on both my online and tablet… maybe this is possible on a Kindle device, but limiting it on the Kindle software is making it increasingly awkward to handle my growing collection.  I’m starting to wonder if I should keep my collection here growing, Amazon.  Think about it:

  • Change to list only view, perhaps with smaller thumbnails as one alternative view
  • Be able to sort by authors and series in series order (if I bought the set, which do I read next?)
  • Be able to separate out the ones I’ve read and have those marked (hey, Kindle is supposed to sync all this stuff, so make this possible)
  • Move a few of my collection onto a device (which has limited storage), read them, have it noted that I read them, and then let me move them out to the cloud again.  Right now, the only way to get them out of the way in the cloud is to delete them entirely from my cloud.  For those with limited space on a device (tablet or phone, for example), you may only need a few titles downloaded on the device.  Oh, and they need to be marked as read in the cloud so I don’t bring them back down unless I want to read again.

Kindle is not really functional for heavy readers — the very people it wants to attract.  Kindle has been around long enough that it should have been working this out well before now.

 

 

An open message to Amazon, associates, and other online sellers

reader_18th_centuryI’m going to offer some advice to the many online sellers that will help you with your business, from a librarian’s point of view.  Yes, we order quite a bit from you, due to price/convenience/availability immediately stated.  While I specifically address books, these work for other items too.

This is for Amazon/Half Price/Ebay, etc. etc. etc. Anyone who sells through a service, or just through an individual web site.

First, please note: I love you people (most of you, anyway).  I can now get, pretty reliably, out-of-print and/or cheaper editions that I might not be able to acquire or afford otherwise.  That’s great!

I’m suggesting, however, that you consider following a few simple steps that will make doing business with libraries (and by the way, everyone else) more convenient and cordial.  Think “repeat business”.

paperwork***  I cannot emphasize this enough:

Include a copy of the packing list or some other printout with the following on it (Amazon should furnish something like this; I keep seeing it in some packages but not all).

It should show:

  • Your name (including the one you sold the item under on Amazon; “John Smith” on the address label when you sold on Amazon as “BooksFromSomebody” doesn’t let me track this properly) and if you sell through a service such as Half Price Books or Amazon, mention that and whatever your ‘business’ name is on that service
  • shipping address, etc.  I’m trying to match up books quickly without having to search each one out of a batch of shipments which can amount to hundreds of books a day
  • The name of the recipient (and this is where, on occasion, I find that somebody put the wrong label on the package because the paperwork says it’s supposed to go to someone else).  Yes, this happens.  On many occasions, we can just send it along to the intended recipient while whoever got our item sends it directly to us, if you gave us this information on the slip.  Saves you having to deal with it other than apologizing for the mixup.
  • The Amazon (or other service) order number, if you’re going through a company
  • The name of the actual book/item ordered (and you’d be surprised how often this gets left off!)
  • The total price charged for the book, plus shipping (and any tax).  I realize that this might need to be left off if you’re told it’s a gift, but it helps libraries a lot.

*** This next vital step ought to be obvious:

PUT THE EDITION YOU HAVE ON THE CORRECT ONLINE RECORD.

(Sorry about the caps, but this is being violated a lot and should get you kicked off Amazon or whatever service you use, in my opinion.)  It’s false advertising and a form of fraud.

DO YOU REALIZE OTHER VENDORS ARE LOSING YOU SALES due to this sloppiness????!!!  If I can’t guarantee that your cheaper copy is really the hardcover I want, instead of a paperback on the wrong record, then I’ll order from Amazon directly (even at a higher price) or somebody else who describes it in detail.  You just lost a sale because I can’t tell your offer from the other associates.

If you have the paperback, take the time to put it on the paperback record.  Do NOT put it on the hardcover record (even if you describe it as paperback in the notes).  You might think this will get you more business or maybe a higher price; it just wastes my time and yours.  Maybe you think putting it with the more expensive edition justifies a higher price than you would get when competing on the paperback record.  Either way, as we potential customers see it,  you’re trying to trick people.  We went to the hardcover record for a reason, and you cannot change that.  And, oh yes, offering a percent discount off the hardcover price as compensation for sending me a paperback instead is still costing more, in many cases, than buying the paperback, so you’re still trying to cheat your customer.

I’m going to send it back AT YOUR EXPENSE and demand a hardcover replacement or refund, so this saves you trouble and money.  Paperbacks don’t hold up well in library use, so I spend more to get the hardcover, and if that’s what I ordered, that’s what I should get, especially when you charge me the higher hardcover price (whether or not it’s lower than the other offers).  Sending the wrong edition will get you a bad rating from me.  Probably from most everyone else, too.

*** Descriptions are nice, for two reasons.  I like my books with dust jackets when available; we put the plastic library covers on them and include them in processing, so users have it handy to read.  The other reason is that a detailed description of the condition shows that the seller is being careful, presumably accurate, and the estimation of the condition is based on specific details rather than just a quick glance.  I have been known to pay more for a described item because I trust the description (at least until I receive it).  I don’t care about blurbs about your service — I’ll be the judge of that based on performance.  Anyone can write a boast, and many do.  Tell me exactly what I’m getting and be accurate — that’s impressive.

Remember, if you specifically say your copy is a hardcover with (or without) a dust jacket, then I know what YOU have.  The cheaper vendor next to you didn’t say, and maybe they actually have a paperback on the wrong record.  If I can’t tell from your description, I may just pay more to order from Amazon direct, or somebody else — and you just lost a sale.

*** If you make a mistake, then be quick to admit it and either replace or refund.

Don’t stall me.  I try to be OOPS-simple-mistakespolite (but not chatty) when I notify you; being polite and apologetic back is just good customer relations, right?  I don’t need a long letter back, just a quick “sorry” and what you’ll do to fix the problem.  Don’t put a lot of conditions on your customer like “I’ll wait until I get it back before I trust you enough to send a replacement” (unless this is some kind of very expensive/very rare book).   You made a mistake; the focus should be on keeping a customer, not showing how little you think you can trust anyone.  After all, I trusted you to conduct your business properly, didn’t I? (And look how well that turned out, we’re both thinking…. )

Sometimes you might have to eat some costs or even give up the sale.  That’s the price of doing business, especially if YOU are the one who made the mistake (and the “you” includes whoever did the shipping to the customer, by the way).

Here’s an example: somebody put the wrong book on a record — their fault entirely.  Same author, similar titlenot an unreasonable mistake to make.  So I emailed: “I ordered this [Naval battles of the first world war].  I received “Naval battles of world war II” by the same author. We need to arrange an exchange or replacement, please. Thanks.”  I consider that polite, even cordial, and businesslike.  No accusations, just information, and I used please and thanked the person for anticipated cooperation.

I got back (exact quote): “It seems I don’t have the book you ordered so return the one that was sent & your money will be refunded.”  And the mailing address.

No apology for the mistake, and very brusque.  Apparently this vendor resents being held responsible for not doing business properly.  A mistake I can understand, but this borders on rude.

And no mention of my cost and time to return the book, not to mention wasting my time with the wrong title in the first place.  So if I actually get the refund after returning the book, I won’t give this person a 1 rating if  I don’t get a hassle over the refund — but I won’t go higher than 2, and I will give a rating in this case, which the vendor won’t appreciate but deserves.  And I’ll never order through this person again, so that’s potential future business lost.

Will I deal with you again if you make a mistake?  Will I give you a bad rating on Amazon?  Depends entirely on how you handle the mistake.  I understand human errors; I make them myself once in a while.  Apologize, fix it and we’ll both move on — at least the first time.

I realize dealing with individuals can be tricky and some of them may try to cheat you, but you should never be too quick to assume that.  I certainly am not dishonest, and like most people, I resent being treated as if I were.  In any case, if you messed up, then you’re already losing on this transaction, so at least try to not lose a potential future customer.

Oh, and if Amazon is the problem, as in they didn’t update the record with your status fast enough?  Just say that’s why you’re out of stock when I ordered.  It happens.  No big deal.

5-star-rating-wordpress-big*** Amazon ratings and appeals for good ratings: Librarians handle several hundred to several thousand books a year, many through Amazon and other online sources.  Do I have time to do nice ratings for every seller?  No, I’m sorry.  Even if you ask nicely.  I just don’t have time for all of them.  It’s not that I’m unappreciative, but let’s face it — if you did what you’re supposed to be doing, it should be routine.  I would spend hours trying to match books with shippers in order to give ratings, given my volume of orders.

I do look at ratings, and take them seriously.

Frankly, a rating below 90 makes me avoid you, even if I have to pay more to somebody else.  And I look at how long you’ve been in business and how fast your rating has gone down (if it has) — a fast drop in a short period makes me nervous.  You started with 100, after all, didn’t you?  Yes, I realize that some people don’t give the top rating to anybody, but still, some vendors have survived several years and thousands of transactions without dropping below 90.

Do I have time to do BAD ratings for sellers who screw up or treat me badly?  Yes, I do manage to find time to do those.  And I put them down on a “Bad List” which I keep for myself, to never order from again.  I bear grudges, people, and I share them with ratings, because those vendors are not worth my time to deal with any more.  That’s how the system is supposed to work, and that’s why Amazon set it up that way.

*** Packaging is important.

That’s why Amazon has been asking for ratings on that lately.  If you’re using a mailing bag and it’s loose, put in some packing so the book doesn’t shift (old newspapers are a fine way to recycle).  By the time it goes through shipping to me, a lot of books may tear out of a bag.  Think of your package as having somebody press down on it around all the corners of the book, as if deliberately trying to get the bag to rip on the corners. Now imagine that all the wear and tear of shipping will do at least as much damage.  So, fill in that space.  An empty envelope with nothing left inside, or a damaged item, says you didn’t pack it well enough, not that the shipper is at fault, in many cases.  And I want my money back because it’s not my fault.

By the way, a plain manila envelope is for mailing limited amounts of paperwork, not objects such as books.  No matter who you send it through, they don’t hold up.  Buy the padded (preferably bubble-wrap) mailers or use boxes.  Ever get one of the old shredded-paper padded envelopes after it’s been through shipping?  That fluff leaking all over is a real mess.  Give me bubbles or other padding any day.

I’m sure people have rebuttals, about bad customers (maybe even librarians), but I think the above is just good business.

Happy sales to you!

All MY data?!?!

A Salon article on Elsevier: All your data belongs to us brings up the point about how confidential is your personal information — what you read, what you like, what your politics/religion/shoe size/whatever — might be.  Sharing services are being purchased by big companies who have an obvious commercial agenda for acquiring the services customer lists.  Users who thought they were just exchanging innocent information with others of similar interests are now facing the fact that they are commodities to be bought and sold on the open market… perhaps repeatedly.

Let’s face it, these free (or low-cost) services for sharing stuff are great… but sooner or later, they are likely to need some cash flow.  And that’s when they can get bought up by Amazon, or Elsevier, or whomever.  And suddenly, you become their property, to sell to anyone who wants to market to you.

Right now, I’m getting spammed by various marketers with stock tips.  Why?  Because somewhere along the line, somebody put my campus email address in a file with other people buying business books, or getting something related to that.  I’d already been getting the cold calls from the overly-familiar people who eventually got down to some terrific investment opportunity they had just for me… as if I’m gullible enough to buy anything from cold caller or a spam email sender.  I have to explain why I’m on the list (“I just buy business books for a university library”), and that calling me is a huge waste of their time.

But, it doesn’t cost them more than an infinitesimal part of a cent to have my name pumped into their distribution list for these calls, or these emails.   Somebody made that fraction of a cent off putting me on the list to be sold. It’s the fact that I’m cheap to buy that makes me attractive to them. If they actually have something that connects me with certain interests…

At least with phone calls, I can use the official “put this number on your do-not-call list” which is good for a few years.  With spam, all I can do is copy and paste the most common phrases into the email rule (in a list which gets longer all the time) to send anything with any of those phrases directly to Junk Mail.  Sure, I can mark the emails as junk — but I get the same (exactly the same wording!) thing from a dozen different addresses.  There’s no way to keep up just by blocking addresses.

We can’t begrudge people who find a way to get their web service to pay off…  can we? We should be understanding about those who are just trying to get their products/services out there in front of people… shouldn’t we?

What we can’t do is take it personally.  Because there’s nothing whatsoever personal about it.  We are commodities, to be bought and sold, as potential customers, and if we’ve already laid out our preferences and interests and likes and dislikes before we ever realized what it might be used for, that just makes us more useful for targeting advertising.

So, I weed out the emails.  And I delete the constant spam sent to this blog, and the others I have, with the weirdly ungrammatical compliments that are supposed to trick me into approving their comment and inadvertently letting them advertise their little scam on my blogs (and why are so many of them not even in English? Do I really have that many readers wherever the Cyrillic alphabet is used? Seems unlikely).

But I think I’m going to be a little cautious about what I share and where.  Well — at least, a little more cautious.