06 May 2011

Beware Amazon Marketplace

In 2001 I ordered a book described as new that was priced low. It was the Library of America edition of works by one of America's foremost writers, James Baldwin. My card was charged, but the book never shipped. The dealer, a second-party used dealer in Oregon selling through Amazon, employed several delaying tactics in response to my queries. Amazon told me to contact the dealer directly. They offer this advice up-front, but hide well the process of contacting them directly. Finally, after two months, I demanded a refund from Amazon. Because more than sixty days had transpired since the original order, they refused.

I was furious and resolved to cease all business with Amazon.

It was five years before I relented and bought another book from Amazon--two actually: Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade and Breaking Through by Susan Polgar. I had been buying from Amazon nearly monthly prior to this problem. After four years of occasional orders from the online giant, I cautiously placed another order through a second-party dealer. The book arrived as described, and I placed a couple more orders, always making certain that the rating was five-stars and 100%.

Last week, I ordered a book from jwbasilbooks via Amazon. Their rating seemed strong, although a mere 98% going back one year, and down to 93% for the lifetime of their work through Amazon. The order was cancelled the next day.
Greetings from,

We're writing to inform you that your order 002-6768021-8472203 from jwbasilbooks has been canceled because the item(s) you purchased were out of stock. Please return and place your order again at a later time.

Our sellers strive to minimize canceled orders. We're sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. Your credit card was not charged for this order. If you have any questions regarding the cancelation of this order, please contact jwbasilbooks.

If you're still interested in this item, please search for it again on

from the email
I tried rating the seller because they indicated quite clearly that the item was in stock. I realize that books do go out of stock between the time a book is ordered and when it is packaged for shipping. When the print run is too small on a surprise bestseller, this inconvenience is common. Obscure academic books published half a decade ago, however, do not fly off the shelves. Rather, a bookstore that mines the inventory of other bookstores, as I think is the case for this seller, does not keep its inventory up-to-date. As long as they are selling exclusively through eBay and Amazon, many hundreds or even thousands of cancelled orders will not affect their rating. When they are able to deliver as promised, they get good marks. When they fail, one person knows.

I've ordered the book for a few dollars more from They have yet to fail me.

As I learned back in 2002, Amazon makes efforts to hide the "contact us" option on their website. It took less effort this time--only eight or ten clicks--but I was able to email this note:
It should be possible to rate sellers that cancel orders. I am deeply suspicious that some cancel many orders. A dealer that lists an old and obscure item as in stock, then cancels an order because the item is out of stock SHOULD NOT HAVE A 100% RATING OVER THE PAST 30 DAYS!


Amazon replied to my complaint:

I understand that you'd like have the possibility to rate the seller even though the order is canceled

Even though orders canceled by sellers no longer appear in Your Account, you can still leave feedback for sellers who canceled the order by clicking the "Your Account" link on the top right-hand side of the homepage.

Go to the Orders section and click "Leave Seller Feedback".

from the email
jwbasilbooks no longer shows 100%!!

Harpoon Books has processed the order that I placed through AbeBooks. Brian W. Richardson, Longitude and Empire: How Captain Cook's Voyages Changed the World (2005) is on its way.

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