Why I Have Given Up on Powell’s Books

In comments, I’ve regularly advocated for avoiding using merchants that engage in poor labor practices. That includes companies like WalMart, Amazon, and Uber. But in my search for alternatives, it was so difficult to complete transactions at the independent bookseller Powell’s that I can’t recommend them. For those of you outside the US, Powell’s is held up as a socially responsible alternative to Amazon. I’m writing this post in the hope of shaking Powell’s out of the managerial complacency that allowed the sort of problems I encountered the few times I tried shopping there to persist.

Before the latest attempts, I bought from Powell’s twice, both times presents for my mother, who consumes books like popcorn. Powell’s has a fine list of “Staff Picks” which helped me find some novels she liked that were outside her staple, mysteries. They also have attractive gift wrapping.

However, with the earlier orders, I was unable to complete an online transaction. I can’t remember the details of both, but one time, I got to the final step of the transaction, when you put in payment details, and I had wanted to change something about the order (perhaps adding the gift wrap). It was impossible to go back and make the change, and when I tried logging in on a different screen, it showed my cart as empty. Both times, I had to place the order by phone and joked that the lousy state of the website was a full employment act for the phone staff.

This time, I was ordering books again for my mother, and saw some that looked suitable for my nieces, and I confirmed the choices with my sister-in-law. I also saw a book I wanted to get for myself. So I had an order of seven books, three for my mother, one for each of my three nieces, and one for me. I was going to have them all shipped to my mother’s house with the books for her for her birthday and the three for the nieces to be kept till they came down for Christmas.

Let me also stress I was consciously paying a premium. My mother is perfectly happy getting used books but none of the books I had chosen for her were available in Powell’s “used books” section. The books for my sisters and me were 10% to 65% more on Powell’s than on Amazon (I had not checked until I wrote this post). Amazon’s squeezing of publishers has also hurt authors; advances for mid-list books have collapsed, which is a big reason why I am probably not writing a second book. My advance on ECONNED was terrible and I would probably get even less now. I want to support authors and publishers as well as merchants.

Powell’s wouldn’t even let me choose all seven books. No joke. I got four into a shopping cart. It then set up a second shopping cart with two books in it. I called Powell’s as before to place the order.

Because I had screenshot both carts, the rep was able to find one. He attempted adding books to it but it would not accept one of them. He had to “rebuild” the cart. He was not able to find one of the books even by searching on the title, even though I was reading it out and spelling the words from the “Staff Picks” list. I had to give him the ISBN number for him to locate it in Powell’s system.

I then was going through which ones got gift wrapped and what the gift cards had to say so as to make sure the right people got their books. He had just taken the shipping address when I got dead air on the line.

It was just after 8:00 PM EDT. I called and got an automated message which among other things made clear you could get live humans only through 5:00 PM PDT. So it looked as if the phone system had cut out even though I did not get a hangup. And because the phone rep had created a new cart and I did not have that cart number, I was going to have to start from scratch.

I sent a complaint with the sorry tale above to “orders@powells.com” with “I am furious with you” in the headline. That was an accurate depiction of my state. I had spend over 20 minutes on the phone on this order, on top of the time (5 minutes? 10 minutes?) I had spent trying to get the shopping cart to work.

I was so annoyed I resent the message two days later when I had not gotten a response. The fact that I had to prod them to Do Something, at least apologize, was a bad sign.

Two days later, I got this e-mail from an Adam:

I’m very sorry to learn about your disappointing experience; it sounds like we missed the mark in every way. I’m glad that you emailed us – feedback from our customers is important to make sure that we remedy issues like these.

It’s difficult to tell what may have caused the issues with your shopping cart; occasionally, we see a glitch where a certain title may get “stuck” and cannot be added to the cart normally. We’re usually able to resolve this issue by adding another book, and then retrying the stuck title, but in some cases, it’s necessary to clear out the cart and restart the checkout process entirely.

I’m sorry that you weren’t able to complete your order over the phone. Our phone system does not end active calls at 5:00, so the disconnection was likely either a technical issue or an accident on the part of the agent.

In any case, we apologize for the frustration that this has caused, and we hope that you are willing to continue shopping with us. As a token of apology, I have added $10.00 in Virtual Credit to your Powells.com account. This credit will apply automatically to the next order that you place online or over the phone.

So even though I was not happy with Powell’s, they had made an effort to make right so I thought I’d give them a second chance. By happenstance, two of the seven books I had chosen, including weirdly the one that the phone rep had to have me give the ISBN number to find, were now in “Season’s Picks” which meant their prices were now 30% lower. So I thought this might be a sign that things would go better.

Wrong assumption.

I did manage to get all seven books in my shopping cart this time. But when I logged in, it threw five out and I had only two. And on top of that, even for the two left in my cart, it would let me only have the entire order, as in both books, gift wrapped and they could have only the same gift card. I could not have one wrapped and one not:

I was getting upset again but I figured I would call Powell’s again and repeat the drill I had gone though the first time. This was early enough in the day that I was not at risk of 5:00 PM PDT mishaps.

I told the order rep that I was having trouble with my cart, that I needed him to put books back in it that had gotten thrown out by the system but also needed him to set them individually to be gift wrapped or not and put different gift cards on them.

He said he didn’t know how to do that and would have to “escalate” it. He transferred me to a customer service rep.

I had to wait a little to get her. I explained the problem. She said the system couldn’t do what I wanted to do.

I hung up.

Now it is clear the web system lacks the functionality to allow customers to have different gift cards and gift wrap instructions on a single order. Since none of my niece’s books nor mine were $50, the order size for getting free shipping, placing single orders to accommodate the system’s deficiencies would have cost me more in financial terms, as well as hassle. Why should I be required to place five orders?

But from the first experience, it appears that that the system the staff have access to is capable of doing what should not be hard, allowing for gift wrap and gift card instructions for each item in an order. Yet many (most?) Powell’s employees apparently aren’t well trained enough to do that, nor do they seem to know how to get to someone who can. I have a sneaking suspicion that the “customer service” rep, who appeared to be outside the ordering adminisphere, has a job scope of tech support on customer orders (meaning they are confined to the customer system) plus handling returns and similar issues, and not fixing orders gone awry.

This is no way to run a business. What I wanted to do is a basic use case. It’s a disgrace that Powell’s can handle even simple online orders (my earlier ones where I had to call didn’t have the multiple gift cards requirement). Powell’s is not just losing sales but also employing more people to compensate for its deficient website. Those unnecessary costs limits its ability to price books more competitively. And even though being at Powell’s is almost certainly nicer than working for Amazon, it is still demeaning to workers to expect them to do a job and then give them tools that don’t work well.

I wish I had a better answer. In the meantime, due to having run the clock out relative to my mother’s birthdate, I wound up buying her used books from Amazon merchants (yes, Amazon, but my rationalization was I was at least directing some of the revenues from my order to other vendors and not using Amazon warehouse workers). And I gave up on the rest of my order. I’ll get something else for my nieces and me.

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107 comments

  1. none

    I’ve been using bn.com (Barnes and Noble) instead of Amazon. Mostly works fine. Don’t know how big of an improvement it is socially but it must be a start.

    Reply
    1. tegnost

      the amazondicy is the best of all possible worlds? Bow thee before the bezos for he is all knowing and even the bad things he does are good. Powells can improve the shopping experience and then what will you be guffawing about?

      Reply
  2. Christopher Fay

    My already bought need to read stack is huge, so I’ve been holding off buying more books. And I’ve been working hard to not order off of Amazon. Powell’s seems to be faster at mailing to Taiwan where I occasionally live compared to Amazon. They arrive within a week compared to A which takes two weeks to a month. The Powell’s sight seems to be not as fluid as A’s. And I find when you get to the checkout point it’s hard on both sites to make changes.

    Reply
  3. Michael_emmett

    Such experiences are indeed frustrating because the problems are so easily fixable and should be detectable by basic product development processes. (I suspect they outsourced not only the Customer Service but also the design and development of the faulty workflows, which means they don’t have direct control over the evolution of those workflows) The bigger problem is that they don’t have the “antenna” in place to be able to detect such basic workflow problems themselves or at least provide a mechanism to collect such problems from customers. Amazon, for all of its societal transgressions and unfair business practices, is quite good at customer experience.

    If Powell’s reaches out to you, and they should because your feedback is gold to any product managers or designers they have on staff, let them know you have a reader who would be willing to provide them guidance on how to put in place a better customer experience. They can compensate me with a few books.

    Reply
    1. Darius

      Quite an insight by Michael Emmett. About half the time I end up using Amazon because it is the cheapest or the only place to get something. Just yesterday, I bought a portable battery for a CPAP on Amazon, because it was 20 percent cheaper than direct from the company’s sale price. Plus free shipping.

      Amazon also works fine with Safari. Vitamin Shoppe for example screws up on Safari so I had to start using Firefox, to which the Mac is resistant, but that’s another story.

      I’m like an addict. Every time I use Amazon, I swear it’s the last time, but in the moment, it often is the by far the best option for buying something, either for price or convenience. Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has said that organizing to revive antitrust is the most effective way to fight Amazon. I also rationalize that consumer choices aren’t politics, but rather they’re self-branding and therefore commercial.

      Reply
      1. dimmsdale

        You may know this already so sorry if this is old news or beside the point, but I’ve been using an add-on to my browser that lets me search on Amazon, and when I’ve selected the item (book, toothpaste, camping supplies, whatever) the app tells me where else, and for how much, the item can be found. This has proven invaluable, and I haven’t bought from Amazon for nearly a year; the app I use (recommended by Consumer Reports) is called “Invisible Hand” but there are others.

        Particularly for dvd’s and music cd’s, Amazon is a terrific shopping service, and when I buy from other retailers instead, I always get the feeling I’m supporting true competition in the marketplace. Win-win, I suppose.

        Reply
    2. Dirk77

      Having worked as a software engineer, the fix should be pretty standard as you say. You work with the business analysts to document the desired workflows, create requirements based upon them, and send them to the software group. But you need someone at Powell’s to direct things, to get on the phone with the business analysts at the software company.

      Reply
      1. fajensen

        Today, a company the size of Powells should procure their workflow service as part of the logistics integration, but, they probably don’t and instead they have some creaky legacy systems that was The Pride of The Internet in 2005 or so.

        Today these things are available as a standard package, starting at very small pricing on a “subscription+transaction fee”-model typically costing a few tens of USD per month per 1000 items. It takes serious volume before a custom system makes sense at all.

        Outsourcing is why every little ratty web shop seemingly can do this and Powells cannot.

        —-
        Workflows are “point and click” in Joomla modules like “Hikashop”, in case anyone still like to “code” their own webshop. Those web framework programmers are like the first mammals eating dinosaur eggs!

        Reply
        1. Michael_emmett

          Good points, but there’s a difference between ecommerce infrastructure/platform and the user experience. Those point and click modules are built for facilitating the standard transactions. Try to do anything outside the standard workflows (and differentiating your customer experience) requires customization. For example, there are dozens of user experience tactics for addressing shopping cart abandonment. There are also many sites that customize navigation based on the user’s history. Such bespoke requirements, which can evolve over time, often get outsourced.

          To say that off-the-shelf components are so easy is like saying Twitter’s bootstrap framework enables you to quickly build mobile applications, so why would anyone use anything but. Definitely. If you want a vanilla plain, undifferentiated solutions, then go with bootstrap. I’ve been involved in projects where bootstrap’s standardized approach obliged customizing the standard parts and the developers couldn’t use the original, pre-built components. It cost as much to customize as build from scratch.

          Reply
  4. johnf

    The smaller German publishers let you directly order books with the same prices and free shipping as Amazon, except that the publishers ship immediately rather than wait for up to a few weeks while trying to sell you faster shipping.

    Any chance you could use Amazon to get the book data and then directly order from a U.S. publisher?

    Reply
    1. ewmayer

      “Any chance you could use Amazon to get the book data and then directly order from a U.S. publisher?”

      Of course this is possible – but notice the added time and customer-data-risk inherent in ordering across multiple sites. Yves does not mention it in her post, but it’s clear from the now-frequent “XYZ site hacked, exposing credit card and personal data of millions of customers” news stories we read that every time you give payment data to a new site, you are adding to your risk of ID theft, and of course entering all those data takes time.

      And yes, I have bought from Powell’s, but even though my transactions there (typically single-book ones) have been smooth, it did cost extra time over simply ordering from Amazon resellers, as Yves ended up doing. (I typically look for a Goodwill or similar charity near me from which to order, even if their price for used book X is not the absolute lowest listed.)

      Reply
  5. CanCyn

    This is not to chide Yves, I simply ask the question: I wonder how much more it would cost to buy the books from a local store, purchase gift wrap and cards and ship everything yourself? I suspect the answer to that question is “a lot more”.
    I have come to believe that we are expecting far too much in the way of price, ease of use and convenience for our dollars spent.
    How can any company pay its people well, keep a complicated software system running smoothly and ship heavy packages quickly all at affordable prices? I know that cost wasn’t Yves’ main motivation but for most folks it still is. And even when we’re willing to pay more for goods to suppport good business practices, how much more is enough? Maybe there are some things we just shouldn’t order online? And as I see the delivery services showing up more regularly in our neighbourhood and the state of the trucks – not UPS but private/unmarked and in poor condition, not to mention rushing, stressed looking driver/workers, I wonder if we should be shopping online for much of anything.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      There’s probably a socio-economic term for it, but perhaps we’ve reached that point where the monopoly has metasticised.
      Happened out here in the hinterlands a long time ago with walmart…drove the mom and pops and then the regional competitors out of business…or made them an exercise in nostalgia…to where boycotts were no longer effective, and/or possible.
      I am without means to buy as many books as I’d like(to say nothing of time to read them all,lol), but I strive to source what I do acquire from non-amazon….but it’s often either more expensive, or no one has what I’m after(I lean towards the esoteric and weird), or I run in to customer service issues like Yves describes(except for wrapping…I’ll do that myself…my habit is to use either newsprint or toilet paper, even though my irony goes unnoticed).
      So I’m often left at amazon…where I try to get what I want from their “vendors”….and I seem to remember that that is not always what it seems…, that amazon has sock-puppet “vendors” that only appear to be not-amazon…
      Ethical purchasing gets more and more difficult….and then you run into another walmart-esque phenomenon: the products all come from the same place, anyway…china…or more specifically, some giant conglomerate, with multiple “competing” subsidiaries that entails only the appearance of competition between rivals….and still contains slave-sweat, no matter how hard you try.
      I have rambled at length about the popularity of a New New Deal among my teabilly neighbors…but an important part of any idea like that is the necessity of a global regulatory framework. Corps(e) have become supranational….so even if we somehow managed to get an actual People’s Party in power in the USA, the corps(e) would just “move” everything out of reach of the regulators.
      This supranational regulatory framework will be a hard sell to the lumpenproles I know.

      Reply
      1. CanCyn

        I hear you Amfortas. I live in an urban area and still have access to more local options not to mention a decent public library system and several university and college libraries where I can pay a low community membership for access to more unique and esoteric titles. For rural areas, you are right, aside from farmers markets during the growing season, choosing local is difficult. And even farmers markets have become the dabbling grounds of wealthy hipsters and are unaffordable for many.
        Sigh. Not a happy conversation, as is often the case when it comes to consuming.

        Reply
      2. WobblyTelomeres

        Another option may be available to you, as least for more esoteric books. Many libraries, especially university libraries, have lending arrangements with other university libraries. That is, if your local library doesn’t have a certain title, they may be able to find it at an affiliated library and borrow it for you.

        As a young man, I was able to obtain somewhat obscure titles from Harvard through these arrangements although Harvard drew the line at requesting items from their rare books collection. Go figure.

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          yeah. I used to use the Interlibrary Loan System, here in Texas. Rick Perry screwed that all up…”budget crisis”=> “we must cut expenditures”–and who reads anyway?=> dismantling of ILLS=> replacement, after public outcry, with a system that doesn’t work.
          Simultaneously, my favorite Librarian retired(!!), to be replaced by a person who doesn’t read, apparently, as well as the Bulldog Lady who literally growls when we enter the library,lol.
          The former didn’t know what an ISBN was.
          The latter…well, I don’t know if she knows or not…since I was a day late on a return, and suddenly my Library Card was rescinded….and all I get out of her is recriminations(at least that’s what the growls resembled)
          Soon after, wife and boys’ cards were revoked, too…for a day or two late.(we used to enjoy paying $10 for a $.25 late fee–“buy more books”)
          The new librarian is the spinster sister of some VIP…calls to the county judge, etc. get no relief.
          I hear tell of similar experience from all and sundry. The Republican Women and other social clubs of the local petit bourgeoisie are the only people who still use the building without growling.
          as an Enlightenment Creature, it’s all very sad and disheartening.

          there was an effort by a group of bibliophiles in the next county to have a real bookstore…3 years, and several iterations, before they had to fold up. Amazon was cited.
          My book budget isn’t enough to sustain such an effort…but the Xtian Bookstore in that town is doing well.
          Sigh.

          Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The Powell’s prices are full retail. You are out of line to chide me regarding the cost. And you are straw manning the post. The issue is that on four attempts I was never able to complete an online order.

      And here are no “local stores” save a Barnes & Noble and an art books store near the Whitney, one focused on religious books, one on addiction and recovery, and one that is “compact”. I would not bet that trying to get an order that I picked in store at the Barnes & Noble and getting that gift wrapped and shipped would go well, and I doubt the “compact” store would do that, even if it had anything I wanted. If a store does not regularly gift wrap, it won’t offer the service or will have staff that don’t do it regularly and will act like it’s intimidating or an imposition.

      Plus I am extremely time stressed. 15 minutes is a lot of time and the time cost of going to a store where I have no assurance I will find anything that would suit the people for whom I am buying gifts does not work. I didn’t buy books for my mother pre online book shopping. Too hit or miss.

      And your point regarding running an online business is spurious. Like most people here, I order online often, and that regularly included from merchants that are smaller than Powell’s, like dietary supplements vendors, who also ship heavy items (protein and meal replacement powders, liquid products). Stores that sell homewares like glasses, platters, and cookware gift wrap and ship items that are bulkier and heavier than books, see Crate & Barrel or Bloomingdale’s. There’s no excuse for being in an online merchant and not having a site that handles checkouts well.

      Reply
      1. Laughingsong

        I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve had some poor experiences on Powell’s since I have had good ones, although I can’t recall making a complex order such as you describe. Plus they’re a great place to browse (at the store). I agree that the website could be better, it’s sea seems wanting for one thing.

        I also use https://www.thriftbooks.com/ and had good experiences. They will ship to prisons and I send stuff regularly to the son of a family friend who is incarcerated. I don’t know about their employment practices though, just that, for now at least, they are not Amazon.

        Reply
      2. Richard Hershberger

        Just guessing, but I wonder if Powell’s isn’t in an awkward middle ground from a technical viewpoint. Those smaller businesses also have a vastly smaller number of items in inventory than does Powell’s. I would expect that this is a much easier technical challenge. Powell’s has a more Amazon-like (or at least Amazon c. 2000) challenge, while itself being a much smaller operation with, presumably, fewer resources. Not that this makes the experience any less unpleasant.

        Also, for used books, ABE. Yes, it is now owned by Amazon, which will therefore get its pound of flesh, but you have a better shot at directing some of your money elsewhere.

        Reply
      3. CanCyn

        Yves – strawmanning was not my intent. Apologies for coming across that way. Your experience with Powell’s was definitely not good. You did say At the beginning of the piece that you don’t advocate using vendors with poor labour practices so my mind go that way. I guess I was just trying to broaden the conversation a bit. And I did say that I understood that you weren’t worried about price. I have had some very bad experiences shopping online with many different vendors (delays, lost items, charged twice & unable to get refunds, etc). I could write a similar post to yours about Campers shoes. Know that I am not a tech-unsavvy person. I deal with pretty complicated software at work and do just fine. I put my experiences down to bad luck but it does mean that I have low expectations when it comes to online shopping.
        Last, my mind these days is on how much I consume and where I consume and how workers are treated. Not to mention that I am considering retiring away from the urban area in which I live and thinking about how that will affect my consumption for good or ill. This conversation seemed a good place to express some of those things. Repeat my apology, no offence intended.

        Reply
    3. Spring Texan

      A local store is not likely to even HAVE all those books (at least if Yves’ tastes are anywhere near as medium-obscure as mine), not to mention the time involved.

      Reply
      1. flora

        But smaller local bookstores can order books for you and have have them within a week, usually. Call store, request to order; have title/author, and book’s publisher ; give your contact info and pickup when books arrive. hint, hint.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth Burton

          They will order it if the book is still in print, and the wholesaler they order from has it in their catalog, and the publisher accepts returns. Otherwise, they’ll just as likely tell you it’s not available.

          I love bookstores, too, but the romantic aura of perfection they’ve been painted with as an anti-Amazon campaign tends to overlook their flaws. I also wish people would be a little less evangelical and stop telling people to not shop at X or Y, citing perfectly legitimate policy reasons that nevertheless come off looking like an effort to guilt-trip people who choose X or Y for specific personal reasons.

          Sometimes, the only place to find something at a reasonable price that’s within one’s budget is Amazon. Which saved me $150 in shipping this year so far after deducting the cost of Prime. And that doesn’t include the programming and movies and music. My alternatives to the latter are Spectrum, Google, and AT&T.

          We aren’t going to fix the system by boycotting Amazon. Or Walmart. Or Nestlé. Or [fill in the blank]. That ship has passed.

          Reply
          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            We aren’t going to fix the system by supporting Amazon. Or Walmart. Or Nestle’. Or (fill in the blank). So what do you suggest?

            Reply
      2. Wat

        That’s somewhat the problem with Better World Books who provide funding to libraries. I use them as often as possible, but a lot o times they lack new and obscure titles. Have you tried them, Yves?

        Reply
    4. HotFlash

      How can any company pay its people well, keep a complicated software system running smoothly and ship heavy packages quickly all at affordable prices?

      As a small biz owner who does quite a bit of mail-order, I would say, by having the complicated software system running smoothly.

      Reply
  6. charles 2

    My personal algorithm for buying books is :
    1) Identify who is the publisher of the book
    2) Check if the publisher website has a DRM free version available and is cheaper or same price than Amazon, If yes BUY
    3) Else Check if Amazon has it in Kindle format, if yes BUY, and make immediately a DRM free backup
    4) Else order a paper copy at my local bookstore, BUY, cut the pages and scan the book. Read on a tablet.
    I have given up on paper completely. Personal storage and use in public transportation of paper books is simply too expensive.

    Reply
  7. exvermonter

    Personally I usually only use amazon to browse. If I either find or know of a book I want I use AbeBooks.com (used, rare and new books). Often the shipping is free and the prices are very good. I also enjoy being out of the consumption of new products when possible.

    Reply
    1. Carla

      AbeBooks is owned by Amazon. If one wishes to boycott Amazon, one must check the ownership of EVERY online retailer to make sure of its ownership. That’s what I do.

      Reply
    1. EMtz

      Biblio.com also is an independently owned bookseller who works with other independently owned booksellers around the world. They are my go-to and their prices usually are excellent.

      Reply
  8. MRLost

    First week of this month (November) I decided to send some books to my grandniece. I have also been trying to use Powell’s as an alternative to Amazon. I briefly lived in Portland and frequented the original Powell’s Bookstore and fell in love with the place. Best bookstore I’d ever visited so I have a soft spot in my heart for Powell’s. My main issue was how long delivery would take. Powell’s website told me it would take three weeks to ship three children’s books because one of the books was in a remote warehouse. Pretty durn remote, I thought so I tried breaking up the order to see if I could get something to her faster. Best Powell’s could offer was two weeks for two books and three weeks for the other. So I checked Amazon (yes, I have Prime) and found I could buy four books for less money and also get my “free prime” two-day delivery.
    Now I really don’t care about the price; three or four or ten children’s books just are that expensive though I know price is the singular issue for many purchasers. But the delivery period was ridiculous. And I must agree with Yves that the website is clunky at best. I was only able to discover the delivery would take so long at the very end of the web transaction. Next time I will plan much further ahead and try using Powell’s again but they really need to do something about their shipping process.

    Reply
    1. False Solace

      Prime isn’t free. It costs $10 a month. Quite a nice bit of mental trickery on Amazon’s part to convince people Prime shipping is somehow free, when in reality people pay out the nose for it, regardless of how many purchases they actually make.

      Reply
      1. Angie Neer

        I signed up for Prime a couple of years ago, briefly. Once during that period, I shopped for something on an unfamiliar computer, and then decided to buy the item, which required I log in. Immediately after I logged in, the price for the item increased significantly…I literally saw the numbers change as the page refreshed. That’s not the only or primary reason I now avoid Amazon, but it’s one.

        Reply
    2. Elizabeth Burton

      Amazon’s special deals with the delivery services make it impossible for anyone to compete with them for either price or delivery time. I discovered just how bad non-Prime shipping is when they recently decided to shut down their Createspace POD operation and create a hybrid with Kindle called Kindle Enterprise Publishing.

      The original idea was to offer the aspiring authors who think they’re getting a great deal publishing via Kindle free preparation of their uploaded files for on-demand printing. Yea! They could get real books to pass out. This apparently proved so successful Amazon opted to integrate it as a new “business.”

      The problem is, the entire thing was designed with those self-publishing naifs in mind, and the assumption they might have a dozen or so titles to be catalogued. I have almost 200. I know other digital publishers who likely have even more, and offer to have books printed for their authors who want them.

      The real mess, though, is that now, instead of a unique shopping cart, all sales at wholesale are done through Amazon. I recently ordered two copies each of six titles for a new customer. Two of one title were shipped separately from the other two, which were apparently destroyed in that Baltimore warehouse building collapse a while back. Instead of replacing, they just canceled the order, so I had to re-order. Only I couldn’t, because they claimed those two titles weren’t for sale at Amazon (they were). I had to order from a different distributor.

      I was belatedly informed that if I wanted all books in an order to be shipped together, I had to so specify, as apparently they are now being printed all over h*** and gone instead of at one location, as they were previously, and shipped whenever. Delivery is taking up to two weeks or more.

      The worst part is their customer service is clearly being handled on two separate channels, one of which is somewhere English is the second language.

      Nothing like having to change your entire customer fulfillment system on short notice.

      Reply
  9. Vexil

    My go-to source of books is abebooks.com. It is largely used books. Shipping is often free, even for a book that only costs a couple of dollars. They seem to be mostly US and Europe, and seem to be a database of book sellers. Many of the sellers seem to be non-profits, so prices are quite low. The site mostly lists publisher and condition information, unusually anything about the topic, so using Amazon for research works well. New books are generally cheaper or equivalent to Amazon. Shipping is immediate, but through standard mail services. Because orders of multiple books are split up by sellers, there’s no difference in price when placing multiple orders. Their search function is great. Been using them for years without issue or complaint, although I try to order through reviewed-well sellers. I have found the condition descriptions to be accurate, or better than described. No gift wrapping.

    Reply
  10. tara

    In the past, I ordered from the Seminary Bookstore Cooperative in Chicago.
    They are a co-op and they did a good job of getting me what I ordered and contacting me if there was a problem. Now I get books at the thrift store for $1- a few were on my list to buy at the co-op and more ; )

    Reply
    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      And their affiliate, 57th St Books, sells popular titles, fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, the whole nine yards.

      If you are a member you get a discount AND support independent bookstores.

      But there is no excuse for Powell’s providing customer service worthy of Comcast @#&?!

      Reply
  11. Lupemax

    Sorry to hear, Yves. Sympathy. Sounds awful. I know how busy you are and how much you depend on others to be knowledgeable and efficient. I never assume all that in dealing with computers.

    I’m fortunate to live in a state that has excellent public libraries and I use them, a lot. If I really love a book I buy it. If I need a gift I buy it locally if at all possible – there are still wonderful local bookstores where I live. I worry about my libraries disappearing. I’m a retired librarian so I’m comfortable using libraries.

    I originally shopped Powell’s because the staff had a union. I think they still do. I still do now and then from the union website (they get a kickback) and try to meet the minimum so I don’t have to pay shipping. http://ilwulocal5.com/support/

    I’m not a techie. I’ve always found most websites difficult to deal with. Nothing about computers has ever been “intuitive” for me; I don’t see what other people see. I like dealing with people on the phone (when they know what they are doing, of course). From day one, I never assumed any online (even Amazon) would reliably wrap and ship separately gifts so I never tried it. I have a kindle; use it rarely; and “buy” pretty much only the freebies offered (i’m on email lists that offer “free” books on kndle). You get what you pay for however; my husband reads more of the freebies than I do. I also don’t like that I can’t really easily “lend” a kindle book. Plus I still think the internet will soon crash in one way or another.

    For a long while now I also feel wrapping, though pretty, is wasteful and no longer sustainable? So I just give the birthday item with a card – which I make if I have time. I also regift alot (I’m trying to downsize).

    I’ve used http://www.betterworldbooks.com and they ship for free. I’ve also found Alibris to be very reliable and reasonable even with shipping. I use Amazon to ‘research’ books – they’re good for reviews from reliable sources.

    Appreciate all the other recommendations in this thread. Thank you.

    I am very also very very afraid at this point: This from Hedges and Nader makes me almost immobile: https://www.truthdig.com/articles/are-we-about-to-face-our-gravest-constitutional-crisis/

    Reply
    1. mle detroit

      Good point about gift-wrapping. I’ve given it up too: the lungs of the planet will be more important to my grandchildren than a one-use dead tree now.
      Don’t panic about that Truthdig article. It’s facts are right, but its extrapolations over-estimate the Fox-Breitbart crowd’s willingness to get off their couches (Trump rally crowd size reports are notoriously inflated), and under-estimate the new social media networks of Rashida, AOC, VotersNotPoliticians, et al.

      Reply
    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      Oh well, I guess my rare foray into a longer comment was deemed unacceptable. So I will just say this:

      Be not afraid! While there is much truth in the article, there is also a lot of fear-mongering, though it pains me to say that of Hedges and Nader.

      Furthermore, the article itself, while breathlessly putting forth its thesis of constitutional crisis (should Trump fear he will be impeached), contains several reasons why this will not happen:
      1) Shady financial dealing are not collusion
      2) If Trump fires Mueller, likely his hand-picked SC will uphold it
      3) Trump can in the time-honored manner of previous presidents “start” a war

      While none of this is good it is not a difference of kind but rather of degree from our checkered past.

      What is true is that the institutions of democracy, especially a free press, no longer function as a check on those who would abuse power.

      Reply
  12. Whoa Molly!

    Recent attempts at avoiding Amazon.

    I tried Powells for a single used book recently. It arrived in 10 days. Amazon offered two days at about same price.

    Ordered a similar used book from local bookstore and it took 13 days, a 30 minute drive both ways, and 3 phone calls at a buck or two above Amazon.

    Reply
    1. Spring Texan

      I may be anomalous but I normally don’t care a whit about delivery time. Whenever it gets there I’ll still want to read it. And if it gets here fast I often don’t have time to read right away anyhow (of course, I order a LOT of books and always have stacks waiting).

      Reply
  13. Carla

    I like to use indiebound.org for online ordering. You put in the title you want, then your zip code, and it lists the independent bookstores near you. I have an embarrassment of riches: 3 within 2 miles of my home (one is less than a mile).

    You can either pay online and have the item shipped to you, or you can order the book and pick it up and pay at the store, which is usually what I do. Of course, I happily pay full price for the books, and I’m very grateful that my circumstances permit me to do this.

    For those who live far from an indie bookstore, http://www.betterworldbooks.com can be a great source of both new and used books. Free shipping on all orders!

    Decided a long time ago, if I can only get it on Amazon, I can (and will) live without it.

    Reply
    1. roadrider

      Yes, I’ve used them too. Can’t say whether you can get gift wrapping or other features available on other online sites but since, like you, I’m boycotting Amazon I can live with whatever limitations that involves. You can (almost) always get any book from a good public library with an inter-library loan system if its just for yourself and you don’n need to own it.

      Reply
      1. Carla

        Yes, the library is great, too. Our public library partners with local independent bookstores to promote and present authors’ talks and childrens’ programs.

        If our library doesn’t have a particular book, and a patron thinks it should be on the shelf, one can request that it be purchased. Unless there is some specific reason not to do so (pornographic content or content of extremely limited interest, for example), they will order the book. The library director told me she considers this to be a very important way that our public library expands its collection while reflecting the interests of our local community.

        Reply
  14. Stillfeelinthebern

    I too do all my online book shopping at Alibris. Great selection, can get used and it supports small business vendors. Even with shipping, the price is better or the same as Amazon.

    Reply
  15. lyman alpha blob

    I created an Amazon account 20+ years ago back when they only sold books. I don’t purchase from them any more but since I’ve had it for years, I use Amazon’s wishlist to keep track of the books I want. Then I go down to my local independent bookstore and order from them instead. I may have had to wait a week for a book to arrive if it was something really obscure, but generally it takes 2-3 days.

    This way I have a permanent list of books I want to so I don’t forget and I get to support my local bookstore while screwing with Amazon at the same time .

    Reply
    1. lyman alpha blob

      Side note: I do go to the physical bookstore because I like the people there, but I could also simply call in my orders to them too.

      Reply
  16. nv

    As Yves mentioned the Whitney bookshop, also downtown is 3 Lives & Company. Tiny shop, good selection of current titles, and a smart friendly staff, who know their books. After St Marks closed (a staple of my adult life) the default became 3 Lives. Last week they shipped H is for Hawk to a friend in Ohio for her and her two teenagers to read. When the weather is good one can walk a block to the garden of Jefferson Market, to sit, read, and restore one’s being gazing at the greenery.

    Reply
  17. McWatt

    All: I second the thoughts of one above. It is more expensive to shop locally but here is what you get;
    your neighbor who owns the business gets to stay in business.They pay sales tax, property tax, the local water bill and if they are anything like my family they donate to all the local charities because that is good for business. They buy their business insurance from the local insurance representative who does the same thing as all local business’s. If they are smart they use the local bank, because the bankers shop at local business’s and make the loans necessary to keep their business open, even at the times that they shouldn’t, because they are neighbors. Small and local beats big and national every time. I can’t tell you how many times customers have sent their kids in to ask for a job and if I have an opening they have gotten one. I see my customer’s all over town. I know their stories, I know about their happy times and their tragedies. It is a fabric weave that runs throughout the strongest communities.

    I am always impressed as I travel Europe to see so many small businesses. Particularly in Germany there seems to be a respect and an acknowledgment that small businesses need to make money to support their families because it is good for everyone.

    Plus all the money in these transactions stays local. It is a circle that just just keeps coming around, instead of being zipped off to Seattle or Beijing or the Caymens, with only a $9.75 per hour job left in it’s wake.

    I have witnessed the devastation wrought in small town America by Walmart, Home Depot and now Amazon.
    It is not pretty. Now we are seeing the effects in larger towns and even cities.

    So if all you care about is price, go ahead, but by doing so you are destroying a large part of what made this country great.

    Reply
    1. Carla

      Thanks for this, McWatt. I always try to point out the “high cost of low prices.”

      You have reminded us of the “low cost of high prices” — IF and WHEN the “high” price supports our local economies — it is actually the bargain!

      Reply
  18. maria gostrey

    i shop at powells monthly, despite their frustrating website. i make up a cart, write down the cart number & call. it takes a few more steps but i like to encourage those few online businesses where you can actually get a human.

    yes their shipping time is slow, but i just take that into account.

    powells also has a decent selection of russian language books & a pretty good selection of art books.

    Reply
    1. jrs

      not that market competition is everything, but is propping up completely nonviable businesses really that helpful I wonder. A business that you have to call to get delivery seems doomed to fail anyway, and if it was new business you could put up with it for the long run potential once they get more stable, but it they have been in business forever …

      Reply
  19. The Rev Kev

    Have to admit that I buy a lot of my books from eBay as, after reading about Amazon over the years on NC, I do not want anything to do with them or their slave warehouses. The strange thing about this story here is that Powells has had a web site since ’94 which means that they have been longer online than Amazon itself. And yet after a quarter of a century of online ordering, they do not seem to have got their act together in what should be a mature system by now. Hard to account for that.
    Just in passing, if you are ever looking for new sources of mystery books, the following series of books based on these two people are quite good-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inspector_Morse

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadfael

    Reply
  20. Michael O

    They probably can’t afford to hire or retain engineers to keep the website up and running. You’d think that would cost less than paying people to fix the mistakes the broken technology causes. At some point, it’s a basic cost of doing business, like paying to make sure the roof of a store doesn’t leak. This is where Amazon’s scale comes through not only in lower prices but also more stable and better-tested technology.

    Reply
    1. JW

      Shopping carts are a commodity now. This is a wheel that has been invented. All Powell’s has to do is call up Shopify and say we’ll be a high profile user of your shopping cart system just help us get set up.

      Unless of course Powell’s is tied to their current solution by union contracts that forbid outsourcing.

      Reply
      1. jrs

        union contracts? those have never existed for I.T. workers so the odds have to be a million to one against that. Yes it’s a commodity.

        Reply
      2. fajensen

        It is more likely that they are tied to some ancient horror, like an IBM Java Beans powered e-commerce Linux-on-Mainframe solution that was really hot tech and also really expensive – in the 1990’s.

        They can’t bear the (imagined) disruption and sunk costs in scrapping it and they can’t find anyone competent in maintaining the thing because they are all retired and nobody currently active as a developer uses those ancient frameworks anymore (except the all-out-of-effs-to-give career developers working for the TBTF banks deliberately on ancient garbage – and one absolutely cannot afford those).

        My son works in logistics and knowing the amount of legacy crap the “connected” world runs on and the burning hoops that people will jump through to “make it go for just one more year” it is actually amazing that anything arrives at all, never mind “JIT”.

        The Plain-Text ASCII CSV-file stored in a known location and sucked in by a script is indeed The Universal Interface to Everything :)

        Reply
        1. JW

          A very likely scenario, we may have a winner.

          I would second the observation that the potential disruption is mostly imagined, at least relative to the very real day to day disruption customers and front line staff are experiencing. And plain text is the best thing invented in computing in the last 50 years.

          Reply
  21. Bee

    Thanks for posting this, Yves. I had tried to order from Powell’s last week, and got nowhere. Went back to my go-to used book seller, abebooks.com. They sell through myriad small dealers throughout the country, so I hope at least my purchases are supporting small, independent businesses.

    Reply
    1. JW

      You are the third or fourth person to mention Abe and I’ll be the third or fourth person to comment that Abe is owned by Amazon.

      Reply
      1. EoH

        Thank you.

        Abe is owned by Amazon.

        True antiquarian independent booksellers are trying to make that association clearer. Amazon is trying to obfuscate the association to enlarge its already monopolistic market share.

        Reply
  22. JW

    I am afraid that the US is losing the culture of pride in a job well done. I have long lived in Latin America, land of 60 hour weeks for laughable pay and routine violation of labor laws. There is definitely a culture of they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work. And once that has taken hold it is very difficult to break workers of it. When someone has years of work experience doing the minimum possible as passively aggressively as possible those habits are hard to brea and the good workers are constantly being poached.

    Reply
  23. nippersdad

    We long ago gave up on Powell’s for the kinds of reasons that you mentioned, and have been boycotting Amazon in all of its’ iterations for decades now.

    As has been mentioned by several of the commenters, We have found ThriftBooks to be a wonderful resource. That and many other like groups can be found at ebay quickly and for a wide range of prices. We try not to buy anything new; reduce, reuse and recycle being a habit with us. However, new books aren’t very hard to find there if that is what you are looking for, and many of these sellers are Mom and Pop type operations.

    I hope your shopping works out; try this, it may help.

    Reply
  24. Eric

    Being an inhabitant if Portland and a hater of Amazon, Powell’s is my go-to for purchasing books. I am sad to hear of such bad experiences on your part. I have a friend who works in their IT department and will bring this up to him (I don’t know if it will change anything, of course…)

    I can say that, for regular purchases (just a single order of books, either shipped or for in-store pickup), I have never had a problem with ordering through their website.

    I am glad for the comments providing other alternatives to Amazon as well. Powell’s does not always have what I am looking for – and now I have a few more options before Amazon!

    Reply
  25. EoH

    The most famous alternative is City Lights in SFO (citylightsdotcom).

    And I second the recommendation for DC’s Politics & Prose (wwwdotpolitics-prosedotcom).

    I was disappointed with Powell’s store in Portland: a cross between a Dickensian warehouse and the original Borders in Ann Arbor, with a couple of high-priced coffee bars squeezed into a few corners. Check-out was like Costco. But it was independent. Obviously, it has under-invested in its on-line shopping software. It better rethink that, because it will never compete on price.

    Amazon’s model is to undercut everyone else’s price. Until that changes, it will be nominally more expensive to shop anywhere else, doubly so for a prime customer. Any loss it takes Amazon makes up from monetizing your data, tying it into your other data, and invading your privacy. Since those costs are hidden, it’s impossible to tell what shopping at Amazon really costs.

    Reply
    1. beth

      I went to Powell’s only once when I was traveling for a funeral. It didn’t bother me that everything was original and nothing in the shop was updated. But I am now wondering if that was the business plan to just let the shop die with the owner. I don’t know anything about Powell’s ownership.

      I loved Border’s in Ann Arbor. All the employees were given tests to learn if they had broad and deep knowledge of books(not the chain employees). Walk in and ask questions and they were excellent.

      Reply
      1. Arizona Slim

        During my years as a University of Michigan student, I spent many an hour in the Borders store on State Street. Their original store, and, IMHO, their best.

        Reply
        1. EoH

          Its essential attributes and attractions were lost when the suits scaled it up. Not a rare problem. Then it was sold and loaded with debt, extracting cash while trashing service and the brand’s value, turning it into a real blue light special. Yes, there were changes in the structure of books sales over that period. But denuded of resources to respond to them and maintain service and customer experience precluded its survival.

          Reply
      2. Schtua

        I can’t produce a source for this, so take it as hearsay, but I remember reading at least once that ownership (not management) of Powells is wealthy enough to at least feign indifference to the continued existence of Powells. This may have been during the unionization process – “Oh, you’re going to unionize? Well maybe I’ll just shut the store down.”

        I am confident in saying that the people who work there like the store, like their co-workers, but do not like upper management / ownership.

        Finally, holding Powells to the same high standard of IT customer service as Amazon is unrealistic. That said, I’m sure there is some IT person there who will find this article and say “See? I TOLD you we need to support split carts! Give me some time to do it!”

        Reply
    2. Carla

      @EoH: “it’s impossible to tell what shopping at Amazon really costs.” You’re right. Since democracy and civilization are priceless, we will never know. But it’s easy to tell that the price of shopping at Amazon is too damned high!

      Reply
  26. PKMKII

    Tangential, as this is about Amazon alternatives but not for books: I’ve found that for lighting needs, 1000 Bulbs is vastly superior to Amazon. Better selection, especially for obscure bulb types, and much better sorting, categorizing, and filtering.

    Reply
  27. Jeremy Grimm

    The Internet is a public utility. Sales transactions using the Internet are likewise a public utility. The policing of exchanges are civil responsibility not unlike policing Main Street. Just as transactions on Main Street should be managed to prevent the many ‘creative’ practices of monopoly and monopsony the Internet too should be managed. We should have local, state, and federal governments devoted to the common welfare and protecting a free and competitive marketplace where rents disappear and prices and profits reflect actual costs and fair returns. But this world I thumb-nailed — a world of Justice and Equity is become a world no more real than the world of fairy tales.

    Reply
  28. Arizona Slim

    A business acquaintance is in the web development business. His specialty: E-commerce websites. I told him about Yves’ difficulties with the Powells site, and I mentioned this post. Perhaps he could help them get things straightened out.

    Reply
  29. Stephen Haust

    Just in case anyone here needs European books, I can recommend a couple of sources. I did
    use amazon.fr some time ago but prefer not to any more. Unfortunately their tentacles are everywhere
    and so occasionally they are effectively the only source. To finish my comment on Amazon, the service was OK (passable) but shipping was spotty.

    Here are my other two suggestions ( for French books anyway and I believe they have others too)

    chapitre.com I have actually bought from this company on two occasions. They do not ship overnight.
    They promise to ship within 7 days but they use FedEx so that helps a little. On my
    second transaction with them, my Paypal remittance somehow got interrupted and there was
    difficulty finding out what happened. It took about a week but the order was filled perfectly well.

    decitre.fr I have not shopped with this company but the website looks reasonable.
    I have every reason to think that, should the occasion arise, I would try them. Uses
    FedEx as well, in combination with USPS.

    In case of problems with either one of these (and I have encountered this elsewhere too) it is crucial
    to understand that the French do not hurry. They will get your issue straightened out but it will be in
    due course and you will wait your turn. Patience is a virtue.

    Reply
  30. Antagonist Muscles

    I hope the recipient of Ottolenghi book is nice enough to cook Yves one of the recipes inside. Or if the book is for Yves, I am once again impressed with her. (The book is probably not for her. Who gift wraps books for oneself?)

    I can confidently say that I am the resident expert chef and food connoisseur here. Although I have not read “Ottolenghi Simple,” I did check out at the library his other books, which are beautiful books with excellent photos. Ottolenghi’s cookbooks are great, but I didn’t feel the need to purchase any.

    Ottolenghi, incidentally, operates a famous restaurant in London. I wish I had dined there considering my poor gastronomic experiences in London.

    Reply
  31. Justine Rowinski

    I am very sorry to hear of your experience with Powell’s. However (and I sincerely do not mean to cast aspersions) I must ask why you haven’t looked elsewhere for another bookseller.

    Amazon/Google et al aren’t the only game in town, but they’d like you to think they are. And clearly, just because Powell’s was suggested as a more honorable alternative, it didn’t mean you would receive superior service.

    For many years now, I have used alibris.com to purchase books. They have an excellent selection, and even their used books (in many instances) look like new. Their shipping charges are no more than Amazon ($3.99 if you haven’t prepaid $100 in shipping costs disguised as a membership fee) and I’ve never had a problem with them.

    I strongly suggest you give them a try.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Because I had already spent way more time on trying to get the book order done than I could afford, and I had no knowledge of how long it would take to for an order to get to my mother from another vendor. With the booksellers using Amazon, I could see where at least some of them were located, and they all committed to ship within 24 hours, so I could pick ones close enough to where my mother lived to have confidence the books would arrive on time.

      Reply
      1. jrs

        the seeing locations is nice (so I praise Amazon marketplace lightly, it’s not like they even make this feature very easy to use at all. They don’t, but it’s there kinda sorta), I often choose to ship from the closest locations possible to reduce shipping miles.

        Reply
    2. Clive

      Without wishing to belabour the point, Yves mentioned she is time stressed and that is an understatement along the lines of saying it gets quite warm in Phoenix in the summer. However much you think there is a never ending pressure of too much to do and too little window to do it all in, the reality is between two and ten times what you imagine.

      I too have boycotted Amazon but a) I found Powells website clunky and erratic and b) there is a considerable learning curve to finding your way around yet another company’s website, registering and setting up an account, adding multiple billing details and delivery details when you want to deliver to different addresses, figuring out how to do combination and split consignments, where to find optional extras like gift wrap. And so on. Customer “stickyness” really is A Thing. I’d so like, to give my own example, to be virtuous and boycott Comcast here in the U.K. but I simply can’t face at the moment switching to another telco/cable provider/broadband with all the tax on time and hassle this would bring into my life.

      Reply
  32. Alex Cox

    Yves
    My sympathy too! You work extremely hard on this site and it sounds like you are not only time-stressed, but stressed. Please try and take it a bit easier. This has been a very frustrating experience — especially because of the individual gift-wrapping and card messages.

    Would it be possible to send the cards and books separately, and dispense with the gift-wrap? You can order the cards with the picture of your choice online or at a local photo shop (perhaps harder to find) which is much nicer more personal than any card Amazon or Powells will have, and sign them. Have the books shipped sans gift-wrap. They still look good under the tree!

    Happy thanksgiving (from a Limey) and many many thanks

    Reply
  33. Oregoncharles

    Ouch. I’ve promoted Powell’s myself – and I’m hoping to sell them a lot of books that we just unearthed from our attic. Very sorry Yves had such a frustrating experience – and personally sorry Powell’s doesn’t have their act in gear.

    Maybe they’ll get the message from this.

    Reply
  34. Indrid Cold

    As a resident of Portland, where Powell’s takes up a city block of prized real estate in a boomtown, I’ve seen them over the years. They’re famous in town fore treating their employees shabbily. They are seen as a scrappy alternative and they were. I have a feeling from this article and from the fact that the employees have gone on steike 2 or 3 times I can specifically recall, that they’re just adopting Amazon style practices to leverage their rep as an ‘indy’ to greater profits.

    Reply
  35. Fazal Majid

    Indiebound may be an option.

    I just email Jude Feldman, the lovely manager at Borderlands Books, a Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery genre bookstore in San Francisco that I am also a sponsor of. More expensive, but worth it to support a local store that is also a strong community anchor. That said, I mostly buy eBooks nowadays (from Apple, because at least that’s not supporting Amazon’s book monopoly).

    Reply
  36. Littletoot

    I went thru this today with an industrial supplier – waiting for over a month for a product that they ordered for me to arrive, only to be told that it was lying in the local store but they ‘hadn’t got around’ to call me to pick it up… To compound the stupidity, they don’t even have a local phone number you can call them at – all calls go to a call centre somewhere in Canada or USA – who knows? Like I’ve always said – ” You don’t lose customers, you give them away.” Last time I ever shop at this company. Hard to understand why they even exist.

    Reply
  37. Octopii

    My massive XXXX Engineering Handbook arrived today. It would have been cheaper to buy from the standards org that publishes it, but as I proceeded to checkout they came up with a $64 shipping fee for slow boat — it’s a heavy book. Checked Powell’s, they don’t have it. Checked Amazon, they have it for a few bucks more than the publishing org but free shipping. Ordered Saturday, arrived today. Probably 35lbs of book, paid for half of Prime right there. It may be evil but it is hard to beat.

    My last Lyft driver from the airport was a warehouse supervisor, started as a driver four years ago. Sounds like if you can tolerate driving long enough to move up it gets better.

    Reply
  38. bobh

    I get used books of every description quickly and at low prices by using Vialibri. It is set up for rare books, but works great for all kinds, mysteries, histories, etc. You can do searches to find the best deal and order a copy from a broad range of booksellers, small and large. Here is the link:

    https://www.vialibri.net/

    I learned about Vialibri from an article in the NYT:

    Here is the link to the article, with the salient quote below it:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/technology/personaltech/tech-reporter-does-not-use-tech.html

    “What piece of book technology do you use every day?”

    “ViaLibri.net is an excellent book search engine. It doesn’t sell you the book, but tells you, for free, who is selling a copy or, for really obscure stuff, the closest academic library with a copy. I use it the way other people use Google.
    The volume of material out there still amazes me. Even leaving aside e-books, the internet has changed reading forever. You used to have to struggle to find books by, say, the baroque fantasist Avram Davidson or Harry Stephen Keeler, the early-20th-century novelist whose bizarre stories eventually alienated his audience completely. Now their entire works, and everyone else’s, can be painlessly found by anyone who wants them. Literary culture is fragmenting and deepening in front of our eyes.”

    Reply
  39. Powell's Books

    This article was heartbreaking for us at Powell’s to read. We’ve attempted to reach out to the writer and hope to get more details so we can remedy the situation and avoid such issues in the future. We value all of our customers and are thankful for everyone who chooses to shop independent.

    Reply

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