February 8, 2007

Half Annoyed

Jump for a nickel!

I use Half.com all the time. I like it. It’s great to be able to get used books at a good price, and it’s nice to be able to sell books and games once you don’t want them anymore. Of course, it’s great to be able to reuse stuff. It’s one of the best forms of recycling.

I’ve rarely had a problem with Half.com, but something odd happened this morning.

I was selling a book for 75 cents. Clearly I was not looking to get rich off this book. It had a cover price of about $14. but the book was only selling for $1 - $2 in the condition of “Very Good.” I figured 75 cents would attract a buyer and just get the book off my hands. And it did. But this buyer had some odd requests.

Comment/ Question: Hi,

Would you mind sending this package without a packing slip and/or invoice? I would really appreciate it. Also, please use delivery confirmation, if possible - I only make this suggestion, as the USPS is far less likely to lose the package.

If this item is a different condition (used/new/etc.), binding or media type (softcover/hardcover/tape/disc/etc.), edition or version (international/etc.) or differs in any way from your listing, please refund this order immediately.

You don’t need to respond to this email unless there is a problem with the order. However, if you write me with a question and I don’t respond right away, please hold the order until you hear from me. I receive a lot of emails and sometimes I’m backed up. Thank you!!

**NAME OMITTED **

I’m a skeptical person, and anything out of the ordinary raises my attention. Even if I eventually comply, and I determine there isn’t a scam involved, it’s a mystery to be solved. So, here are the irregularities:

  1. Don’t include an invoice
  2. Use delivery confirmation
  3. Please cancel and refund the order if I’ve been deceptive (or mistaken) about the product description.

Anyone know what’s happening here? It’s not a scam, but it’s not something I’m used to. At first I thought maybe this person was giving the book as a gift, and they didn’t want the recipient to see the low price. But that’s not it. I did some digging online and noticed some other things.

  1. The name signed to this note did not match the name on the “ship to” address.
  2. The message is obviously cookie-cutter, listing many possible media types and conditions.
  3. If I had misrepresented the book in my original description, why would I admit to that now?

Digging verified my suspicions. This person is using a business method known as “drop shipping.” In short, they have listed this item on Amazon.com (for example) after checking the prices on Half.com. When they get an order through Amazon for a higher price, they order the item from me through Half.com for much cheaper. Then they ask me to ship the product not to them, but to its final destination.

Revisiting the irregularities:

  1. They don’t want me to include the invoice because they don’t want the person at the other end to know they’re drop shipping. And probably don’t want them to know about Half.com, or about the cheap price of the book.
  2. They want me to use delivery confirmation not because it’s more reliable, but because they will not be receiving the book. If the buyer claims they never got it, they’ll need to ask me for proof I sent it. They have to trust two people instead of just one in this transaction, so they are asking for extra confirmation. The reason they give (USPS is far less likely to lose the package) is not completely truthful, in my opinion. I don’t like that.
  3. They want their buyer to get the book they expect. So if I am willing to fess up to an inaccurate description, they’d rather know right away instead of going through a whole rigamarole. They deal in volume, so this is one of many transactions they’ll handle today.

Philosophically, I don’t care who gets my book as long as I get paid. Even if this person is making money off my low price. However, I did not agree to assist in maintaining the drop shipping ruse. My participation on Half.com is to take orders, fill them according to Half.com guidelines and my own policies, and get paid. This person wants to use me as a shipper and act as a middleman to my transaction. But in this case, I don’t need or want a middleman because I’m not making much off the sale.

This book is being sold for 75 cents. After Half.com takes its 15% commission out of the selling price, I’m getting 64 cents for the book. Half.com decides what I get to charge for shipping and handling (cost of shipping, cost of shipping container, equipment, time, etc). In this case, they will pay me $2.40 to ship it. That’s a total of a $3.04.

It will likely cost me $1.59 to ship this book which is around 12 ounces, although if the shipping container is more than 4 ounces I’ll end up paying $2.07. Let’s assume the cheaper $1.59 for the sake of argument. $3.04 - $1.59 = $1.45. A shipping container will probably cost me about 80 cents. Doing the math… yep, I’m making 65 cents, so one cent of the shipping allowance is going into my pocket! I’m rich!

But the “buyer” has requested that I spring for delivery confirmation (which is not included in the shipping allowance). That would be 60 cents. Making my total (not profit) on this transaction a solid 5 cents. In other words, I would be agreeing to accept a nickel to go shopping for a shipping envelope, pack the book, make a special trip to the post office and mail it. Forget it if it turns out to cost me over $2 to ship — I’m in the negative.

What was my motivation again?

As I said earlier, I did not agree to be involved in drop shipping. I will treat all my buyers fairly and similarly. And I’m not springing for delivery confirmation on an item I’m listing for less money than you can purchase a small cup of coffee at McDonalds! (unless the buyer agreed to reimburse for delivery confirmation, of course) Half.com is specific in requiring an invoice be sent to buyers, so I will adhere to that. But I will give the drop shipper the choice.

I replied:

Hi,

I’m sending this email to clarify this order, and to request that you confirm whether you still want the order sent.

1) We do not offer Delivery Confirmation as part of the Half.com shipping at this time for orders under $25, and we currently do not have a way for you to pay for an increase in shipping once you have placed your order.

2) Half.com requires that a packing slip be sent out with every order, and this is our standard operating procedure.

If you disagree with these policies, please notify me and I will refund your order.

I will await your reply before I ship or refund.

Thank you

If a drop shipper wants to use me as part of his or her operation, and therefore wants special treatment, you’re going to have to give me reason to participate. Otherwise, you’re getting treated in the same fair way I treat every other buyer.

All this over 75 cents! Talk about “it’s the principle of the thing.”

Posted by James at February 8, 2007 1:26 PM
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Bookcrossing.com

Just saying. :D

Posted by: pippa at February 8, 2007 4:05 PM

I owe some books to blog readers who requested them a while back (after I offered).

I haven't forgotten about you! I'm going to buy a bunch of shipping envelopes and then I'll ask you about your shipping info, and get them off to you.

I'm springing for the shipping. Big spender! ;-)

Posted by: James at February 8, 2007 4:23 PM

BTW - I am going to release some books to bookcrossing before I send them out. However, we don't have a lot of bookcrossing locations in this area.

Boston and Massachusetts are well known for huge nubmers of bookstores. I live in an anomalous area that doesn't seem to have quite the same love for books. I have no idea who to blame for that.

Plus, if I start leaving books around in unusual places, whose to say the Boston mayor won't swoop down on my and accuse me of disguising bombs as books?

I'm slightly more than half serious about that. The Unabomber disguised some of his bombs that way.

Posted by: James at February 8, 2007 4:34 PM

They are bombs. They're brain bombs. 'Cuz books can blow your mind, dude!

Posted by: Julie at February 8, 2007 5:16 PM

Nice bit of detective work!

I love books but what to do with the old ones does prove to be a problem and there's not enough space to keep them all.

Although I think you handled this pretty damn well, MY suggestion is to ship it with out the invoice but include a note that says for an interesting story about this book go to: http://www.drmomentum.com/aces/archives/002867.html#c14817

:D

Posted by: Lefty at February 8, 2007 5:28 PM

My friends will tell you that your suggestion appeals my innate sense of mischief. I joked to Maggie "I should hide the invoice at the end of the book."

At the time I just thought it was a buyer with a weird request.

However, honesty is the best policy. And I am interested to see if they still want the book. So we'll see what they say.

Posted by: James at February 8, 2007 5:59 PM

Wow. That would never have occurred to me. I sell lots of books at half.com and have never seen this. The reason I'm willing to sell some books for LOW-LOW-LOW! prices is that every sale helps my rating, just in case I ever want to do something big at ebay (owners of half.com).

Posted by: Karen at February 8, 2007 6:14 PM

Yeah, I would've just included the invoice, not shipped with confirmation, and their "suggestions" be damned.

Posted by: Maggie at February 8, 2007 6:59 PM

1. Paperbackswap.com

2. You can wrap books in heavy paper and use lots of packing tape for lots less than $.80 -- weighs less than shipping envelopes, too, so you're less likely to go over a pound shipping your books. I learned that from paperbackswap.com

Posted by: Judy at February 8, 2007 7:38 PM

I'll definitely keep that in mind, Judy -- especially with my super-cheap books.

Paperbackswap, eh? That's a new one to me. Double-thanks.

Posted by: James at February 8, 2007 8:22 PM

And then there's bookmooch.com. Seems like a boom of book swapping sites.

Posted by: briwei at February 8, 2007 9:55 PM

I agree, great detective work. I would have probably not only ignored the buyer's request but the buyer himself.

I wonder how far you'd have to drive to find the closest good used bookstore that buys books. A road trip twice a year might be a better use of your time than websites like half.com. Or there are always local libraries if you're feeling charitable. A few of the libraries up here are not currently accepting books. Their basements must be full.

Posted by: Mike at February 9, 2007 11:35 AM

15% commission? That's much higher than eBay's commissions on regular auctions (and you can set your own shipping fee). What does half.com get you that a regular eBay auction wouldn't?

Philosophically, I don’t care who gets my book as long as I get paid.
Oh, I would care. This guy's being shady, and I don't like shady. If he'd said up front that he was re-selling the item, and that's why he wanted you to do it that way, that'd be OK — not shady, and you could choose whether to play. But it raises my hackles when someone tries to hide the truth and get something past me. Posted by: Barry Leiba at February 9, 2007 11:40 AM

I guess it did raise my hackles, too, and I don't like the shadyness. But I am willing to sell it to anyone (actually, in this case I'm pretty sure it's a she) who agrees to my policies.

The reason I use Half.com is that I can just leave the books up there for whatever price indefinitely. I guess I like that. I prefer ti to an auction.

I'd likely get a better price on eBay. But selling cheap stuff on eBay hasn't always worked out great for me. I've had people back out of auctions and that annoys the hell out of me.

However, I'm not that passionate either way about it.

Posted by: James at February 9, 2007 12:06 PM

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