Getting "Fulfilled" by Amazon
Amazon's automatic fulfillment lets us vacation on Kauai.
by Renée Magriel Roberts
Fulfillment. A wonderful word and quite an old word, from the Old English fullfyllan "fill up, make full," from full + fyllan (see fill, which is ultimately from the root of full). Used early of prophecy and perhaps a translation of L. implere, adimplere.
I was just checking my Amazon account this morning and there brightly highlighted was an invitation and link to "upgrade" my account to "Fulfillment by Amazon". I'm always looking for ways to get fulfilled by the mega-sites on which we list our books, so I thought I'd go check it out. Two of Amazon's senior staff graciously walked me through the program: Drew Hardener, Senior Public Relations Manager, and Joe Walowski, Senior Product Manager/Fulfillment by Amazon.
Amazon is a customer-centric company, and not surprisingly, this new program focuses on satisfying particular customer needs. Amazon's customers have been saying for quite some time that they really like the added selection and variety (as well as the prices) of books for sale by independent sellers on Amazon's site. However, they have been less enthusiastic about the quality of the fulfillment process, as well as the lack of integration with other Amazon programs, such as Amazon Prime, which enables a customer to pay for shipping in advance with a flat rate fee. Books purchased through independent sellers on Amazon do not qualify for Amazon Prime.
This being the case, Amazon has come up with a beta Fufillment by Amazon -- one of three legs of a merchant program, including Pro Merchant and Webstore by Amazon (not yet available). Through Fulfillment by Amazon, Amazon arranges to handle the packing, shipping, and servicing of independent bookseller orders. Participating sellers simply send their inventory to an Amazon fulfillment center and when orders are received, they take care of the rest.
Amazon picks, packs and ships the book. The inventory is physically stored in Amazon's Fulfillment Centers. Book inventories in this way are eligible for "Super Saver Shipping" and "Amazon Prime" shipping programs. Purchases appear on customer self-service accounts in the same way as direct Amazon purchases. There is 24-hour customer service and the capability to gift wrap purchases.
Books are stored for $.45 per cubic foot per month. Additional handling fees apply: books priced less than $25.00 are billed at $.50 each plus $.40 per lb. If the books are more than $25.00 they are billed at $1.00 each plus $.40 per lb. A $3.00 handling fee is applied if the book is more than 18" long x 14" wide x 8" high, or weighs more than 20 lbs. Of course, the Amazon merchant commission applies to each order as well.
Getting "Fulfilled" by Amazon
Fulfillment by Amazon handles packing, shipping and service.
Sellers who sign up for this program will have access to "Seller Central", a new site which Amazon claims makes it easier to manage account and selling activities. Sellers can also achieve "Featured Merchant" status, based upon product category rules and seller history. They can create promotions and set up multi-user seller accounts with configurable user rights/permissions. Sellers will have access to new site metrics, streamlined order confirmation and tracking, better branding (your logo next to your products), and other services.
Drew and Joe were quick to point out that this new program is not an all or nothing scenario. There are no plans to force current Amazon Pro Merchants into Fulfillment by Amazon; it is entirely voluntary.
As a small publisher, our first take on the new program was that it was a real step up from the current Amazon Advantage program. We could have our books printed and shipped directly to Amazon's warehouse; we could manage our own inventory levels; and Amazon's automatic fulfillment program would handle our orders (while we vacation on Kauai). We can sell the books in any way we wish and have them fulfilled through Amazon's program. The key is in selecting books that will turn and not just cost warehousing dollars.
As a rare bookseller, however, I did have a great many concerns which the program does not appear to address at this time. And, because the program is in beta, there remain aspects which can be more than inconvenient.
Selling rare books is a customer-service-intensive occupation. There is often some considerable discussion ahead of the sale. The books sold are picked, cleaned, repaired, covered, carefully packed, and shipped according to customer instructions. Follow-up on shipping is also handled individually. We are always easy to reach.
All of this individualized and just-in-time service would be unavailable to customers ordering through the Fulfillment program.
There are also significant differences in the way in which booksellers work with Amazon.
First of all, instead of receiving disbursements on demand (and every two weeks automatically), disbursements are sent to your bank account every 14 days. Right now this schedule cannot be changed.
Inventory listings display differently. Only 200 listings can display at any one time. If you have more than 200 listings, they will only display through search results. Right now, you can page through your entire inventory. Moreover, there is no low price status displayed. You cannot edit prices or quantity on the inventory page. There is limited shipping capabilities, specifically no expedited or international shipping.
Getting "Fulfilled" by Amazon
Fulfillment by Amazon won't be getting my 1793 Franklin autobiography anytime soon.
Bank account information cannot be changed online, and sellers migrating to this new platform will not be able to create auctions.
All products shipped to Amazon must be labeled with a special label that adheres to the book. If you do not want to adhere a label to a book, the book has to be encapsulated (not a very good idea with older material). You cannot create mylar covers "on demand", as each rare book is sold; it has to be sent to Amazon repaired, cleaned, covered, and ready to ship.
If a book is sold through the Amazon site and returned to Amazon, they determine if the book is still in saleable condition. They do not check to see if the book is the same edition and condition as the book that was shipped out. They make the entire determination as to the value of the book and their liability to the seller in the case of damage or loss. I cannot recommend strongly enough that anyone contemplating this program have adequate business insurance.
So, if you are a Pro Merchant seller now, do not be tempted to click on the Upgrade now! button without slowly and seriously reading the fine print on the Click Here to Learn More link first.
Fulfillment by Amazon is of great value to a small publisher, or a seller dealing with new books. Antiquarian booksellers will want to consider their options carefully ahead of time, or, at the very least, wait until the program is more complete before making a decision about it.
Kauai may have to wait.
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at email@example.com.