Alibris Returns Returns To Their Sellers (And Opens Up Direct Contact)

- by Michael Stillman

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Buyers can ask Alibris sellers a question through this online form.


By Michael Stillman

The world's second largest used/old bookselling site recently announced some major changes in the way they do business. It is something of a two-pronged transformation. The most obvious part of the change is that booksellers will now be handling their own returns. In the past, Alibris has been the exception in that they have handled all customer returns. The business model now shifts, at least partially, to one more consistent with the rest of the industry. The other part of the change is that this opens the door to greater direct contact between buyer and seller. This is not consistent with what is happening generally among the websites. Here, the movement is toward less direct contact. Alibris is clearly bucking the trend on this one.

The sellers' response was both surprising and expected. Booksellers have been extremely vocal in their distaste for recent moves by rival Abebooks to reduce direct contact, such as making seller names harder to find. Under the circumstances you would expect nothing but plaudits for Alibris. Indeed, many sellers welcomed the change with strong approval. There are booksellers who prefer to control their transactions as much as possible; who believe they can do a better job of generating customer satisfaction than the listing sites can do for them. Nevertheless, there have been many unhappy comments, along with the usual threats of imminent removal of listings from Alibris. Actually, this is as much to be expected as surprising. Change is never easy. While greater contact may sound good in theory, some booksellers are comfortable in their anonymity, not to mention the ease of leaving the returns to Alibris. It may well be that dealers who prefer less direct contact have gravitated to Alibris. Therefore, it is not that surprising that happiness was less than universal when the sellers got something many have been requesting for ages.

When asked about seller reaction, Alibris Director of Direct Marketing and Sales A.J. Kohn acknowledged that "some have been less than enthusiastic," but felt this is understandable. Uncertainty and change are not always welcomed with open arms. "I can't blame them - this is their business and livelihood. We'll do our best to communicate the changes and make the transition a smooth one," says Kohn.