Amazon can be very confusing for the buyer. I know because I buy lots of things on Amazon and I’ve been burnet a few times. In this article we’ll understand the different ways Amazon sells, talk about hidden costs, and finish up by discussing buying books here.
Selling on Amazon
There are basically three kinds of sellers you see when you get to the Amazon site. The biggest is Amazon itself. If an item is sold by Amazon it has no seller information in the top center near the title.
The second kind of seller is an Amazon store. Unlike the platforms we discussed last week, this is not open to everyone. Businesses must be invited to become a store. That’s why you see very few painted canvases on Amazon; those shops and designers have not been invited or do not wish to participate. You will know that an item comes from a store (you might think of these as companies instead) if the company name appears in the second line of a summary page and is a link above or below the title on the detail page.
The third kind of seller is just an independent seller. They do not have stores and they do not need to be invited to participate. If you had a book to sell, for example, you could do this too. The kicker is that you can only sell things that are already on Amazon.
To do this find the text “Have one to sell?” on the right just under the order box. Click on the button next to it and go through the process to list your item. These listings look like the used book listings. When your item sells you get an email and have two business days to ship. If you don’t mind the packing & shipping this can be a good way to get rid of stash.
Knowing who you are buying from helps make sense of shipping delays and extra costs.
Shipping, the Hidden Cost
You may think that by getting an Amazon Prime Membership, you get all your shipping free. This is true but only for items that ship directly from Amazon. Otherwise it’s up to the seller to decide about shipping. I’m seeing more and more items that include free shipping even when they come from third parties, but look carefully at your shopping cart and the amount under shipping in the total box.
Amazon pays a specific amount to their sellers for shipping, today in late 2017 this is $3.99 per item for shipments inside the US. You saw that right — per item. This means that if I found my favorite scissors on Amazon and they were sold by a third party, I’d pay $4 to ship each pair of scissors I bought! If I bought 3 pairs, I’d spend nearly $12 for the same packaging and shipping costs as one pair.
That can seriously add up. Having been burnet by this, now I always check when checking out.
On the seller’s side, Amazon will pay you $3.99 no matter how you ship. If it costs you less you make money! Did you ever wonder how charity thrift stores could sell books for a penny on Amazon? This is how, that book is actually being sold for $4. If it only costs them $2.80 to ship, they made $1.20 for the book. Not that I begrudge them this, but it’s important to know where your money goes.
Buying Books on Amazon
One of the really great things about Amazon is that there are many out-of-print books on it. You can see the amount of them on any item page, just under the price. It will tell you how many of each type (new, used, and collectible) are available.
If you click on one of those categories it will give you a list of the books, arranged by price + shipping (default sort).
You’ll find several columns:
- Price with tax and shipping separate
- Condition – we’ll talk about that below
- Delivery: This may tell you the seller’s location which can help with knowing how soon it will arrive
- Seller: This has information about ratings
- Buy button
Condition is a very important issue in the used book business. There are several grades from Acceptable to New. These grades have generally agreed on criteria. For example a paperback that has been read so the spine shows wear shouldn’t be called “like new.”
These grades are assigned by the seller. I have rarely had a problem with grades but I know many people who say the grading process is overly optimistic. Often under the condition you will find notes from the seller about that specific copy. Notations you might see include “library copy,” “CD missing,” or “cover shows wear.”
There are a couple of gotchas to consider when buying used books from Amazon. The first is that most used book dealers list their books on more than one site. This means the book you order may no longer be available. I have had this happen, although rarely.
The other gotcha is that the book you get may not be the same edition as the book you saw. This is less of a problem with needlepoint books, but I have had it happen several times with novels.
Amazon is a wonderful place to find and buy many things, especially books, but smart shopping can help you make the most of it.