Friday, December 27, 2013

Amazon Packing Result 1: Okay, Meh and Fail

FedEx came today and delivered the first box of the Amazon 11 (12 counting the book from a separate order they're combining), a day early. That's pretty neat, but the shipping time is not really a concern for me--they've always done a good job there.

The first sign of trouble was when the driver handed me the box and I could feel and hear the books sliding around in there. Shouldn't happen. There should be packing material surrounding the books for just that reason. Sometimes Amazon puts in no packing material whatsoever, sometimes they put in the inflatable air packets but neglect to part with the air necessary to inflate them, and other times, like here, they put a cursory piece in the box that has no practical effect other than, I hope, to make someone feel like they did a good job.

The book on the bottom was the only hardcover in this shipment, the Henrietta Lacks book by Rebecca Skloot. It was face down on the bottom of the box and was actually the same size as the box. If the box's corners had been damaged, so would the book, but the box was unharmed and the book had damage anyway.

This is the kind of damage that should make book buyers insane: the box is fine but the book is not. In this case, the front board has a partial puncture, exposing the cardboard guts beneath. The dust jacket, which is actually 75% of a book's value (if you care about such things) was creased, folded, and bent right above the bottom edge where the board was punctured.

Why send this book in the box? Why? It's damaged BEFORE I get it. It's not like I'm not going to notice.

The other two books were trade paperbacks, both not unscathed. John Enright's Pago Pago Tango was on top and on the front cover were two shiny splotches. They weren't sticky and didn't seem to have any sort of feel to them, but fortunately they wiped off with a damp paper towel.

The second, Warlock by Oakley Hall, has both lower corners of the covers and pages flared outward. They're not bent and by carefully working the corners back inward, the book looks salvageable.

The result? In a fairly typical Amazon packing job of three books shipped loose with a single and singularly ineffective piece of padding, all three books arrived in less than new condition. One is flat out damaged and should never have been shipped. One had cover stains that were probably transfer artifacts from the packer's lunch break. The third seems to have suffered its damage because of its ability to slide unfettered around the insides of the box.

So the hardcover is already packed up to be sent back for a replacement, I will keep the Enright trade paperback, and I will barely keep the Hall. Why keep the trade paperbacks? Because, sadly, and this is the point, these two books, while not new and crisp and sharp and steeped in the atmosphere of new books fresh from the press, they are about the best that Amazon is willing to offer via their shipping process.

Let's call the order twelve books since they added the order of one book to the order of eleven. So the tally after one box with one fourth of the books:

New and perfect condition: 0%
Salvageable to a fairly high standard: 66%
Returned to Amazon on the next truck out: 33%

For Amazon, who prides themselves in customer service, and who indeed does have wonderful customer service, their woeful tradition or inability to deliver books in fresh, undamaged condition continues.

We'll see what the rest of the order looks like tomorrow. I always hope for the best but that's the point with Amazon the past few years: you don't expect good product, you hope for it. That's another reason why the delivery time isn't so important. When you have to ship so many books back, you already know you're in for a long process.

(By the way, I wrote an earlier blog post about trying to purchase a copy of The Letters of Saul Bellow. After several copies arrived trashed--I believe the front cover was pulled off the binding on one of them--Amazon told me the same thing would probably keep happening if I ordered more copies. I took them at their word, got the refund, and went to Barnes & Noble. I'd like to deliver that story to Jeff Bezos by drone.)


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