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Thursday, October 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Third-party sellers irked by Amazon's tech snafus
By Monica Soto Ouchi
But if his Prairie Lea Books experienced early success, things changed dramatically in the fall. The online bookseller sold 1,000 books on Amazon's site in July but half that number the following month. Sales have dropped steadily since.
Eastman said the decrease coincides with intermittent technical problems he's experienced on Amazon's site since August. Some days, he can't transfer money to his bank account. Other times, buyers can't access his third-party listings.
"There are constant outages," Eastman said.
Amazon told its third-party sellers yesterday morning that technical issues prevented some customers from placing orders on Amazon's U.S. and Canadian sites.
While the issue was resolved later the same day, it's one of more than a dozen glitches reported this month, according to a message board Amazon runs for third-party sellers who use Amazon's Web site to sell their items directly to buyers.
Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith said the company works to resolve issues as soon as possible. "These are, without a doubt, complex systems, and on rare occasions they do experience problems," Smith said.
But some third-party sellers say they believe the technical problems are becoming more frequent. The biggest challenge, they say, is ensuring their inventory is available for sale on the site at all times.
In three attempts to buy used books yesterday morning, the same message appeared during checkout: "The quantity you requested is no longer available." The books were available later in the day.
"The mood right now is you just can't depend on Amazon anymore, and you have to go to other venues," said used-bookseller Rebecca Oliver. "It's just so many things."
The company has acknowledged the problem to sellers. In August, Amazon's information-technology division began a quarterly question-and-answer program for third-party sellers called, "Ask Amazon." The first question it addressed was, "What are you doing about site stability?"
While the move helped it redirect Web-site traffic, Kilar wrote, it affected "the availability of both the (Web site) and certain seller tools."
"I want to apologize here to all of you for not nailing that migration earlier this year," Kilar wrote. "We let you down."
Not all blame technical problems for slowing sales. Some attribute pre-election consumer jitters, while others say larger used booksellers have cannibalized sales by selling popular titles for as low as a penny.
Larisa Somsel of Somsel Books said she's such a small seller on Amazon's site that she's never sure whether slow sales are due to bad inventory or not repricing inventory quickly enough.
Her sales volume on Amazon has been down since January, Somsel said, although September and early October are "the worst it has ever been."
"Some people say it is the election and the pre-Christmas slump," she said.
Oliver said she's doubled her inventory in recent months but sales are still falling. She trolls the third-party message boards for explanations, and sellers aren't shy about expressing their opinions.
"This is what goes on when people feel frustrated and cynical about Amazon in general," she said. "We're a small part of their big plan, and we feel it, too."
Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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