Same-Day Book Delivery Doesn’t Best Bookstores…Yet

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Want a book, and want it now? Your local bookstore is probably still your best bet.

With some out-of-town travel lined up for this evening but no airplane reading on hand, I thought I’d try out Amazon’s new same-day delivery service as well as Barnes & Noble’s Manhattan-only counterpart (not the newly announced Barnes & Noble-Google collaboration). At least based on my own experience, neither one can quite match the speed, convenience or customer experience of a stroll to a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

Amazon instructs customers to filter their search results by checking a “Get It Today” box, but that option doesn’t always appear, and when it does it’s sometimes grayed-out. I thought that could be because my Brooklyn billing address falls outside the same-day delivery area for which my Manhattan office is eligible, so I started up a chat with customer service.

The representative who helped me couldn’t find a way to narrow down my search results using the “Get It Today” filter, but she did offer to check individual titles for me. A new Haruki Murakami novel is due out later this month, so I thought, Why not dip into an earlier one to whet my appetite? The representative found that Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was listed as “in stock but may require an extra one-to-two days to process,” so that was out. We tried another one: After Dark. She told me “the item is not available in the nearest fulfillment center” and therefore unavailable for same-day delivery.

Scrapping Murakami, I asked next about Tinkers, a short 2009 novel by Paul Harding, but no luck there either. Very well–what about newly released, popular titles like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See? Or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn?

What about Fifty Shades of Grey?

None were available for same-day delivery.

So I went through the “Browse Popular Same-Day Delivery Items” on Amazon’s designated same-day delivery page instead, zeroing in on books.

Lo and behold, The Fault in Our Stars was not only 40% off but ready for same-day delivery. Sure, fine, I thought.

Amazon Fault order totalI’m not a Prime member, so the shipping and handling fee, $9.98, cost more than the book, $8.05 after Amazon’s discount, bringing my total after tax ($1.60) to $19.63.

The order confirmation I received via email told me to expect it no later than 9 p.m. tonight. I’ll be in Toronto by then.

Amazon’s move toward same-day delivery is aimed not just at outdoing the convenience of physical bookstores but also at besting online competitors like Barnes & Noble. The bookseller recently teamed up with Google in order (among other reasons involving its book business) to prevent that from happening. Barnes & Noble is one of nineteen retailers Google has partnered with in a play for some of Amazon’s customers, and it kicks off its same-day delivery service in parts of select cities today.

While certain areas are now getting a service they didn’t have before, in Manhattan Barnes & Noble has long offered same-day delivery. Orders placed before 11 a.m. are supposed to arrive by 7 p.m. the same day. Great! Not only did I spot Murakami’s novel After Dark listed as available for same-day delivery in Manhattan, it would theoretically arrive two hours before The Fault in Our Stars.

Puzzlingly, the checkout screen didn’t provide an option for same-day delivery. So I contacted customer service, where I was told that by choosing “Standard Delivery: two-to-six business days,” my order would automatically be processed for same-day delivery and should arrive by 7 p.m. tonight.

For one thing, I couldn’t possibly have known that, especially when “Express Delivery: Same Day eligible” also appears on my list of options–a selection meant for Barnes & Noble Members only. And for another, the 7 p.m. delivery deadline couldn’t be guaranteed. “Anything can happen,” I was told, “if something happens to the truck, it breaks down or something,” After Dark would reach me after dark, or more likely, the next morning.

So be it. Shipping and handling cost $3.99, bringing my subtotal to $11.74. I placed the order; the race was on.

At this point, I wanted to tell you all about what happened when the books came–who delivered them, what they were paid and more–but they haven’t shown up yet, and I have a flight to catch. I’ll update this post when they do arrive.

Behemoth e-tailers, technology juggernauts and chain bookstores aren’t the only ones competing to offer readers the immediacy of walking into a physical bookshop and walking out with a book. Harvard Book Store has offered next- or same-day “Green Delivery” through a local bicycle delivery service for the past five years. Orders are processed in the morning for a 7 p.m. pickup, so any purchases made before noon can usually reach customers that evening (the stated range is one-to-three business days), as long as the items are in the bookstore’s on-premises inventory.

Screen shot 2014-08-07 at 3.06.55 PMMuch the way Barnes & Noble automatically queues up eligible titles for same-day delivery, Harvard Book Store defaults to Green Delivery for any orders placed to ship inside a designated delivery zone encompassing downtown Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Green Delivery costs $5, and Emily D’Amour Pardo, Harvard Book Store’s director of business development, attributes the program’s success to a loyal customer base for whom the sustainability of the delivery method is as appealing as its speed. Amazon has expanded its same-day service to the Boston area, but Barnes & Noble so far hasn’t. Pardo is confident Harvard Book Store can hold its own against either, though.

“They may offer speed,” she said, “but they certainly are not doing it on two wheels.”

If four wheels are any speedier, so far, it’s not by much. My books, both ordered by 9:45 this morning, haven’t arrived yet.

UPDATE: I returned to my desk on Monday morning to find both books waiting for me. Both were delivered on Friday. Amazon’s tracking system doesn’t indicate exactly when its products are delivered, so I won’t ever know for certain whether The Fault in Our Stars arrived before After Dark, but Barnes & Noble’s system records the latter’s delivery time at 5:40 p.m. That’s about 32 hours after I placed the order.Screen shot 2014-08-11 at 12.52.21 PM

3 thoughts on “Same-Day Book Delivery Doesn’t Best Bookstores…Yet

  1. Michael W. Perry

    There’ll never be same-day delivery outside major cities. For the small college town where I live, even delivery giants such as Fed Ex service drive though a string of towns in a nearby state before coming here. In busy times like Christmas, they sometimes never get here. It goes back on the van for delivery the next day. The best deliveries are often those that drop off at the post office for delivery the next day.

    Yes, if you live in a major city, one of its bookstores may have a copy, but it’d be utterly crazy to go on a tour of them, looking for it. A few years back someone had a marvelous website, probably updated daily, that would tell you if a particular title was available locally and at which store. I don’t know if it is still around, but that’s what’s needed to counter Amazon. In fact, if the book industry had any sense, there’d be a Not Amazon website that told you all the places you could get a book or ebook that weren’t Amazon.

    I also wonder if, for cities with fast subway systems like NYC, a courier system using a monthly transit pass and perhaps a fold-down bike might make sense.

    For myself, I opt for patience. I wait for a book I want to come up used at a reasonable price and I order it, taking the slow but sure USPS option that’s typically $3.99. It takes longer, but my savings are often in the 400-500% range.

    Next-day delivery is for those with the ‘I want it now’ emotional maturity of two-year-olds.

    1. Michael N. Marcus

      Other Michael — I sympathize with your small town blues but question your math.

      If getting something for free is a saving of 100%, how could you save “in the 400-500% range?”

      Are you being paid to accept free books?



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