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Great Value Books: A Caveat for Canadian Stores

Update: July 9 — Sometimes it’s not always great to be the “first” to try something new, you become a laboratory test specimen more than anything else. So when when we were among the first Canadian accounts to try using Great Value Books’ (GVB) new website, there were a few frustrations, to say the least.

However, in a matter of mere days much of this is resolved or being resolved, so rather than focus too much on what follows, I encourage my fellow-Canadian retailers to just skim this quickly, and then click over to the update to see how this was resolved.

When using this Send the Light subsidiary, Canadian stores should be prepared for final “landed” costs that are double the posted unit prices online.

Many of us in Canada have been blessed by the availability of products through STL Distribution, now renamed Send the Light Distribution.  So when word came that their Great Value Books (GVB) subsidiary was finally introducing online ordering, I decided that after years and years of downloading spreadsheet lists, this would be a good time to finally place an order.

I should say that the order is still in process; it has left their warehouse but has not yet arrived, so this story is, at this writing unfinished.

My initial reaction to what I’ve seen so far may seem like much complaining, but I think it is important to for someone to share their experience in the hope of helping other people not face some unpleasant surprises when they see their first invoice.

First let’s talk about the site itself.  GVB is not dissimilar to the STL site we’ve used for many years, however the core listings — without clicking through — don’t contain author information. I think there are other books I might have purchased had I been able to see and recognize author names; this business is very much all about authors. So there was a lot of back and forth clicking that would have been unnecessary had a bit more thought gone into the design. 

Books are searchable by publisher and category; using the actual search field produces some wild and inexplicable results, but then, that’s not much different than the regular Send the Light website. Generally it’s good to keep open a second or third website that you’re more comfortable with.

There was no indication as to what constituted a minimum order, so once we reached $225 US net, we figured we’d try closing the order, which was successful.

Then we had to pick a shipping option.  We chose — and this is critical — something indicating as “cheapest trackable.”  I figured this would be some kind of ground service, maybe 7-day or even 10-day.

It turns out their vision of what constitutes “cheap” is not the same as mine.  My four boxes are shipping on a 2-day FedEx service that’s no different than the premium service they use for regular Send the Light orders. 

This of course, impacted freight charges.  You have to be careful here not to be too critical, since shipping charges as a percentage of total net merchandise are always high where remainder titles are concerned.  But I was not expecting 72.7%

Furthermore, the invoice does not show prepaid HST charges. If those are levied by FedEx, there is going to be a $50 charge for document preparation, plus a COD charge for same; and we’re also going to have a cheque ready when the driver comes; something we simply don’t do in our accounting system, since we only deal with U.S. suppliers who fully clear shipments.  (Or we use a Michigan address; knowing ahead of time the brokerage is not being fully handled.)

So on Friday, I have to be ready to expect four large boxes, and possibly $100 of brokerage and handling charges plus HST charges…

…at my house.

Yes. My house, where we sleep and do the dishes and cut the lawn and definitely do not receive shipments. GVB used an older billing address and decided to send the goods to my home office; except that there won’t actually be anyone working at my home office on the day the shipment arrives.  At no point in their shopping cart checkout process is there any address verification, and since I had asked them to create an account replicating my STL account — even provided the account number — I assumed they would get it right.

Contact them to make delivery changes?  Not likely on the 4th of July. 

The bottom line is that books I purchased for $5.00 are basically going to end up costing me $10.00 and $4.00 items are going to become $8.00 per unit; items I bought at 75% off are going to land at 50% off which is no bargain, especially if the items are not in absolutely pristine condition, which I somehow doubt.

GVB does have some items at 90% off, and Canadian stores would be encouraged to stay with the very-high-discount items.  But they really don’t have enough items on offer at that discount to justify much of an order.

The shipping charge situation underscores an important principle which runs through dealings with all our vendors:  It’s so easy to spend someone else’s money.  It’s so easy to just to command someone else to reach into their pockets and fork over amounts of cash without considering that some stores — especially in this country — are Mom and Pop operations that are trying to watch where every penny goes.

Until GVB gets that, my best advice would be to avoid them altogether and stay with companies like Book Depot where you know shipping will be — even for Western Canada stores far removed from their Ontario base — in the neighbourhood of 20-25%

Given the address disaster, I’ll update this post if and when the four boxes arrive at all, and what the final “landed” cost per unit works out to vis-a-vis the website prices.  

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