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Ingram Book Company Sinks to Lowest Level of Customer Service

People have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for all manner of customer services lapses, and while it is the case that it has more difficult to hire employees and more challenging to get products from publishers in on time, some are simply milking the situation for all its worth.

Ingram Book Company operates under several different names, such as Ingram International, Ingram Content Group, or for some of my readers here, Spring Arbor Distributors. Their customer service record over the past years has been dismal, as evidenced by wait times of over an hour on their phone lines, shared with me by other dealers in the retailer Facebook group.

So instead of hiring extra customer service agents, or expanding their customer service hours, they did the opposite; forcing more issues to be submitted through the chasm of email; correspondence they had not intention of responding to.

Their actual announcement read, in part:

To best support all customers, we are adjusting our phone hours to support calls during peak call times, allowing us to focus on email support outside of this new phone schedule.
Effective November 1, 2021, our Customer Care phone support hours will be 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST / 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PST Monday through Friday.

Four hours. They cut it back to four hours.

This from a company which inflates list prices, imposes short discounts at the drop of a hat, and has no commitment to the actual marketing, promotion and publicity of the products they sell.

Their future — and they know this — is their partnership with Amazon in the US and Chapters in Canada. The individual, independent retail stores they’ve served for so many decades can’t possibly be part of their long term business plan. And their own retail division, Barnes and Noble, while having a good year in 2021, is subject to the roller coast ride of the pandemic and the industry as a whole.

With no other choice, I sent an email a month ago.

The three titles I received in a single shipment bore a bar-code and printed price of $14.99; but they charged two based on $16.99 and one based on $17.99. Plus a less than trade discount.

The problem is, I went through this with them about 2½ years ago with exactly the same titles, and they said they would clean up the database. I got a credit note that time.

Not this time.

Not even a reply.

I was taught, “Reply to a letter with a letter, to an email with an email, to a phone call with a phone call.” That’s just basic courtesy; basic human decency; basic business etiquette.

Not for Ingram…

…Today I received a very damaged book. I can’t through to them on the phone and I know there’s no point in trying another email.

Instead, I need to reconsider my supplier base; and rethink the type of services I’m prepared to offer my customers moving forward on the more obscure titles not carried by a major distributor such as Harper, Penguin, Hachette, or in the case of suppliers used by dealers reading this, Anchor/WA and the former David C. Cook Distribution.

If it’s not with those companies, I’m prepared to tell my customers that the titles aren’t available through us; preferring at this point to prioritize my business efficiency instead of Ingram’s.

Ingram Determines What is a Bookstore and What Isn’t

Ingram’s annual minimum is a slap in the face to small, independent bookstores. It’s another way of saying, ‘we don’t see you as a legitimate bookstore and we are the ones who will set the standard and make the determination of your legitimacy and entitlement to trade discounts.’

I really try to keep the personal rants to a minimum, but this is one of those, so feel free to move on.

I have mentioned before that several years ago we received communication from Ingram International informing us that because our wholesale purchase the previous year were less than $5,000 US net, we would be placed in a short discount category.

They no sooner did this than it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whereas before I had quite willingly padded my orders to meet the 10-unit minimum on iPage for trade discount, I no longer had any incentive. Instead, I started placing orders one book at time. (They do this for Amazon and Chapters, so I figure there are built in efficiencies at their end unknown to us in Canada. One time my single book arrived in a Chapters box.)

My account would never come close to $5,000 annually again. Furthermore, with the deals offered by Canadian suppliers, plus the fact their distribution rights are enshrined in Canadian law, there is no compelling reason to order a Christian book from Ingram (i.e. Spring Arbor) unless you are on the west coast and facing some delivery time issues for that book’s customer.

This week however, I actually had reason to place a ten-unit order through iPage, and when the confirmation came through, I was reminded again of how things have been since June 15th, 2015; over three and a half years now. The letter we received at the time read:

Dear Valued Ingram Customer,

As with any business, Ingram must closely monitor our expenses and make adjustments when needed so we can continue to provide the speed, accuracy, and support that you’ve come to expect. Sometimes, as our costs decrease, we have been able to pass that savings on to our customers.

However, to cover increased freight and operating costs, we’ve found it necessary to explore and evaluate our discount structure. On March 31, 2016, all accounts that fell below $5,000 in net sales for 2015 will have a new discount structure of 30% on all regular discount items. Please note, this discount applies only to regular discount titles, regardless of quantities purchased or order method. All other items such as video, short, audio, etc., will continue to be discounted as they have been. Also, Ingram does review each customer’s account sales annually and offers volume discounts based on net annual purchases.

We truly value your continued business and appreciate your understanding in this matter. Please contact your Ingram sales representative or call Customer Care at 800-937-8200 if you have questions about this new discount structure.

Sincerely,

Ingram Content Group

Again, playing the freight-cost card is illogical because of the aforementioned single-title drop-ships they do for Amazon and Chapters.

It also doesn’t make sense that publishers like Oxford University Press or Wiley Canada don’t mind my occasional purchasing and are quite happy to grant us trade discount.

This time around, however, four of my titles were from Carpenter’s Son Publishing; a Christian publisher which is locked into Ingram Publisher Services. It occurred to me that they are probably unaware of the policy and unaware how it diminishes the amount of ordering stores like ourselves are willing to do in order to encourage their authors and increase their authors’ visibility.

It occurred to me that well organized information campaign with Ingram Publisher Services might accomplish more than trying to shake the monolith. I mean, for starters, how do you argue or appeal your case with a company for which you have no real contacts; no names; no faces? How many stores reading this have had even so much as an email from anyone in the marketing department at Ingram? How many of you can name your credit representative?

So over the next few weeks I will be tracking down those IPS publishers and hopefully beginning a dialogue as to why their Canadian Christian marketing and distribution should be placed with Parasource, or Foundation, or Word Alive.

At the time we received the original letter from Ingram I wrote,

I missed it by $448 net. Less than 10%. A target I didn’t even know I was supposed to aiming for.

Last night I found out the hard way that my store was one of the ones that didn’t buy $5,000 from Ingram last year. $4,552 was close, but no cigar.

The company has removed all accounts falling below this annual purchase rate to a 30% max. short discount on book product. But they’ve done it such a way that stores are unlikely to take the steps to remedy the situation; effectively terminating those accounts, albeit perhaps over a long, drawn-out period of time.

1. There was no warning. The letter went out on June 8th [2015] to take effect on June 15th. This shows the low view they have of their customers.

2. There was no way to remedy the situation. The period the numbers were based on was January 1, 2014 to December 31st, 2014. For nearly six months we had failed to meet a target we didn’t know existed.

3. Offering to buy the difference to pull this year’s balance up is futile because that product would all ship at a short discount.

4. The situation is confirmed as irrevocable; there is no room for appeal, even for those of us who missed by less than 10%.

In the Fall of 2015, I wrote:

Here’s another way of looking at it: You buy a $10 book for $6. Your gross profit is $4. A supplier changes your discount by 10% and that book now costs $7. Your gross profit is now $3. In other words, you’ve been cheated out of 25% of your former profit margin.

So why does Ingram want to purge small stores from their roster when they already had a mechanism in place requiring minimum orders? It’s a question really requiring deeper investigation, and we’re working on it. Clearly, Ingram was the friend of the independent bookstore as well as gift stores which dabbled in books as a sideline. For our part, our purchases with them would have been much, much stronger in 2014 were it not for the service offered by Send the Light Distribution. We gave STL a “first pass” on our import titles and then used Ingram only for titles unique to them, and rush orders that STL did not have in stock at the time.

But it wasn’t enough. Neither was 30 years of goodwill and a perfect credit history.

There was no appealing their decision.

There’s a rule in pet ownership that you don’t scold a pet for something they did a day ago. You deal with it at the time. If any stores impacted by the new decision had been told ahead of time that, “In June of next year we’re going to change your terms if you don’t meet the $5K minimum, you need purchase only $421 more by the end of the year;” I know we would have put an order together in minutes. But to be punished in June for something we did the year prior… well, as stated, I wouldn’t do this to a dog.

The decision was arbitrary.

The decision was heartless.

Then in March, 2016, I wrote this:

  1. Small stores often get large orders. The bookstore owner or manager in a small market who works to get a 100 copy order gets no reward for their efforts. All other distributors base the discount on the size of the order, an approach Ingram has constantly resisted. I have orders currently holding from a couple of publishers waiting for me to add a few more titles. I have no problem working with that constraint. Send the Light’s minimum is 20 books. I understand why they instituted that and it’s not that hard for me reach their quota. As I said the last time this happened, I probably use some of my university publisher accounts once every 2-3 years, but my legitimacy and entitlement to a trade discount is never challenged.
  2. Ingram is a victim of their own system.  I received a $3.99 booklet from them. I have no idea why they do this or how they can afford to. When I placed my first iPage order, I was told to “click DC Pairs and where it says ‘hold/release’ click ‘release.’” I did what I was told. If I could change this, no one has ever told me what ‘hold’ signifies or how it would help save costs at their end and save the planet. They say they are “constantly monitoring expenses.” Uh…no, I don’t think so. If they streamlined their operations at their end, such as merging backorders or running multi-order invoices, they would not have to penalize small stores like yours at your end. Relatively speaking, this is all about shipping costs. The actual picking costs are minimal by comparison and the cost of a small store using the website is infinitesimal.
  3. Ingram already ships to addresses buying less than $5,000. In this case I’m referring to the host of individual consumers whose orders to companies like Chapters are fulfilled through Ingram. I feel like when I do place a larger order, I’m indirectly subsidizing the inefficiencies of Ingram’s costs in filling orders for online competitors.
  4. This shouldn’t apply to Ingram Publisher Services accounts. When Ingram is the exclusive distributor of a particular imprint, they are making money twice over. For a small store, they are the only game in town, and even if you approached the publisher directly and were willing to pay any importation costs, that publisher is contractually bound to Ingram as its exclusive warehouse distributor. Personally, I find scaling back the discount with respect to those publishers somewhat reprehensible. 
  5. Canadian stores were forced to scale back. Christmas season [2016] purchasing from the U.S. was greatly curtailed when our dollar crashed. With Ingram, accounts are settled by credit card on the 15th of the month following, so there was the added variable of not knowing what Canadian prices to set because no one knew how low our currency was going to fall.
  6. Ingram has other options. They could change the minimum order on iPage from 10 to 15 items or set a dollar-value minimum. They could change the “low” discount threshold from $2.99 to $3.49 or $3.99. They could adjust discounts on hardcovers as Send the Light did. They could modify discounts on publishers where they feel they are being squeezed. They could scrap the “cascade” system and have stores meet a 10-unit minimum per warehouse. They could scrap the minimum order altogether and change it to a minimum shippable. (The last two involve some major system reprogramming changes, but this is about saving shipping costs, right? And the price of oil is going to turn around eventually and courier fuel surcharges will again go up.)

I concluded:

I want to make clear that while this is partly personal, I just think this particular strategy is bad policy. It’s bad for bookstores, bad for publishers, bad for authors and really bad for Ingram itself, since it simply makes everyone angry.

If my account is a drain on their bottom line, then they should put structures in place that force me to consolidate orders, or higher minimum orders.

In our Christian product sales sector of the larger market, people are often well-networked and vertically integrated. So if I’m talking to a new publisher or a new author and they have a choice between Ingram Publisher Services and Advocate Distribution Services, I think it’s obvious which one I’m going to recommend.

If anyone has a list of the Christian companies using Ingram Publisher’s Group, it would save us some time. I want to continue to fight this on behalf of other stores which may get cut off from full trade discount in the future.

Ingram Content Group Database Errors Continue to Amaze

Before they broke faith with our bookstore a few months ago, I would, at least once a week, send Ingram Book Group notifications about serious glitches in their database. I took the time to do this for free, sometimes to the benefit of an author, sometimes to help out a publisher, but always with Ingram themselves as the primary beneficiary.

Not any more. If they want to post nonsense like this about John Piper, I’m just going to enjoy the hilarity. Actually, their information is getting increasingly unreliable. But this one was too funny not to share. If you want to read it for yourself, it occurs in the second half of the ‘Descriptions, Reviews, Etc.’ for this recent Crossway book: 9781433550430

Piper Biography

So that explains the lack of hair? Didn’t realize he was so financial savvy.

By the way, not once did anyone at Ingram ever say thanks.

Ingram International Incompetence (…Hey, it’s alliterative!)

The website said I was ordering a compact disc of a children’s musical.   You can see that for yourselves here:

But when the product was invoiced, it turned out not to be the compact disc of The Bethlehem Project at all, but a set of ten compact discs which are handed out to children in order to learn the musical.   This is exactly how it reads on the invoice:

BETHLEHEM PROJECT 10PK       D D  2734 X

That’s right.   The product description is not the same on the invoice as it is on the website. Somewhere in the Ingram mainframe there is a product description field with a completely different idea of what I ordered.   Two complete different descriptions.  Or two different databases.   (The example on the screenshot was identical both before and after the invoice was generated.)

I sent notice of this to their database department — I’ve used that feature several times in the past with good responses — but I’m also out a $60 item, plus 9% flat rate shipping plus tax.   And with a short discount just to rub the wound a little more.   So I contacted customer service.

And this is the answer I got.   Are you sitting down?

Greetings,

Thank you for contacting us.
Our records indicate international shipping option was selected
for your shipping method instead of your standard shipping
when your order was placed.

We appreciate your business.
Please contact us if we can be of further assistance.

Regards,

Ingram International
Customer Care
800-289-0687

Yeah.  Right.   It was the shipping method I was upset about.   And apparently I chose the wrong one.

How do they hire people to sell books who can’t read?

BONUS ITEM:

Here’s the listing for our good friend Mark Batterson’s DVD Study that goes with the book Primal.  Or as they would call it PrimalPrimalPrimal

UPDATE: (October 8th)

Ingram did in fact make this up to us, and rather quickly at that.   We still are not clear why two databases exist.    While it wasn’t mentioned here, we also discovered a week earlier an item which had one price in two of their warehouses and a different price in two others.   Our order went completely through the system at one price, but billed at the higher price.   Again, they did the necessary adjustment and did so quickly.   It would be so easy to fall into a  “I’ll  never buy from them again” mindset when things go awry, but we’re in a grace-based business, right?    So while the double description thing remains unexplained, and the initial customer service reply did reflect some incompetence, overall, the company is striving for excellence.

Spring Arbor Where Art Thou?

Every three months I get a magazine in the mail called Bridges.  It’s a publication of Ingram International and serves as a quarterly reminder that technically, I’m an Ingram International customer and not a Spring Arbor customer, even though 99% of my purchasing is Christian titles.

It’s the only time I ever receive anything in the mail from the company.   I apparently am not on any lists for any marketing packages, they don’t sell my name to Christian publishers for direct mailings, and as for phone calls or e-mails, you can forget that also, with the exception of a monthly e-mail highlighting Catholic products, which I am considering unsubscribing from.

I asked once if they still do marketing packets, and they sent me one — about four years ago — but for all I know they don’t do that anymore.   Even getting a monthly backorder report seems like pulling teeth.

In contrast, I had an in-store, personal visit this month from STL Distribution.   Considering I’m not a huge account, I was truly impressed that they cared enough to fly someone up here to the frozen north, and have that person try to get to at least five stores per day over the course of a week.

Anyway, my copy of Bridges arrived yesterday, and now I think I may need to have a talk with my mail carrier to explain a thing or two.   The back page of Bridges was an advert for two titles on running your own marijuana grow-op.   Of course, this could be a sign that I need to start a fringe department, but at $29.95 US, Marijuana Horticulture seems a bit pricey.   Perhaps I could start of with Marijuana Grow Basics at only $21.95 US; but again, I think my sales to people at the Baptist Church would be quite limited.

Reflections on The ShackThe front cover of Bridges is advertising, and one of the titles was Reflections on The Shack: A Topical Discussion by Women From Different Walks of Life; part of a book series called “Powder Room.”     I clicked on my iPage and looked it up, only to discover it’s another attempt by Christian publisher Destiny Image (DI) to capitalize on another publisher’s hot title.    In fact, this is their second title to feature Shack cover imagery on their own cover.  (The other is The Love Shack by Don Nori.   There’s a difference between serious academics like Randall Rauser and Roger Olson debating Shacks‘s doctrines and these titles, plus it’s got to be especially embarrassing for a publisher to have to wade into the same waters twice to try to come up with some sales.)  Another DI book showed up in the Bermuda listings.

With this issue of Bridges coming in at scant 12 pages, I thought they’d leave out the international bestseller charts, but they showed up on pages 10 and 11.   Ingram gives us a peek into the top 15 titles it ships out to various countries.     Usually there’s a Christian title or two, but the only one this time around was The Joy of Knowing Christ by Pope Benedict XVI, which turned up on the Italy top 15.   Isn’t shipping books by the Pope back to Italy somewhat akin to taking coal to Newcastle?    I suppose there’s a good reason this expensive ($35 US) Kaplan Publishing edition is wanted there.

Ingram International / Spring Arbor Adds Document Fees

August 24, 2009 1 comment

If you didn’t receive it on Friday, watch your mail this week for a pink invoice from Spring Arbor / Ingram International.    Stores in Canada are receiving notice that the company plans to charge $0.50 U.S. per document, including invoices, statements and possibly backorder reports, replacing the documents currently being mailed.

The pink invoice shows the charges but then credits them back.   Stores are told they must sign up for electronic documents immediately, though no deadline is given.   The credit covers July invoices, there is no indication whether August invoices will be credited.

The implications of this are huge if a store doesn’t comply.   If you order ten items by Flashback or iPage, and…

  • four items ship from your primary warehouse
  • three items ship from your secondary warehouse
  • two items backorder from your primary warehouse
  • one item backorders from your secondary warehouse

…in their terms, you are looking at four documents or $2.00 U.S. in charges.   This is on top of flat-rate shipping charges, and short discounts for suppliers who are not short-discounted with other distributors.

Why not just sign up for the service?   Well, of course you should, and you had better, but the change is being touted as an environmental concern, when in fact, both you and your accountant are going to want hard-copy, paper invoices.   You’re going to have to print them at your end, and sadly, modern printers run costs as high as $0.22 for a single document.    So you’re NOT saving the environment, they’re simply passing on THEIR COSTS to YOU.

Some are suggesting that it’s just a matter of time before the company also starts charging for telephone calls to their order entry and Bible hotline services.   Currently, stores must provide account numbers before operators will answer even basic questions not requiring a look-up, and now must also key in their account number before using the automated Access service.

Enough is enough.     Canadian Christian stores currently have an excellent alternative in STL Distributors.    It’s time to start using this option and recognize that the era of Spring Arbor has come to an end as a practical alternative for stores in our market.

UPDATE:  When you actually sign up for the service, and only then, are you told that the fees are effective August 1st, which is 25 days ago.    No other printed notification at all.

Spring Arbor Daily Top 100 — Your Most Basic Information Tool

ingram

Every day, a brand new chart is available from iPage which tells you the top 100 titles in the Spring Arbor group that Ingram shipped out the day prior.    Though prone to the fluctuations you would expect from a daily chart — especially the ones on Sunday and Monday which reflect weekend ordering — their volume is so high that a top 100 is a fairly reliable barometer of things you need to have in stock.

To access the chart from any iPage screen, click on “Merchandise and Promotions” which is the second tab in the bar appearing below and to the right of the iPage logo.

Then scroll down to the final section “Industry Bestsellers” and click on “Spring Arbor Top 100 Sales.”

The top 25 appear first.   You can then click on any header to resort the list alphabetically, or by author, or even by price.   I always sort the list by “Pub date” and once sorted, immediately jump to page four, which contains the most recent releases.

Today’s surprise was that Ingram is already stocking and shipping the hardcover edition Ted Dekker’s Kiss with no StreetSmart laydown date restrictions.   Thomas Nelson says the book releases January 6th.   Canadian stores can purchase an ITP, and apparently Nelson has finally capitulated to stores hoping for an ITP of David Jeremiah’s What in the World…

Through iPage, we also learned several days ago that they had jumped the expected release date for the new Janette Oke / David Bunn novel, The Centurion’s Wife, which, as of Friday, was still not in stock at David C. Cook Canada.

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Note:  If you’re interested, you can also check the listings for Ingram as a whole.   It’s interesting to cross index where some of the Spring Arbor titles meet up with the overall top 100 list.    Also you’ll notice in the Spring Arbor list some days where CDs and DVDs crack the book listings.