Ordering books from overseas

I’ve just spent the last two hours browsing the books at http://teachershop.scholastic.co.uk/, and have come away empty-handed, but not without a fight! I registered, and went through the shopping cart procedure until the final step when I was finally able to see the shipping cost. For some inexplicable reason, the cost of shipping was 20% of the order, which in my case was over 7,000 yen!

Feeling that that was outrageous, I called their customer service department and spoke to Ms. P. Rather than repeat the conversation, here’s the complaint I wrote afterwards:

Dear Scholastic Books,

Having just spent the last hour deciding on books, registering and getting to the final step of the order process, I was gutted to see you charge 30 pounds shipping (my order was for 150 pounds + 20% shipping, to Japan). Since I’m ordering books for personal use, and books in English are rather limited in Japan, I was hoping you might be able to offer a discount on the books, to help cover the shipping. But no, your support staff when I telephoned were adamant that the cost of the books and shipping could not be changed, and went on to tell me that no-one else from abroad has complained, and their orders were usually higher than mine.

I was one click away from completing the order, but your sales staff, with their “pay or get lost” attitude, convinced me to cancel.

Then you rub it in with your little graphic “We strive to be perfect”. Well, if you want to be perfect, please try showing some compassion, or at least some different shipping orders, or a warning about your shipping costs to save people like me some precious time.

Nick Ramsay

Searching Amazon and Ebay, I still couldn’t find what I wanted so I felt pretty helpless. My next thought was to ask about the weight of the books. I figured since postage and packing was free on orders over 30 pounds in the UK, I’ll have them send them to my mum, and she can send them through the post office, regular mail for a fraction of the cost.

So, I called up Scholastic again and spoke to someone different. She offered to find out the weight but couldn’t tell me straight away, so I asked her to put me through to her senior.

Ms. L was as stubborn as Ms. P. It must be very frustrating to be in a senior position but have absolutely no say whatsoever on costs. Ms. L could do no more than repeat what I’d already heard and finished by saying “Isn’t it normal for companies to have fixed prices?” to which I responded, “No, Pam, not in Japan, the Japanese are far more flexible in the way they do business.”

Wow! Did I really mean that? I know that Japanese customer service is far superior to that of the U.K’s (just compare the cleanliness of Starbucks), but to suggest that the Japanese are less “to the letter of the law” surprised me. The Japanese, in so many ways, stick to the rules rigidly, but when I think about it, I’ve had floor staff calculate discounts for me on the spot, and many a time have I had prices rounded down (air conditioner installation, hair cuts, car service, etc.)

I haven’t ruled out the possibility of taking on Japanese citizenship when I’m much, much older, and little experiences like this (and England’s poor showing in the World Cup) all contribute to that eventual decision. (Note that I have spent my entire working life in Japan.)

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

3 thoughts on “Ordering books from overseas

  1. To follow up, they sent me the weight of the books which was 4.8kg, so I went to the U.K. post office site and used their calculator to work out the price of surface mail to Japan. Surprisingly, it was more expensive that the shipping costs Scholastic charged.

    So, in the end, I swallowed my pride and completed the order. Seven years of math curriculum and worksheets! Yep, this is all research material for my planned revamp of my Math Worksheet Wizard site.

  2. Yeah shipping can be quite expensive when ordering online! I ordered some cosmetics for Kikumi and im sure they are like 3 small jars of make-up and its costing like $15 to send… and thats the slow rate… the actual cost of the cosmetics is $30 and so basically almost half the cost of the cosmetics is being added to the total cost of $45… kind of ridiculous and thats the price you pay for shopping on the net… great deals but they get you with the shipping…

  3. Nick,

    Great site.

    Was wondering if you have ever used any of the online book comparison sites when shopping overseas bookstores. They can include the shipping costs in their price comparisons and point you to the cheapest price.

    Two of the most popular are Bookfinder: http://www.bookfinder.com/ and Addall: http://www.addall.com/



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