A lawyer practicing on Main Street in downtown Ventura placed an order for a rare book on law via Amazon in 2015. The book, delivered to his home in Thousand Oaks, had a familiar name on the return address: his office’s neighbor, Bank of Books. Clarey Rudd, owner, says that this isn’t an all-too-uncommon occurrence.
“He had no idea that we were here,” said Rudd.
Rudd, like thousands of other brick-and-mortar stores across the country, is in partnership with Amazon and has been since 1996. Bank of Books has an inventory of over 2 million books across three warehouses and sister store Abednego Book Shoppe, also in Ventura. Every month, a large chunk of Rudd’s sales are made through Amazon’s marketplace, though he wouldn’t disclose the percentage.
At the end of 2015, however, the relationship soured when, Rudd says, Amazon flagged his business for being over the “cancellation threshold.”
Amazon utilizes what it calls a Seller Performance Measurement, which, according to Amazon’s terms, establishes “performance targets for sellers so that buyers can shop with a sense of safety and security about their third-party transactions.” These terms include having a less than 2.5 percent “pre-fulfillment cancel rate,” meaning sales cancelled by the seller rather than through Amazon’s website by the buyer. Penalties resulting in a rate above the threshold can result in a 60-day notice to improve, or the immediate removal of selling privileges “of accounts with very poor performance.”
As of Tuesday, Sept. 27, Bank of Books has an overall 96 percent seller rating with 1,141 reviews in the last 12 months. The store has over 17,000 ratings over its lifetime, however — 95 percent positive, 3 percent negative and 2 percent neutral — the seller page doesn’t clarify the pre-fulfillment cancel rate.
Rudd says that in October 2015, Amazon revoked his selling privileges and placed on hold over $10,000 worth of income with no prior notice or warning of exceeding the pre-fulfillment cancel rate threshold. Rudd said he feels that, after 20 years, he should at least have been given the 60-day notice to improve before his selling privileges were revoked. Though it took only days for the issue to be resolved, for over a month Rudd waited for his account to be reinstated and during that time made attempts to contact Amazon’s Seller Performance team to no avail. Rudd says he lost up to $60,000 in business due to the lockout.
“Suddenly you discover that they don’t provide communication,” said Rudd. “That’s not OK after being in business for 20 years.”
It wouldn’t be the last time that Bank of Books faced the same issue.
Again in March of this year, Amazon froze his accounts due to exceeding the cancel rate threshold, holding money in stasis, says Rudd; and again, Amazon was unreachable, he says. The move prompted Rudd and Bank of Books to declare a “state of emergency” and promote a massive sale to make up for lost revenue. Rudd says that he had to lay off employees and consolidate warehouse space due to the loss of income.
“Amazon has the power to almost destroy us … we’re still living with the damage they caused,” said Rudd. “Amazon is buying up companies, more and more, that we were with before them; so again they’ve got funds to have a customer-service person answer the phone for us, who have made lots of money for them.”
Bank of Books isn’t the only bookseller to have sour dealings with Amazon, and Rudd says that due to Amazon’s size, he feels that Amazon isn’t being held liable for damage caused by its practices. In a letter penned by the American Booksellers Association, the ABA claims that Amazon “controls 75 percent of online sales of physical books” and has as large a market share as “Standard Oil did in 1911.” Standard Oil was famously broken up into 34 various companies as the result of antitrust actions taken by the federal government at the time.
“Countless tiny merchants have partnered with Amazon to increase their market presence,” says the letter, which Rudd has sent to the California State Attorney General as well as State Senators and Representatives. “As such, Amazon takes advantage of those business relationships to extend its predatory business practices.”
For now, Rudd says that he hopes a similar incident doesn’t happen again, as he works to crawl out of the hole left behind.
The letter was also sent to Congresswoman Julia Brownley’s, D-Westlake, office, which relayed that Brownley could not comment on open cases.
Amazon had not responded to requests for comment by deadline.