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Alibris Week Long Outage Throws Sellers into Chaos

The only thing that might be considered worse than a full ecommerce site outage is an outage where buyers can place orders not knowing they may never receive the items. That’s what is happening with the Alibris book and media marketplace, and third-party sellers who have been impacted for over a week say the way the company is handling the situation is putting the marketplace in jeopardy.

Alibris spokesperson Dorothy Davis confirmed on Friday that the site began experiencing issues the evening of November 17th that impacted its ability to transmit customer orders to sellers. “The Alibris site and our core customer-facing services have remained fully functional. We have been proactively communicating with our seller community via service alerts on the Alibris Seller Hub and in our seller forum.”

David said the company was optimistic that a final fix would be put in place on Friday, “at which point all impacted orders will be processed,” but the problems continued over the weekend into Monday.

When asked whether Alibris is informing buyers of the delay, Davis said, “Yes, if they contact Alibris directly.”

Sellers are unable to access their orders, and were especially concerned that Alibris did not proactively inform buyers of the problem, including buyers who paid for expedited shipping.

“An outage like this for such a busy site is unprecedented,” Bill Koch of Weirdbooks.com told EcommerceBytes. “Alibris is probably the second busiest media venue for used books after Amazon.com (I am not counting eBay), and processes orders for many other stores such as Half Price Books, Textbooks.com, etc.”

Another seller, owner of For Whom the Bell Tomes, wrote to EcommerceBytes, “The thousands of third-party sellers that provide their online listings cannot access orders, and people who paid for expedited shipping should have already had their items delivered, when the outage isn’t even fixed. Anyone who has ordered a book, DVD or CD from Alibris or a listing they provide to many other sites will have their order delayed by more than a week.”

She was also concerned that once sellers gained access to their orders, they may already have sold some of those items on other venues and may no longer have them in stock. “Many orders will have to be canceled because sellers also haven’t been able to update their inventories. Some sellers will choose to send orders by expedited methods, severely impacting their bottom line. Many items will have been sold on other platforms by the time Alibris orders are visible.”

She also said on Monday that she believed the worst part of the outage was that Alibris has not warned customers that their orders would be delayed. “A couple of days ago, Alibris attempted to send email to all customers who placed an order, and many customers received only a completely blank message. Some customers are complaining on the Alibris Facebook page.”

She also wondered why the company continued to post messages on Twitter and Facebook as if nothing was wrong with their system.

Some customers are using the Facebook “review” feature to complain. One buyer wrote:

“Well they answered me as to why my order wasn’t processed (Technical Difficulties??) but when I replied to the email to tell them to cancel my order and refund my money they have not responded at all, not on facebook, not by email, and they don’t have the resources to handle live calls??? What is up with that.

“Anyway luckily this went through PayPal. I have already filed a complaint with them and I also filed a complaint with the BBB. It is unlawful to charge something and take the money without being able to process an order. Another thing I find extremely funny is the fact that when you get the order confirmation you can contact the seller if you have questions yet Alibris can’t manually place the order the same way????. They have lost my business for good.”

The proprietor of For Whom the Bell Tomes said she felt bad for the Alibris employees who have been trying to deal with the crisis. “The most disappointing aspect of this situation is Alibris’ response – and that’s the fault of top management. Sellers on the Alibris discussion board are calling for heads to roll. Why didn’t the company better prepare for a crisis, and why no damage control? Management should be held responsible.”

Koch of Weirdbooks provided an update on Monday: “Alibris finally figured out that they could bypass the corrupt Oracle database and send the orders directly to sellers last night,” he wrote. “Orders have been coming in batches since then. There is still no access to inventory systems, so no adds, changes or deletions. That hurts most sellers as both pricing and duplicate sales will be an issue.”

Update: Alibris issued the following statement this evening from its Director of Client Services, Heather Burns:

“I am happy to inform you that we have been able to release orders for fulfillment. All orders pending on our website were sent to the sellers in the past 24 hours. While we continue to work to fix the last of the problems, we are confident that our customers will receive their orders soon. We are very grateful to our customers and sellers for their support and understanding. We will redouble our efforts to ensure something like this does not happen again.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.