A Facebook flashback to last year, where I announced that I had found a Primavera 100 cello on Amazon (new, sold by Amazon) for little more than a third of the trade price, popped into my feed this morning.
Unsurprisingly, I bought it. In fact I had a few buys like that last year but that one was by far the best. There was another as good but that never ever arrived, it got lost by the courier (you would think a cello is too big to lose, apparently not) and since the courier had no interest at all in trying to find it, eventually I assume it found its way back to Amazon. I got my money back of course but would rather have had the cello.
Then there was the wonderful cello bargain that arrived from Spain, that was really interesting. It had originally been sold by the wholesaler as "silver set up" (which means the wholesaler did some extra work to it) and the name of the shop that originally bought it (well known in the UK, though I forget now who it was) was clearly marked. How it ended up with some overstock company in Spain, I have no idea. Anyway the Spanish company sent it in just a cardboard box and it arrived cracked, so I didn't make anything on that one.
But of course I had a quick look this morning, clicking the link Amazon sent me. One of my cellos is still listed (not a problem, I do have one) at less than £17 more than the giant music store's offering, and less than £4 more than Amazon's own offering. Not the cheapest, no. But mine includes the silver set up (list price £26.04). Amazon's own will be sent straight from the warehouse unchecked, obviously. Even if they happened to employ a picker who knew anything about cellos, and even if that picker happened to be picking that order, the ridiculously short time they have to pick each order means there is no way on earth the box would be opened and checked, in fact "new, open box" in Amazon terms means you expect to get it cheaper (do you really want a cello that no-one has checked since it left China by sea months to years ago?)
So I found myself thinking in annoyance, "are customers really so stupid that they think they are getting a better deal from either of these places (especially from Amazon itself!) than from me?". And then I remembered:
Just recently Amazon decided to remove the "condition" option for all new items. We USED to be able to put things in there such as "Elida Violins send all instruments with bridge up" or "Speedy Dealers will have your goods with you before Christmas even though Amazon says we won't". It was very useful. Even to book dealers apparently, which is what Amazon were first known for. Book dealers want to be able to say whether the book is shrink wrapped or not.
There is more. Recently on the Amazon seller forums there was great excitement - for a few hours. Amazon introduced a new forum on which they invited sellers to tell them all the things that caused us grief. Now the forums of course have been full of that for ever, but here they were actually inviting us to tell them. Wonderful!
So the first few threads went up very quickly. The one that seems to be bothering Amazon sellers the most (why are sales falling so much) was immediately deleted. The same happened to other threads. Some threads got a couple of sentences saying "thank you for sharing that, I am now deleting it" or words to that effect. The only thing that got any positive response at all was a report of a broken link! As you can imagine, within a couple of days the excitement had gone, and then Amazon abandoned the forum too. It's now dead in the water.
And yes, one of the threads asked that the option to add product conditions for new products be reinstated. Amazon had asked us to tell them exactly how the problem affected our business. So the booksellers explained that they needed to be able to say whether the book was shrinkwrapped or not, and I explained that there is a huge variation in the way that standard stringed instrument outfits are sold, in terms of the basic set up. Some sellers will just send the box unopened and unchecked. Some will check the contents but do nothing else. Some will stand the bridge up and tension the strings. Some will restring the instrument. Some will shoot the fingerboard, refit the pegs, reshape the bridge and replace the soundpost. I gave them a rough idea of how long each of these things would take and how specialist or otherwise they were. All of us were told that there would be no reconsideration, that was that. So much for listening to us.
So, if you go and look for a violin or viola or cello on Amazon and you search for what you want and find several different versions of it, there may well be a very valid reason. Unlike the books, where the whole idea seems to be to put in a false publication date and therefore avoid the system matching the IBSN number, therefore enabling certain sellers to put up items at hundreds of pounds in the hope that the still overpriced but less ridiculously so item they then also put up will seem like a bargain, in the case of stringed instruments there really is a valid reason for multiple listings, even though they break Amazon's stated policy.
Don't blame us.
By the way, I never did find out how that cello came to be sold at a price that was clearly years out of date. I can only assume that Amazon never ever update their prices until all their stock has gone. But that doesn't explain why more recently they have been offering another violin at below trade price and allowed it to be ordered when it is out of stock. Perhaps an attempt to run all rival sellers off the website? Perhaps someone simply not checking the current price before re-ordering? Perhaps the violin in question never ever would come back into stock? (apparently that happens with other sold by Amazon items, it just acts as a way to keep other seller's prices down because so many use repricing software). The mystery deepened when the wholesaler concerned told me that they didn't actually sell to Amazon anyway. But the ones from that wholesaler that ended up here via Amazon had clearly come from that wholesaler and were marked as such, but most had come from that wholesaler via other retailers. Answers please on a postcard!