December 13, 2007

Shipping & handling

Ah, happiness is a box of books from BK1 (now Honto).

To be sure, Amazon has the more extensive and dynamic site, and I often do my window shopping there. But I place orders through Honto. It comes down to one simple variable: shipping. Amazon doesn't offer SAL while Honto does. As a result, an order of this size from Amazon would cost as much in shipping as the price of the books themselves. Shipping SAL is less than half as much.

SAL (Surface Air Lifted) treats packages as air mail crossing the Pacific, and then as parcel post once it hits dry land. SAL packages can get bumped from air freight slots by higher-priority mail (like a stand-by passenger), so transit times range from two to three weeks. This box arrived right at the two week mark, probably thanks to increased year-end air traffic.

I also appreciate the fact that Honto packages their books so sturdily they could make the journey in the hold of a 19th century steamer. There's another inch of padding inside and the books are sealed in plastic. Domestically, at least, boxes from Amazon often seem to be slapped together with the minimum amount of tape necessary to keep them from falling apart in the mail truck.

Although Amazon (U.S.) carries a few SKUs from its Amazon-Japan site, I'm awaiting the day when order fulfillment is truly "flat," in the Tom Friedman sense. That is, in the case of books, you could order any title via ISBN from the U.S. site, Amazon would then accumulate the orders and ship them bulk rate, adding only a small premium to domestic first class S&H costs.

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