Thursday, 17 January 2008

Printing, shipping, and hoarded information

Unsatisfactory Lulu customer support experience this morning.

Not a problem with Lulu alone, of course; most "customer support" is like this. I contacted them to ask about their freight charges. Here's the chat transcript, with the identity of the agent obscured because it probably isn't her fault, and my email obscured because I get enough spam already. I don't have a transcript of the exact question I asked, but it was along these lines: "I've looked at the shipping charge for a bulk order to New Zealand and it seems very high. Can you please tell me the weight and dimensions of a parcel of 50 books, 6x9 of 128 pages, so that I can investigate other freight forwarding options for myself?"

Chat InformationWelcome to! An online representative will be with you shortly. Your wait time will be approximately 0 minute(s) and 8 seconds. Thank you for waiting.

Chat InformationYou are now chatting with '[Lulu agent]'

[Lulu agent]: Welcome to Lulu. Please hold while I review your question.

[Lulu agent]: We have not heard from you. Do you wish to continue the chat?

[me]: Yes, I was holding as you asked.

[Lulu agent]: Sorry the message is automated

[me]: OK


[me]: So do you have an answer to my question?

[Lulu agent]: Lulu charges actual shipping costs based on the size, type and weight of the item you are purchasing. The simplest way to see how much shipping would cost would be to add the item to your cart. You do not need to complete the order, but this will allow you to see the various shipping options.

[Lulu agent]: The best way to determine the cost of your book is to use the book cost calculator. You can obtain pricing for different trim sizes as well as see quantity discounts.

[Lulu agent]:

[me]: Yes, I've done that, that's how I know how much it is and it seems way too much. Sending it to California would cost $17.30; sending it to NZ costs $245. That's almost $5 a book. That's why I'd like the opportunity to see if I can find an alternative shipping method for myself.

[Lulu agent]: Here is a list of all the methods of shipping that we offer and how long they take.

[Lulu agent]:

[me]: I've seen that too. Are you going to answer the question I am asking, please?

[Lulu agent]: You have to follow the options that lulu offers

[me]: So you have no way of giving me the dimensions and weight of the package, even though that must be known in order to calculate the shipping at your end?

[Lulu agent]: Sorry, the only way is to add the item to your cart. You do not need to complete the order, but this will allow you to see the various shipping options

[me]: OK, clearly you aren't going to answer my question. Thanks anyway.

Since that conversation I've been poking around online and trying to find out how much the shipping would be with various providers - as best I could given that Lulu wouldn't tell me the size of the parcel, which is what the various online freight calculators ask you, of course, hence my call. As best I can determine that is actually what it costs to ship a parcel that size across the Pacific - it's $17.30 from Raleigh, North Carolina to Bakersfield, California, but it's about another $230 or so from there to New Zealand. No wonder everything's so expensive here (leaving aside the 12.5% goods and services tax the government puts on everything - yes, including books).
This would mean that either I have to sell the books for about $20 each or I'll hardly make anything from each one.

My sister-in-law, brother-in-law and niece are flying over in June, but it seems a bit much to ask them to bring a parcel which probably weighs between 25lb and 45lb - I don't know exactly, because Lulu won't tell me - plus I don't want to wait until June to get them.

Geography still matters in the modern world, when you're shipping atoms rather than bits.

It may be worth my while to check out that local short-run printer and see what they can do for me - even if their per-unit price is higher the shipping may balance it out. They don't have a rate card or a cost calculator online, which is one of my pet peeves - they must have a rate card somewhere, so why not share it with their customers? Saves everyone a lot of messing about.

Information age, people. Information age. Don't lock up the information, it wants to be free.

EDIT: the local New Zealand printer (Zenith Print) quotes me $568.13 (including GST and shipping, with a free proof) for 50 copies. It means setting up the files slightly differently again and means I will have books at three different sizes from three different printers, but it saves me about $140 over the 50 copies, or almost $3 a unit, when you take exchange rates into account (and exchange rates USD/NZD are the most in our favour that they've been since about the 1980s at the moment; if they drop again the difference is bigger). I'm also dealing with one, real person in my own timezone, who answers emails quickly.

I did tell her that I probably would have enquired earlier if they had their rates up on their website - she had said in response to my initial inquiry:

"The reason we don't have a rate card is because there is no SET pricing we offer. The quote request allows us to communicate with the customer, ensure we are getting the best product for them. I'll do the maths and have a quote back within 15 minutes."

Which she couldn't do unless she had a rate card. Could she?

How good will their service be? Watch this space.

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