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I buy books on a pretty regular basis, being a real bookworm myself. I've found Amazon to be THE ONLY online book retailer which has the largest and most comprehensive selection of books on offer. I've always tried looking for a better deal on other major online book retailers like WHSMITH, ABEbooks, etc... but none of those companies ever stocked every single book I did a search for - none, except for good ol' Amazon.co.uk. Sometimes I use Amazon's American branch Amazon.com to buy books that can't be found on Amazon's British site. Whatever it was I needed - whether its an old out-of-print 1950s book or a hard-to-find academic volume that could only be found in the reference section of the University library and not in usual shops - Amazon is the one to stock it - or one of its Marketplace Sellers would be able to stock one for me. And its not just boring old books that they do... They also stock a more-than-adequate range of popular books, software, CDs, DVDs and videos. Their selection of baby toys and books is also steadily growing. They also stock a rather fair selection of electronics items like mobile phones, cameras, printers, kitchen appliances, hardware tools, shavers, electric toothbrushes, and garden furniture and garden equipment. In fact I hope the British Amazon site can one day join up with Sephora.com so that they can also offer a one-stop-shop for a great range of cosmetic products by well-known brands like Chanel, Molton Brown, Urban Decay, Stila, NARS, Calvin Klein, etc. for mail order - the American Amazon site has already been doing this with great success!
Amazon.co.uk also offers you the (sometimes, but not always cheaper) option of buying second-hand books/vids/games/software/dvds via their Marketplace Seller option. Basically you do a search for the product you want in Amazon's main window and when it comes up with the results, you click on the results, and on the right-hand-side column of every product page is a yellow rectangle with the words "More Buying Choices : NEW or USED" on it. You click on the words and it will show you a list of private individual sellers or companies which stock the same item for a different price from Amazon - often, depending on the condition of the item in stock whether its quite used, or as good as new.
Amazon.co.uk has a Super Saver Delivery option (i.e. Free Delivery) for orders that are £15 and over. This is a much better improvement in policy since last year, when their Super Saver Delivery option was only offered to orders £18 and over. For any orders that total less than £15, or if you order stuff from Marketplace Sellers, or if you order some very very hard-to-find books, you don't qualify for the Super Saver Delivery option.
I don't really like their delivery rates as I don't think its very fair pricing. I've bought second hand books on Ebay on which the delivery rates were priced more accordingly to the actual weight and size of the book. If I ordered a light, small-sized book like the "Asti Spumante Code : A Parody", I wouldn't really expect to pay £2.75 for delivery. But apart from that, I think the pricing works out in your favour if you order a large, heavy book or object, since the prices are capped and fixed rate, the company can't charge you more for sending heavier things to you.
The basic rate for one item in Marketplace is the same as the basic rate for one item in Amazon.co.uk. However, if you do order more than one item from Amazon in the same order, you will be charged £0.59 to £0.69 P&P for each additional book/CD/etc. This would be different in the Marketplace, where items are charged at the flat P&P rate similar to Amazon's pricing plan for buying just one item. Hence, an example would be like this :
-- If you buy 3 books from Amazon, you'd be charged £2.75 for the first book and another £0.59 for the second book, and another £0.59 for the 3rd book if you ordered them all in one whole order.
-- If you buy 3 books from an Amazon Marketplace Seller, you'd be charged £2.75 for the first book, £2.75 for the second book, £2.75 for the 3rd book... regardless of the fact whether you ordered all the books in one whole order or not!
Not the most perfect pricing system in the world as regards to the Marketplace P&P rates, I admit!
Amazon is pretty reliable where delivery of items is concerned. They use only Royal Mail or DHL or some other reputable couriers who do take signatures on delivery AND all delivered products are barcode-scanned, so the chances of Amazon or the couriers losing track of your item's whereabouts is very very slim indeed. I've never had a missed delivery when I order from Amazon itself, and most of its deliveries arrived much sooner than I expected.
One of the best things about Amazon (both the American and British sites) is that it allows for user feedback on ALL the products they sell. This is very helpful especially if you are not very sure about purchasing a particular book or product and would like to hear other people's comments before making a decision. And because Amazon is so famous internationally, many products sold by Amazon are well-reviewed by individuals from all over the world. Okay, sometimes these reviews are dubious in nature - they sound or look like they were typed in by people who are either related to the book's author or the product's manufacturing company, or worst, maybe even typed in by the author or the manufacturer itself.. However, a large percent of the reviews sound and look genuine, and I've used them to good effect in making purchasing decisions. Its often useful to check BOTH Amazon sites (the American and the British one) for reviews as both sites don't automatically "exchange" reviews, so you can get many completely different reviews written by completely different individuals on the same product by checking both sites.
The one big gripe I have with the Amazon.co.uk site is that it seems to be regulated by Amazon.co.uk staff who try to control the content that is allowed online as a review of the product. I've tried sending in more than one less-positive reviews on certain books/games and they never showed up on the site, whereas some other more positive reviews I've sent in (on the same day I sent in the less positive ones) got displayed online. I've even tried resending the same not-so-positive reviews I wrote previously on another day, but still, it never showed up despite a long wait. So I don't really know what's up. I know that everytime I send a review, Amazon.co.uk will display an acknowledgement thanking me for submitting a review and confirming that they have received it and the review "should be up within the next five days, but if it isn't, you can try contacting us to find out why the review didn't end up getting displayed online". The strangest thing is that I've seen less positive reviews on their site being displayed online, so obviously they do allow for less positive reviews - just that I don't know what their criteria is for what consitutes a less-positive review worthy of display and what isn't.
On the other hand, I've found it much much easier to post a review on the American Amazon site. There, they seem to allow ANY review to be posted - yeah even the rubbish ones written by 12-year-olds or under who can't spell properly and can't seem to write more than 3 coherent short sentences. In that respect, I prefer the American Amazon site for sending in reviews. I always send copies now - one copy to the British site, and one to the American one - so that if the one copy isn't displayed on the British site, it will at least be on the American one!
Lastly, although I've found that most Marketplace Sellers are reliable good sellers with good prices on their products, I have been "cheated" on more than one occasion by unreliable Marketplace sellers who never deliver as promised. Once was a girl who took my money and never sent the book - I had to file a claim against her to get my money back - but Amazon was okay about it. After about 3 persistent emails from me (their customer service reps can be quite annoying as regards to claims, taking a very long time to act and often sending very patronising "cut and paste" style emails to me repeating the same old thing - that they are looking into it, or telling me to wait longer before filing claims, etc. In the end though, they did deliver - and refunded my money.
The other time I got cheated of my money on Marketplace was when I ordered a second-hand revision book from this guy on Marketplace. The book was advertised in acceptable condition (and sold for half the original price). Yet when it arrived, it turned out to be in tatty condition, with wrinkled, stained pages. I didn't bother complaining, as I thought "Oh well, for that price, I can't complain. And besides, I'm buying the book for its content - I needed it for my A levels revision." So 3 months passed and I was using the book quite happily, until when I got to the 2nd last chapter and I found that almost half of the chapter's pages were completely gone! I was really angry with myself at that point for not checking properly that all the book's pages were intact, right after I'd received it in the mail!! Anyway, that's bygones now... but this is just my warning to you... be very careful with Amazon Marketplace orders. Make sure you get what you paid for. Also, if you buy from very "new" sellers that have a 0 or just 1 or 2 ratings, you should beware... as they might not turn out to be reliable - and don't have an online track record to prove it either!
All in all, I love Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com despite all the gripes I have with it. No other online store comes close to the huge range of products and books that Amazon stocks. And the reliability of their delivery services is excellent.
Update (29/4/2009): Amazon has now changed its Super Saver Delivery service terms. Now you can get Super Saver Delivery (i.e. Free Delivery) if you buy at least £5 worth of qualifying products!