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Thursday, November 22, 2012

All Sorts of (Blog)Stuff In One Post

Before we start, when you go back to the home page, please refresh your browser if you haven't already done so. We're going to change the graphics more often than before, and as this is written there is an important message which today's graphics cycle through.

Today we're going to write about lots of things, many of which are common to every on-line operation, but which many sites are reluctant to let their clients "in on" as it were. So you're going to get an insider's view on some things you may never have known about or even thought about.

So...first thing: We've been filling orders as quickly as possible. BUT.....we are not as fast as we used to be, and there are a few good reasons for this. Foremost is our expansion into a bigger space. We had to do this because of the number of SKUs we're trying to get onto the site and at the same time the sheer amount of material showing up to service orders. This has caused issues because the move has entailed packing and unpacking goods, which  has caused some items to go astray. In fact more than we wanted and we're working diligently to reorganize as we keep things going. This means that for some orders we have been ssslowerrr than we have wanted to be fulfilling and shipping them.

Therefore patience is a virtue.
However....if you have a time-sensitive order for whatever reason (birthday, occasion, etc.), please use the "Order Comments" area during the checkout process to inform us. Then we can reply if there will be an issue. Otherwise we have no way of knowing that there was an urgency.

Incidentally, when we talk about SKUs, we have about 500,000 of them, of which currently the site comprises about 86,000. You might imagine what's involved in getting everything shipshape. This brings up the side issue of mis-listings or error listings, why they occur and what we're doing about them. Usually when we upload items to the site we do it in large batches. For example, the recent upload of pre-order items for February, 2013 also included the upload of items that theoretically started to ship in March, 2010 as well as some current Sideshow pre-order items. The total was somewhere north of 3600 items. When we do batch uploads the system often detects and eliminates duplicate items, except in cases where different SKUs are assigned to indicate relistings. When we manually come across these in the course of checking items for orders we take out as many as we can, but clients may see such multiples persist on some titles. If the item in question is shown as in stock on one listing and there are multiple listings, use the listing showing the stock to make the order. Sometimes because of this batch uploading, and item is shown as in stock when in fact it has sold out previously, but there is another SKU attached to it with a previously-current inventory figure. In such cases we will attempt to locate the item but if it is not possible, we respectfully apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause. Sometimes, similar items can get confused. Good examples are action figures or products which look similar (almost identical in some cases) but which have issued at different times. We try not to file one item as another in the system, but sometimes it can happen. Another issue that has been affecting listings is the concept of alternate choices. Since alternates are not automatically deleted from inventory as quickly as a primary order, it can create anomalies in the available quantity figures. In all of these cases we try to be on top of things and fix them as quickly as possible, but when a surprise shortage interferes with properly filling an order, we also keep track of items that may be needed but are not immediately available, and we start hunting them down to complete the order. We send an e-mail about this to keep you abreast of the issue in case you want to make changes to the order. If you have such a situation but have not received notification we'd appreciate it if you'd contact us. Most people will do so if it seems like an odd length of time for an order to be taking. But since we don't capture funds (see the section on money coming up) right away, this insulates clients from losing money if such things happen.

Which brings up the subject of Pre-orders and how they affect things:
With the exception of Sideshow items we usually give approximately a two-month window for pre-ordering items. Here is how it works: You'll see something in the pre-order area which has for example a code that reads "DEC12" (those were just put up this week). This means that the item is expected to ship anytime starting the following February. When we say "starting" we mean it, especially in the case of toys, statues, or merchandise, because there are a ton of different factors that can affect when an item arrives, including but not limited to the manufacturer's own issues in producing the item (like molds falling apart or parts not up to standard), shipping time (usually from China), domestic shipping delays (like port issues or incoming customs), to mention a few. Those DEC12 codes for example will be up for the rest of November, all of December, all of January, and perhaps a bit of February itself, until we have cycled into the two subsequent months and we start doing FEB13 codes for release in April, 2013 and beyond, at which time the DEC12 codes will go off pre-order and become regular items. In those listings, the items then remain "unavailable" until the products actually show up at the facility. Pre-orders are then filled first and any remaining inventory is "turned on" for regular purchase.
When ordering it's important to note the words in the listing: ***THIS IS CURRENTLY A PRE-ORDER ITEM***, because we have had some cases where a client orders a pre-order item and then subsequently writes or phones asking why it hasn't been shipped out. These items can also hold up a shipment where for example a client has asked for issues such and such of a title, the last item being something that's still a pre-order item, so be careful on that. It's best to keep pre-orders separate, unless again you have patience in waiting for an item to arrive to complete an order.
Sideshow stuff is a totally different animal because the shipments and arrivals can sometimes be a dog's breakfast and items can (and have) remained up past their closing times.

Next, on limited editions (or even some regular items) we can get apportioned. Apportionment:
It's a bad word, but when there is over-demand and under-supply on something it happens and we usually don't find out until the last minute. Worse, we can get a surprise if our order is totally wiped out because a manufacturer decides to go in sequence of receipt of the orders, and you don't know if someone else has ordered all 500 of a limited edition or if they did it the same day the solicitation went out in order to corner the market for example. Sometimes apportionment will cause shipments of a specific item to show up in sections at staggered times. We fill pre-orders for such items in the order they were made, and if there is an extremely long interval between the time of the order and the time of the arrival, we'll contact the client first to make sure that the order is still wanted. In those cases where we're been apportioned we'll try to turn off pre-orders on an item to avoid taking further orders that we can't honor and the subsequent disappointment that would cause for clients. If you have an order in and we find out that the item isn't going to show up, we'll notify you as soon as we know so that you can try to make other arrangements. Please take into account that we have absolutely no control over this.

This brings up the subject of how to use pre-orders if you want to speculate on something. Speculation: It's probably a more derisive word than apportionment, because for good or not-so-good it has played a certain part in the prolongation of the collecting hobby. This has dual effects. The good comes from the realization that there are items in this fabulous world of collecting that have true intrinsic value which transcends mere dollars and cents, rather leading to the true definition of Americana  and Canadiana (remember, Superman has a very strong Canadian connection). The not-so-good comes from sudden imbalances in supply and demand for an item or items that causes "problems" in the field for legitimate collectors who are just seeking to complete their collections. Such problems can arise in the operation of sites. For example, an issue becomes "hot" for whatever reason and everyone is scrambling to get them which puts "stress" on some systems. In our particular case we have a thing we call "Watchdog". This is a procedure that can trigger for a variety of reasons in relation to a specific order, or specific item or items when unusual activity is detected. The ways to avoid this are to be considerate when ordering such "hot" items, or better to pre-order item(s) you think might be extremely desirable. Order these items in the case of regular comic books for example, in a quantity that you will be happy with since there are largely no limits on comic book pre-orders. This way you'll be assured that you'll receive the issue or issues you want before something might happen in the marketplace that causes unexpected fluctuations. We welcome these pre-orders, however we do make it known that when such an order is placed the risk of course lies with the client, so don't go too crazy to avoid making an error and costing you.

Which brings up a VERY IMPORTANT subject: MONEY, or how we take payments:
You may not know it, but when you submit a credit card, check card, or debit card, you are submitting an authorization of payment, not the actual payment itself. Because of this we have our system set up so that when your order goes through, you'll usually see it's status as "Awaiting Payment", even though you have submitted the authorization.
Here is something refreshing: WE DO NOT CAPTURE THE ACTUAL PAYMENT UNTIL YOUR ORDER IS READY TO SHIP. Not like other companies who take the money first and then you wait, and you're still liable to run into all the normal issues you'd run into if items are cancelled, delayed or whatever. (There are a couple of situations where this may not apply. On certain speculation orders we may require pre-payment in case something is extremely unusual, but we would advise you if that were the case.)
Doing things this way also allows orders to be adjusted in many different ways like adding or subtracting items so that you're only charged for what you actually get.
In the case of adjustments, some (but not all) banks show multiple entries for one payment, which can be confusing to you if you don't know the meaning of them. Here's an example: Your order is originally $25, but you write or call and ask that we add something else for another $10. The new total is $35 and we complete the order and take the payment and you see two entries for $25 and one for $35 and have a heart attack. Well, the first entry is the original authorization like we said above. The second entry is the reversal of the first one to wipe it out. Lastly the $35 entry is the actual charge that will be taken from your account or be entered to your credit card statement depending on the type of card you used. That's the only one you'll actually be paying for.

Taking payment that way also allows to adjust things for one of our favorite subjects which we'll cover again: Shipping. It's another word that can inspire dread in the hearts of men (not that we're melodramatic or anything like that).
The shipping rates were designed to cover the costs of comic books and many regular books because of their being able to fit into very specific weight categories. They are solid items and they take up as much space as their weight would indicate which is why for example we can make up a package of up to 10 comics and it's only a couple of pounds once packed. That's why we offer the ground rate for up to 10 comics, and often we'll allow folks to sneak through books or other stuff as long as they come in under the same weight limit, and of course the value limits we've posted on the Shipping and Returns terms linked at the top of the Home Page. Many people try to use that rate for larger orders or stuff that isn't comic books even though the rate states right there "NO OTHER PRODUCTS". Incidentally, ground is very slow, usually a two to three week delivery time frame.
That's also why USPS TV ads for "If it fits it ships" are misleading when they say the rate starts at $5.05. The box at the top of the ad they run is shot in such a way as to look large, but in fact it's tiny. We like to quip that you can literally fit a thimble into it. What they don't tell you is that the next size up is...surprise, surprise...$11.95 and up. Worse, for the purposes of the type of products we sell including comics, nothing really fits right in that container, so we use our own containers. Once that happens the gloves are off rate-wise.
The "no other products" thing is caught by us and anything that doesn't qualify has to go for the flat priority rate. Even that rate is still designed for comic books and standard (relatively) lightweight books or items. Of course we offer free shipping for many items under certain conditions which are detailed elsewhere on the site.
That's where the simplicity (this is simple?) of the shipping choices ends and of course that is where we can run into issues, because action figures, large-volume items and especially heavier items like statues go for exact shipping. So here is another of our periodic treatises about shipping:

Ninety-five percent of the items on the site have no worries about shipping adjustments. It's the other five percent that may be affected. Anything that's liable to be outsized or heavy has a "***PLEASE NOTE:" statement tacked onto the listing explaining about  shipping adjustments and being charged exact shipping. If we've missed putting the statement into a specific item's listing, we have the same statement as a blanket item in our terms of service. When someone orders such an item they are agreeing to pay the shipping. If you think you may have an issue with adjusted shipping, we respectfully request that you not order the item. The reason for this whole deal is that we simply can't absorb shipping on such items. If there is an adjustment, we only pass along the EXACT shipping, no more and no less on such items which is why the adjusted rates are sometimes weird numbers (like $23.03 for example or something strange...we go to the penny). We just want to get the things to you, and we're right up front about it.
If the adjustment is just a few dollars we don't make a special issue of it. If there is a shipping adjustment, the client gets a revised invoice showing the change with a statement at the bottom advising of this. If the adjustment means a big difference, we do make a special issue of it. (Our favorite is the candy dishes which weigh something like 5 pounds but cost $63 and change to ship because volumetrically they take up enough space for 81 pounds! What's that you say!? It's true!) The revised invoice goes out as well as an e-mail requesting verification before we ship. These are courtesies offered so you're not wondering what you paid for. If you get the notice on a big difference and don't want to go ahead we understand and cancel the order.
Why all this fuss over adjusted shipping? For larger or unusual items shipping companies (USPS and Canada Post included) use a thing called cubing to determine what is called the volumetric weight of such objects. The idea is to make sure they are using truck or aircraft container space to its maximum efficiency. (Even so the USPS apparently lost a whopping $59 billion last year. But we digress.....). Thus, a package that weighs a few pounds but takes up two or three cubic feet will be treated entirely differently than one that weighs the same and is much smaller. We hope you have a better understanding of this now.

Which brings up the subject (not really but why not) of PICTURES and MULTIPLE COVERS:
When we upload listings to the site we use the stock pictures supplied by the publishers or manufacturers. We have no control control over what pictures they send us. This isn't usually a problem, except that these days many publishers drive everyone crazy by issuing a comic for example that has regular multiple covers for the same issue. The idea is that completists will want to buy all the covers, making the publisher that much more "successful" (i.e. more $$). We're not referring to "rare" or "chase" variants that are like one for every 200 copies of a book. The problem is that  many books just seem to have multiple covers for the heck of having multiple covers (we guess?). Here are two scenarios that apply:
In the case of "rare" or "chase" variants we'll often get the listings for the regular issues and the variants at the same time but we'll have only one graphic for all the listings. Marvel is famous for this because the variant art isn't ready, isn't made available, or they want to keep it secret for whatever reason at the time of initial solicitation (sometimes the issue details are secret too and we get caught not having descriptions of the books until we discover it after the fact!). So we have multiple listings each showing the same graphic. Often when we get the books into inventory we still don't have the right cover, or we don't have the time resources to go and find it until we do periodic updates. Sorry for that. Be advised that if the issue is listed as available, it will indeed be the correct cover you get even if the graphic isn't.
In the case of regular comics that just issue with multiple covers, we'll get one of the graphics. This can be a problem because when we pick an order we have the stack of books and we just pick the next one in order.  This has caused a couple of situations where different customers have inquired about why their order contained a copy with a different cover than the one shown in the listing. It's a legitimate question and one we take seriously, but the same principles apply. In the early days of the site we were able to show for example both covers of a book if there were two. Currently some books have 4 or more and in differing ratios so it can really drive everyone nuts, and it isn't possible to do all the graphics right away. We had one client for example who was absolutely convinced that the cover of a certain comic we sent was less valuable than the one shown in the listing even though the covers are printed in equal numbers, it's the same issue, and it's a first printing.  See the item above regarding "speculation", because sometimes it's a related situation.
To ameliorate (this is your new word for the day...look it up) this type of problem in the future, we've come up with this: If there is a book with multiple regular covers which are not separately given their own listings on the site (what are sometimes called "main covers" these days) and you want a specific one in your order, please use the "Order Comments" area during checkout to specify which one(s) you prefer. If we are able to find them, we'll be happy to pick them, however there will be a charge of $3.00 per copy picked in this case. This will compensate us for the involvement in the search for and identification of the correct cover(s) (which sometimes is not as easy as you think because many artists do not sign their covers and many publishers do not provide a key to tell which cover is which...arrgh!) If the cover(s) you want are not available we'll advise you and you can make any changes to the order if necessary.

Lastly, we will be doing our first "Black Friday" event this year, which is an internet-only event. It will commence at or slightly before midnight Eastern Time on November 22, 2012 and last until or slightly after midnight Eastern Time on Friday, November 23, 2012. We will have placed attractive discounts on comic books, magazines, and books, as well as collectibles, which will be reflected in the prices you see when you look at items on the site. The only restriction we've put in place is that the event does not apply to pre-order items of any kind. Have fun with it and get your orders in as soon as you can.

To all a very Happy Thanksgiving and good wishes as we forge onwards into the Holiday Season!


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