Why not to pre-order from Amazon

November 05 27 Comments Category: User Experience

A while ago, I decided to pre-order a book from Amazon for the first time. The book was Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun and it’s the first time I remember being really excited about a non-fiction book coming out. The thing is, I’m cheap, so if Amazon says I only have to add something worth $8.51 to get free shipping, I’m going to do it ’cause I don’t want to pay for shipping. There were actually a couple other books I wanted to get, so I added them to my cart and checked out.

Here is where my expected experience completely deviated from the actual experience.

What I thought would happen is that Amazon would ship the other books right away and once the pre-ordered book became available, they would send that out. That’s how it works in regular stores – if something is available in-store, you can pay for that and walk out with it, but you can also pre-order something else at the same time and come get it when it becomes available. So I waited. A week went by and my books hadn’t arrived. Then another week went by. At this point, I got worried and logged back on to Amazon to see the status of my order. I was shocked to see that they hadn’t even shipped it yet! Apparently, they were holding back my entire order until the pre-ordered book became available.

While I understand that in order to save on shipping Amazon needs to combine orders into as few packages as possible, it was the last thing I would have expected that they would hold my entire order because one item was not available. It just doesn’t make sense. What Amazon should have done is one of three things:

  1. Make it crystal clear that the order will not ship until the pre-ordered item is available.
  2. Ship the available items right away and send the pre-ordered item when it’s available.
  3. Don’t give customers the option to mix pre-ordered and available items in the same transaction.

While #2 is my preferred option, any of these would have been acceptable. As it was, I lost two weeks waiting for an order that didn’t come and then had to go through the trouble of canceling the entire order and re-purchasing the available items separately. Thankfully Confessions of a Public Speaker comes out next week and I’ll finally feel safe ordering it. And in the future, I’ll steer clear of Amazon’s “pre-order” system.

27 Responses

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  1. Just fyi: Confessions is now officially on sale at amazon!


    Scott Berkun 7 November 2009 at 2:09 am Permalink
  2. Cool, thanks Scott! Just placed my order. :)

    Natasha Lloyd 7 November 2009 at 9:00 am Permalink
  3. I’ve been burned twice now by Amazon, when the book I “pre-ordered” arrived much later than I expected (i.e. weeks after I saw it in bookstores, even).

    Pre-ordering appears to be for suckers. Maybe what’s happening is that when they get the books in, they can either announce them as available and sell them new customers, (and get more money), or they can send them to the people who already paid (who have already been waiting anyway, and aren’t going to give more money)….

    Timo Elliott 24 November 2009 at 9:22 am Permalink
  4. Timo’s conspiracy theory doesn’t wash, because Amazon
    doesn’t charge you until they ship. So, if they tried to jack
    customers with pending pre-orders by selling the first
    stock to customers who order after it becomes “in stock”
    rather than fill pre-orders, the pre-order folks could simply
    cancel out their pre-orders and amazon would lose their

    dude 23 July 2010 at 5:28 pm Permalink
    • Or they say it’s shipped but you get a delivery date two weeks after it… that’s happening to me.

      I’m looking forward to checking the dates of shipping they put at the borders.

      Jay 30 September 2011 at 3:30 am Permalink
  5. The only reason you get that free shipping is because they save by packaging things together…

    Anon 13 September 2011 at 2:04 am Permalink
  6. It’s clearly noted on the website that they will not ship until ALL items are available:

    “If your order is $25 or over, you may qualify for Free Super Saver Shipping. With Super Saver Shipping, your order will be delivered 5-8 business days after all of your items are available to ship, including pre-order items.”

    Not sure how much more “crystal clear” they can be.

    Caveat Emptor: your failure to read and/or comprehend the fine print does not mean you received poor customer service. As you clearly state in this article you “thought” (read: assumed) that they would go ahead and ship you the in-stock items on your order. Amazon has no culpability in that.

    Common Sense 09 9 February 2013 at 6:04 pm Permalink
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