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Flipkart online bookstore review

DSC_8047 - Memorial Wall
Creative Commons License photo credit: Anyhoo
I find it strange that I hardly ever talk about books on my blog, given that I read a lot. You’ll find many reviews of movies, albums and whatnot, but hardly any books. Odd, because I own an extensive book collection – I’ve totally lost track of how many books I have. I’ve donated many over the past few years, and I have quite a sizeable collection at some of my relatives’s place rather than at home. Then there are many many e-books that I have. I’ll try to remedy that over the next few months.

World BOok Fair 2006, New Delhi
Creative Commons License photo credit: Hi Pandian
I prefer buying books during the annual Delhi Book Fair or the biennial International Book Fair in Delhi, just because of the sheer variety of books that you can get. I rarely buy books from bookstores, that too if some new book comes out for which an e-book version is not available which I desperately want to read. I have no preferences among bookstores in particular; I don’t hunt around for deals, I just go to whichever bookstore is most convenient for me to go to at the time I feel like buying. Thus, given a choice, I would prefer to buy books online when these I-must-have-this-book urges spring up.

Till now, this has not been possible India. Shady websites being passed off as ‘online bookstores’ have been around but I know for a fact they aren’t reliable. Ordering from them simply wasn’t worth the trouble – it was far more easier to even trek across the whole city to get a book you wanted. The first people you need to avoid are the Snake Oil Merchants Inc trio of Indiatimes Shopping, Rediff Shopping, and Sify Shopping. As far as I know, these guys have no inventory of their own: local dealers sign up with them, the Snake Oil Merchants pretend they have the book, and pass on the order to one of these local dealers. How quickly you got your book and in what condition was decided by Snake Oil Merchants Inc by flipping a patented 10-sided coin they have, 9 sides of which say “Take the money and forget about ‘customer care'”. Friends of mine who were gullible enough to end up, say, pre-ordering a new Harry Potter release repented their decision when orders were left undelivered for weeks on end (the whole point of pre-ordering is defeated!).

Then there’s Indiaplaza and Futurebazaar. I think they got their websites by the same company, because both show similar and irritating errors. Start adding something to your shopping cart at any of these sites – and poof, in an instant your order choices will be lost because ‘we encountered an error’. Suffice to say that after such ‘errors’ I didn’t have the courage to try Russian-rouletting my way to their payment page.

Penguin India Book search
Penguin India could easily use Google Custom Search, but why stop making a mockery of its own customers?

Even more depressing are dedicated bookselling sites and publisher websites. Navigating Penguin India’s website is a terrifying experience requiring nothing less than a black belt in at least three different kinds of martial arts. Please, Penguin, designing is a website doesn’t mean you throw a few GIFs together like Lego blocks. Heck, try searching for books which books – I tried to find some books which I know have been published by Penguin India, and they didn’t turn up. Oh, it didn’t tell me right away of course. You have to try and trick the Penguin India website into thinking that you’re Chuck Norris, and if you fail to do that then it shows the error message above. Once you do succeed in fooling it (I roundhouse-kicked my laptop screen) it tells you that the book you know exists, doesn’t. Other Indian publisher websites aren’t worth talking about so I’ll give them a miss.

Among dedicated bookselling sites based out of India the most prominent ones are First & Second and A1Books. Both claim to India’s ‘largest’ / ‘number 1’ online bookstore, but till now I have been disappointed with their inventory. Many times when I’ve tried to search up books at these two places I came up with zilch results. Many times these guys claim to have books when they are in fact out of stock, but take your order anyway. Prateek was telling me today of how he faced such an issue with First & Second once where they took an order for an out-of-stock book and it took ages to get a refund.

I have been fairly apprehensive about buying books from online stores in India – until now. Lately I have been hearing a lot of word-of-mouth praise for Flipkart.com. So when Amit Varma’s book My Friend Sancho was released recently (review coming up soon!), I decided to give Flipkart a shot.

flipkart-logoMy rating of Flipkart: 8.2 / 10

The first thing that caught my eye about Flipkart was the no-nonsense attitude. There are no tall claims about being the largest / longest / biggest / highest / smelliest anything in India / world. They don’t keep pushing DVDs, flowers, box of chocolates, or any other crap like some other bookstores either. A list of bestsellers, search box – that’s it. Footer is a bit messed up, but it gets the job done. It seems that a lot of users keep asking them for free PDF ebooks…

flipkart-footer

You don’t pay for courier charges if the order value is above Rs 100 – which should be the case 9 times out of 10. Once you select the books you want, you can quickly create an account and proceed to checkout for payment. You have multiple choices for paying – credit card, debit card, Internet bank account, ItzCash card, cheque / demand draft. Credit card payment processing is done by Axis Bank’s payment gateway, which charges the lowest transaction fee out of any credit card processing gateway (I know because I do quite a lot of online transactions). Opting for cheque / DD obviously means you’ll have to snail mail it to them and then wait for your book – this option is mainly kept just for the heck of it on most e-commerce sites though I’m certain hardly anyone would be using it.

By far the most accessible option for everyone would be to use an ATM / debit card or an Internet banking account. These payments are handled by CCAvenue, the processing gateway that every effing startup in India seems to use. CCAvenue charges merchants a lower transaction fee so this is what most startups end up bootstrapping for payment processing. I hope CCAvenue dies a miserable death. Their servers can be unreliable and sometimes reject payments from legitimate cards, or simply time out while processing. To their credit however, CCAvenue never makes a wrong charge and even if the transaction fails due to a timeout error or something else, they send you an email informing you whether the transaction could be carried out or failed. You can then go back to the merchant site and place the order again safe in the knowledge that your card has not been charged.

Flipkart promises to deliver your order within three business days if the order is placed before noon on the day of the order. I placed my order for My Friend Sancho in the late evening yesterday, so I expected it to take at least two days to reach. I was pleasantly surprised when I found it had arrived early today morning! The packaging used is excellent – they shipped in a paperback-size cardboard box. The quality of packaging is good, no chance of the book getting damaged during transit.

Everything with Flipkart is almost-perfect – you can forgive them for the messed up front page navigation because their core strength is solid. What sucks really bad in Flipkart is its search feature. There is no ‘advanced search’ (none that I could find) which would allow you to search by title, author, publisher or ISBN to lookup a book. If you can find out from elsewhere online, ISBN is the fastest way to track down the exact copy and edition of whichever book you want. Right now, Flipkart’s search is simple text-string match. You can’t “enclose search terms in quotes” to search for exactly that phrase. Consequently it might take a long time to hunt down a book if the title or author name has common surnames / common phrases. Once you get a book, then you can easily look up other editions (hardback vs paperback) and compare prices. I also liked the fact that if a book is out of stock then it is clearly listed as such, with the option to set up an email alert to be triggered as soon as the book is available in their inventory again. I suggest that you use Yahoo! Search / Google Search to hunt down the book you want if it’s getting agonizing; restrict results to Flipkart by adding ‘site:flipkart.com’ before your search term in Yahoo! / Google.

I’ve found an online bookseller that I can trust, ships for free, delivers on schedule in proper packaging and even throws in discounts on books. They got it right by sticking to one thing – selling books – and doing that one thing extremely well. Flipkart might just have become my preferred method of buying books.

61 replies on “Flipkart online bookstore review”

My experience with flipkart has been great. Ordered a computer book, got 10% discount and book was shipped in a day and shipper took 6 days to deliver the book from Banglore to Pathankot, Punjab.

Very satisfied, had so many doubts initially.

I bought 2 Arthur Hailey classics ‘Hotel’ and ‘Airport’ from flipkart.com. No doubt their service was commendable. I was so excited to see a ‘desi’ online book store that i told all my friends about it. Now my next destination would be indiaplaza i guess. We all want massive discounts, dont we?! Can someone suggest good management humour books? I have read a couple of dilbert books although..

I recently came across 2 great services.

1) isbn.net.in – a super cool price comparison engine which searches and compares prices across all major online bookstores in India. I find it super valuable and I check upon it always now

2) http://www.flipgraph.com – Wonderful service, ordered with them 3 times now, found them cheapest every time, books delivered in 2 days, nice package, slick notepad etc. for free. They have an interesting exchange concept where you can send your book and get their virtual currency in exchange. Nice part is some really steal deals with them. I ordered 2 used copies, almost as good as new, for a price which was 20 times lesser (than a new copy). Already loving them, l always used to buy from flipkart or infibeam and these guys seem to be already giving them kicks.

Thanks Ayesha for your useful links.

isbn.net.in does not send its query to indiaplaza.in. Only yesterday I ordered a book (ISBN 9788184951387) from that site at the price of 156 postage free while this site shows lowest price to be 162. They still need to get there. Neverthe less a very useful link indeed.

I used to order from Indiaplaza, but have stopped ordering from the site. Indiaplaza does give the best discounts but its delivery schedules are unreliable. On the top of it the last book I got delivered from them looked like a Pirated Copy. I guess Indiaplaza has a policy of slipping in a few pirated copies of books along with the good ones to improve margins. I will try flipkart now and lets see how good their service is.

@ankur:
There is no way one can be cent percent sure a book is pirated. After I got the book delivered I tired google searches like “how do i know if my book is pirated” but did not find any useful information. Even now if I can establish (or some one help me establish) that these guys delivered me a pirated book, I will come down on them like a pile of bricks. The book was supposed to be a product of Oxford University Press, and didnot look like even a distant distant cousin of the other OUP books I have.

Anyways my first experience with flipkart has been good except for:

  1. the delivery slipped by a day (I already have a lot to read, so did not mind)
  2. the courier guy didnot return the change (It was a cash on delivery), small amount but not professional

One big pro: I had ordered COD and checked the book before paying!! So I saved myself from being Indiaplaza-ed (i.e. conned)

I’ve been using Indiaplaza for ordering books for more than a year now. There’s hardly any book thats out of stock their; however once you order and make the payment and the book is not delivered after weeks, they’ll say that the book is actually out of stock!!!!

The only good thing about Indiaplaza is the amazing discounts you get (25% minimum to members and generally 30-40%). But after reading your review on Flipkart I decided to make an order from there (after Indiaplaza had taken my money and said the book was out of stock). Flipkart-the UI is real simple, it clearly says the expected delivery time, discounts are decent (not very high but just about perfect). Hell, if the service is good then even 10-15% discount is good enough for most book lovers.

Lets see if Flipkart delivers as it has promised but I am already beginning to like the site based on its simplicity and no nonsense mis-selling.

Thanks

I had posted my views on this forum long time back. Over a period of time I have seen Indiaplaza service deteriorating (I am their platinum customer) as below:

a. Often titles I want are not available (I often find them on flipkart). My purchasing which used to be 90% from their site (yes, 25% discount is lucrative) but now because of availability reasons only 20% of my buying happens on that site.

b. Sometimes even after taking an order they they keep on delaying sending the item (I am talking book alone) especially when it is to be sourced from abroad

c. Their address book does not allow you to delete an entry you dont want to use. Many calls made to their helpdesk have not yielded any results

d. In one case they offered an attractive pre-launch price and I ended up buying the book, only to find that I could buy the book cheaper post-launch!

They would not be able to survive much if they continue like this – is my feeling.

I find packaging of flipkart much superior to Indiaplaza’s though the latter is also good.

Neeraj

your information and discuss is really helpful.i was looking for online book stores and satisfied but i have question that, will they give their services to rural areas or they focus on only city?by the way what is the sheduled of delhi book fair?

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