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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”

Flipkart is my go to site too for buying books online. Their delivery service is very good.. And the no nonsense factor of the website is a big plus. But the books they carry are mainly bestsellers, a lot of books have been showing up as Out of Stock for more than an year now. If it takes longer than an year to stock it then just remove it from the inventory. But I still check Flipkart before I check anywhere else.

Must be issues with maintaining a large inventory then. If they can get search feature fixed, maybe more people will be able to find and order less popular books, thus making sense for them to keep proper inventory. I’ve noticed that a lot of Penguin India books are running out of stock quickly these days – Penguin doesn’t seem to be ordering reprints that frequently.

In situations when I don’t find books online, my recourse would be to go a bookstore and get it. Lately, even that has become a frustrating experience. Many bookstores – mostly bookstore chains – are hiring inexperienced people these days who’ve hardly heard of an author if you ask them! If they get their act together, e-tailers such as Flipkart can capitalize on this as database searches – if done correctly – can be far more accurate and faster.

I checked up some books on Pustak, and for every book it gives an estimated delivery time of 4-8 weeks. That is completely unacceptable.

Yup Pustak boasts to have a large database of books but prices are really expensive and books take a long long time to deliver compared to other stores out there.

I remember pre-ordering Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from Indiatimes Shopping … it wasn’t that bad, the book came two days later but the packaging was pretty neat, bubble-wrap all around, and the book was in very good condition …

Otherwise, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book online although Flipkart does sound pretty good. Do you know the difference between a book that is ‘Available’ and one ‘In Stock’?

p.s. Flipkart does say this in its footer: “The biggest online bookshop in India for best prices and shopping for all kinds of rare books, discounted/cheap books, textbooks, novels and general interest books.” although granted it’s in a tiny font and right at the bottom šŸ™‚

As I mentioned, ordering from Snake Oil Merchants Inc is a hit-and-miss affair. If the partner they forward the request to bothers about quality, then you’re good – but if that is not the case then you’re screwed.

Does Flipkart use two different terms – ‘Available’ and ‘In stock’? So far I’ve only encountered the latter, and ‘Out of stock’.

Ah, now I noticed the Flipkart footer. But to their credit, as you said, it’s right and the bottom and in small font. Dare I say it describes them pretty well? šŸ™‚

Yeah, I did a random search and they said ‘Available’ and ‘In Stock’ for different books so I’m not sure what they meant. (I think I searched for ‘Artemis Fowl’)

Got it from their FAQ. ‘In stock’ means its in their own inventory and will be delivered within 3 business days. ‘Available’ means it they’ll take 4-8 business days, this is mostly for imported editions of books – but they guarantee you’ll get the book.

On this- No online bookstore keeps ready inventory with em. They get all their books from a supplier once a customer places an order.

Hi,

To add to the above, it’s not entirely true that no online bookstore will keep inventory.

For very popular titles (going by the past trend), they might do so. Buying in bulk can get them higher discounts and really fast delivery to the customers.

But it also results in increased operation costs as well as risks of carrying titles, which might not sell. A fine balance.

LMAO! To give you an idea of how ridiculous Flipkart’s search is, consider this – a search for ‘Douglas Adams’ turns up Unhooking A DD-cup Bra Without Fumbling by some Adam Adams!

I read Unhooking a DD Cup Bra without Fumbling – and it is very funny and it doesn’t have any Es

As per you mentioned that there are so many online book stores in India which gives good & satisfactory answers to your query about books. I like your article for giving good online book store names. People buy books online not with selective book sellers but where they find their books. I am using online book purchase services from last 2 years & found some good names like Flipkart
IndiaPlaza
Indiatimes
Rediff
Sify
Future Bazaar
Infibeam
In.com. These all are very reputed online books sellers online.

Indiaplaza formerly Fabmart and then Fabmall used to be at one time a really great site for buying books online. Sadly, that was 10 years ago and then it just went downhill.

It is now really trying hard to revamp its look and feel. Maybe the folks there have realized the market share that they have been losing. The latter is not a factual statement but if I who used to buy books in dozens there stopped buying altogether, then it does seem to be so.

I came across one more site for buying books. See if you like http://www.coralhub.com

I once ordered 3 books of which 1 was out-of-stock and I got a full refund for that book immediately.

Appears to be trust-worthy.

@Ankur- I am from the books industry , used to work for an ecommerce store and I can understand a reason why they were unable to show a book as out of stock.

Many a times, you have issues where the supplier gives u a in-stock list and a few days later the book goes outta stock, this could have been a case of the supplier not giving up to date info to the website.

From my experience, it is probably the reason, cant be certain though

But then that’s their fault! Their backend system should be much more robust in inventory tracking so that they don’t mislead customers.

I do know that most other bookstores order on the fly, but I don’t that’s true for Flipkart. If they could dispatch within hours of getting an order they must have their own stock – maybe for just the popular-selling books.

I know for a fact that they do not dispatch a single book themselves. They send these over to their suppliers and if In stock , they get dispatched.

I have had issues with Out of stock books which were In stock when ordered from Flipkart, Post order, I was informed they were Out of stock.

Ankur, however robust your own system might be, you cannot have the whole supply chain working perfect. The biggest problem with the Indian publishing industry is nobody knows what they have.

Even the publishers, go to them and you will find out that the catalogs that they send out have wrong ISBNs, wrong prices and no status of the book – whether it is out of print, considering reprint or in-print. Here the international publishers are way ahead. Most of them have embraced ONIX format which gives complete info about a book along with its availability status.

Go to the next level, distributors – most of them have outdated inventory management systems, if they do have them in the first place!! The books are not indexed on ISBNs but titles, which can be incomplete or with spelling errors. They do not give live inventory feed. At best, you can hope to have a weekly feed of the stock list and that can be like anything above 5 titles, and they can go out-of-stock in the intervening period.

So there is a lot of information asymmetry in the industry. It is definitely embracing IT but the progress is really slow.

That having said, the online bookstores can thus be proactive. Inform their users about book status within a day or two and let them decide whether they want to cancel the order or not if the book can not be delivered in the stipulated time + some reasonable margins.

Indiaplaza offers min 25% discounts, reward points, fabulous offers on pre-orders [Just check the latest dan brown book at 33% off with free Da vinci code DVD] If books are out of stock, u get a refund. No hassles there

Their inventory is unfortunately no longer what it was two years ago. You wont get Indian editions of Oxford and Orient Blackswan for instance

Flipkart offers mid range discounts at best. And buying books without any discount is pretty much unacceptable.

A few weeks back the only bookstore from where I would have ordered would have been Flipkart, never Indiaplaza. They might give you discounts but what if the book doesnt reach you but some “Manjula” who you have no clue.

Yup that was the person who signed for my courier and I know of none who lives in the neighborhood leave alone my house.

But then again I believe Indiaplaza is making some efforts albeit in the wrong direction.

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