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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”

Have you ever checked the kind of things these guys have on their website? Take a look at the tags that they have on pages. I was looking at children’s books and I was shocked to see savita bhabhi keywords on it.

Here are links from google which will tell you what all they’ve done in the past to make themselves a high traffic site.
http://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&q=site:flipkart.com+bhabhi+sex&btnG=Search&meta=&aq=f&oq

And btw I’ve also shopped from them. There are problems and then the phone only rings.

Having such tags,

and things like “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.” and “free PDF ebooks” in the footer,

are IMO more of a SEO tactic. You have all the keywords that will most probably be searched by any person remotely interested in books. While I believe that the latter approach does have its merits (having relevant keywords in the footer), I have to yet see such tags.

The first search result in the above link had references to sex and tantra, but if you look closely they come from the popular section. So even a children’s book might have it. Another SEO technique because for once I do not have the patience to actually look at such crammed text.

Flipkart sent my book in a thin flimsy “box” and it came bent and crushed. Any gift value was destroyed. I would never purchase from them again.

That’d be the fault of the courier company I guess. I didn’t receive the books I ordered damaged (and I’ve ordered from them multiple times).

The best packaging till now has always been of Indiaplaza, hands down. Flipkart’s, as mentioned by eliza, was damn cheap using a flimsy box. I hated opening the package.

Hi, nice blog you have, I stumbled upon it by a google search for experiences with the online bookstore Flipkart.com. I was just about to place an order and I see they don’t ship outside of India 🙁
I need a book and it really was a bargain.

Indiaplaza is rubbish. I searched for a book. The gathering storm by robert jordan which will release on 27th october. They had just the hardcover edition in stock and that also was Rs 1500 or something while the same edition on flipkart was Rs 1200 and flipkart also had the Paper Back edition for Rs 424.

I will use flipkart for sure!

That was an interesting article. But I must warn you that it is unwise to judge Flipkart on the basis of 1 good experience. I’ve had terrible experiences with Flipkart, especially when trying to purchase non-best sellers (uncommon books). The site showed that the books were in stock, they took money up front, promised delivery in 2 weeks and then just forgot about the books! It was a huge nuisance talking to their customer-service and it required several calls back and forth before I got my money back. They had some flimsy excuse of the book being in stock at the time of order, but multiple orders for the same book placed simultaneously resulted in non-delivery!!

The best online experience I’ve had is easily – http://www.thestorez.com – it is a small concern so you get direct service from the proprietor/owner – Mr. Arvind – himself. Because their overheads are low, you get a competitive rate too (more or less the same as flipkart (if not less), inclusive of shipping). I’m yet to come across any website (any product or service) in the world that gives faster and more courteous customer service.

However, please note that their website is still being upgraded and so there is a chance that you may not find the book you’re looking for through the search filter. In that case, all you have to do is send a mail across to [email protected] and Mr. Arvind gets back to you promptly with availability details, cost, time for delivery. You confirm via email, make an online payment and then forget about the book. It’ll land on your doorstep – perfect condition – within the promised timeframe.

I’ve made over 100 purchases at thestorez.com till date. I’m yet to be disappointed. It is the place for books if you’re in India. Long may that be!

Friend, I’m sorry if you considered that spam. I just wanted to help by sharing my experiences. You see, I’m in a school and need supply of books for our library quite regularly.

Anyway, here’s another link that will vouch for my recommendation:

http://www.mouthshut.com/review/TheStorez.com-177819-1.html

And this one is an interview with the founder – Mr. Arvind – an honest businessman, if ever there was one.

http://www.moneymint.in/business/indian-online-bookstore-thestorez-com

Sorry again if my unsolicited offer was unhelpful.

I buy mostly from Indiaplaza, Flipkart and a1books. I have found all three very good in terms of delivery and customer service. Once in a while it happens with everyone that a book is not available and still showing ‘in stock’, then they refund. Plus I prefer searching on 2-3 sites for the best deals.

I have used both Indiaplaza.in and Flipkart.com – both offer good selection. Flipkart UI is neater and simpler, the advantage of a single category. Delivery though is inconsistent, payment gateways are always a problem, packaging is poor.

Indiaplaza – pricing is superb, delivery is inconsistent, UI can improve a lot, packaging is good.

Difficult to choose – I use both regularly.

Maybe some VC should merge these two companies, we can have a real amazon in India then by combining good points of both companies.

My experience with indiaplaza.in is very contrary to yours. I have been using them for almost a decade now. Never faced a problem. They are my preferred site. Mainly because of a lrge offering they have. Only ideosyncracy I noticed is in their addressbook. It does not let me delete any mailing address that I may have.

Their delivery times are impeccable. They confirm the order by sms too. When the item ships they sms alongwith a courier company trackign number. Never a missed order or a wrong order. I give them 9.5 on 10

Ankur, interesting review of online book stores. But since you are an avid book reader, I was just wondering what you think of the profusion of online book rental companies? The US has had them for a while but seems like every middle sized town in India is now getting a start up. I joined one called Indiareads last month and so far it seems like good going. I heard about them from a friend who registered at the Delhi Book Fair. Apparently they are present all over India.

But anyway, here’s what I thought is interesting. I pay 325 bucks a month, and I can get 6 books. My friend pays 150 bucks and gets 2 books. I have already read Idea of Justice, Pirate Latitudes, Freefall, Professor and the Madman this month. I think if i bought those books, I would have to shell out much more. And when I wanted to purchase Idea of Justice, I got a neat discount of 22% and doorstep delivery. They are newbies because they don’t have a payment gateway yet, but so far both my friend and me like what we have seen.

I have bought from flipkart before and my experience was okay. Once I got the book within 3 days but the second time a book which was shown as In Stock, did not arrive for 20 days.I understand that this is how the online book industry works, but I still think that this online book rental is cool, especially for a student like me.

A book rental service which then allows you to buy a book sounds like a novel system. I’ve heard of a few ‘online’ library services such as these in India, but most of them work on books donated to them and they don’t sell books. What’s their collection like – as in, can you rent any book they have, or just a selected few?

Hi there,

Thank you for the review, the information was very useful. Few years back i purchased a t-shirt from rediff.com and when i received it looked like the one available at subways and roadsides here. It said that the brand is Gap.

Then i stopped purchasing online since i had to purchase a book i was looking at Goole books and i found Klipkart and i wanted to review their reputation and you review helped me to choose them.

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