When AI Bites you in the Assets

John Clark with an expanded look at the evolution of selling books online. First some background. I started selling used books online when I was the librarian in Hartland in order to create a revenue stream for collection development. I sold on Amazon and it was a pretty simple and straightforward process: Provide a condition and an accurate description, add a price, and activate the list. It was a great way to raise funds to buy more books and develop a DVD collection.

After several years of doing so, I realized I knew enough about what sold for decent money so I could go to a library book sale and buy items that would sell well online. My library initiative became a new hobby, particularly once I retired. The challenge of finding treasures at book sales also gave me the same thrill as the one I experienced when opening a treasure chest in a computer role-playing game.

Remember when everyone was talking about banks being too big to fail? Well we know how well that turned out. Amazon seems headed in a similar direction and it’s because it’s too big to operate intelligently any more. Bots, those little kernels of AI, run more and more of its operations every day.

That once straightforward process of listing a book/DVD/Cd has now become extremely frustrating. Many of the books I’ve tried to list on Amazon in the past year have resulted in a message to the effect that I am not authorized to sell this refurbished item, and there is no option to appeal. Trying to get in contact with a real human is equally elusive, and what, exactly, is a refurbished book?

The latest crisis is this ominous message many sellers have found at the top of their seller page: Your account is at risk of deactivation. To comply with the INFORM Consumers Act, which goes into effect on June 27, 2023, Amazon needs to collect and verify information about your Selling on Amazon account. Currently, you have one or more verification action items pending. Please review the list below and visit the Seller Account Information page to start verification.

I discovered it a couple weeks ago. When I go to find out what is needed to remedy the situation, I can find nothing that needs to be corrected. I’m not alone in trying to deal with the problem. It’s been a hot topic in the seller forum.

I wouldn’t be so unhappy if getting in contact with a human being was viable, but Amazon’s reliance on bots makes this a near impossibility. I don’t feel optimistic about my future selling prospects on their site.

What does this leave for options? I could invest a lot of time and money in joining something like ABE Books, of create my own store front, but since we’re talking a couple thousand in gross annual sales, such an option doesn’t make sense.

Instead, I’m listing and selling more on ebay. I’ve been a member there for more than thirty years, initially as a buyer, but more recently as a seller. I’m listing my reasons why below.

1-I can list almost anything, if I can describe it accurately. Years ago, my late mother-in-law gave me a musty coyote hide her father had trapped in the 1950s. She said it was probably something destined for the trash heap…I sold it on ebay to a lady in San Jose, CA for $10.50. My digital camera, coupled with my library cataloging skills, make listing an item accurately pretty easy. Items that are not being offered for sale anywhere online can be listed. I just sold Records of the Past Exploration Society Volumes 1-6 1902-1907 Ex-reference Collection, on commission for a local library. While individual volumes were listed on some sites, multiple ones were not for sale anywhere.

2-I’ve been a member long enough so I can list 250 items a month without having to pay an insertion fee.

3-Unlike Amazon, I can choose to sell by auction, or as buy it now, and determine whether I want to offer free shipping, or charge a realistic fee. I have a media mail chart, so I generally choose to sell an item as ‘buy it now’ with an accurate shipping rate.

4-I can see exactly what an item has been sold for before choosing to list anything. I do this by searching for the book, CD, DVD, etc. and then checking the sold box. This shows me whether any have sold in the last few months and for how much. If none have, or the price was so low trying to sell mine isn’t viable, I move on to another item.

5-I can see which items have been viewed and how many times. Likewise, I can see which ones are being followed. If an item hasn’t been looked at after twenty-five days, I end the listing and add a new one. Items I think might sell if up longer than thirty days automatically renew.

6-Prospective buyers can make an offer. I then have the option to accept it, or make a counter offer. If someone is interested in multiple items, I can combine shipping costs to make them a better deal.

7-Funds are deposited in my checking account monthly.

Is selling online for everyone? No, but it makes for an interesting and profitable way for me to stay busy and intellectually stimulated in retirement.

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2 Responses to When AI Bites you in the Assets

  1. kaitcarson says:

    Interesting, John. Other than my books, I have never attempted to sell anything on Amazon. Sounds like that was a good plan!

    I think ABE Books is owned by Amazon now. Is the INFORM notification on mainly books/CD/DVD sites? I wonder if that’s not an attempt to drive accounts to ABE.

  2. Vicki Berger Erwin says:

    Very interesting. I’ve sold a few things on ebay–bought more than I’ve sold–and didn’t know some of the things you posted. Thank you!

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