On What Planet
Is The Alibris Warehouse?

by Karin Bergsagel

#114, 18 February 2008

Out of This World Regulations for MRS
(Merchandise Return Service Labels)

Read more by Karin Bergsagel on BookThink's NewsBlog

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These gems appear in the latest Alibris Seller Newsletter:

"For orders destined for our distribution center, nothing should be applied to the package except the MRS label. Delivery confirmation, insurance, and mailing verification should not be purchased or applied to the package. Even if you, as the shipper, have already paid extra for these services, Alibris will be charged again when the package reaches the USPS sorting center."

Well, that is news to the USPS - the DMM (Domestic Mail Manual) allows for exactly this situation, where the customer of an MRS permit holder wishes to add services such as DC or insurance or confirmation of mailing:

"10.0 Merchandise Return Service

"10.4 Additional Standards for Permit Holder's Customer

"10.4.1 Customer Options

"If the permit holder has not indicated the extra services listed in 10.3.1 through 10.3.6 a customer may request the extra services listed in 10.3.1 through 10.3.6 at their own expense.

"10.4.2 Insurance

"If insurance is paid by the customer, then only the customer may file a claim (609).

"10.4.3 Certificate of Mailing

"A customer mailing merchandise return service articles may also obtain a certificate of mailing at the customer's own expense at the time of mailing by presenting the certificate at a post office to obtain the receipt."

"Here are the special services in 10.3.1 - 10.3.6 referenced above:

"10.3.1 Insurance

"The permit holder may obtain insured mail service with MRS. Only Package Services matter (matter not required to be mailed at First-Class Mail rates under 133.3.0, Content Standards) may be insured. Insured mail may be combined with Delivery Confirmation and special handling, or both. To request insured mail service, the permit holder must preprint or rubber-stamp "Insurance Desired by Permit Holder for $______ (value)" to the left of and above the "Merchandise Return Label" legend and below the "Total Postage and Fees Due" statement on the merchandise return label. The value part of the endorsement, showing the dollar amount of insurance for the article, may be handwritten by the permit holder. If insurance is paid for by the MRS permit holder, then only the MRS permit holder may file a claim (609).

"10.3.2 Registered Mail

"The permit holder may obtain Registered Mail service with MRS. The following standards apply:

"a. The customer using the MRS label must declare the full value of the article to be registered when presented at the post office. Registered Mail service may be obtained only on articles returned at First-Class Mail or Priority Mail rates and may not be combined with any other extra service.

"b. A permit holder wanting to add Registered Mail service under an existing permit must submit a written request to the post office where the permit is held, with samples of the merchandise return labels and a copy of the instructions to be provided to the permit holder's customers. The permit holder must not distribute labels that request Registered Mail service before receiving USPS written approval.

"10.3.3 Delivery Confirmation

"The permit holder may obtain Delivery Confirmation service with MRS. If the permit holder chooses to preprint the Delivery Confirmation barcode on labels, then those labels must be approved by the USPS. MRS labels with Delivery Confirmation barcodes must meet the standards in 503.9.0 as shown in Exhibit 10.5.13d. Delivery Confirmation may be combined with insurance and special handling, or both. Delivery Confirmation is always charged at the retail rate (503.9.1).

"10.3.4 Return Receipt for Merchandise

"The permit holder may obtain return receipt for merchandise (503.6.0) with MRS.

"10.3.5 Special Handling

"The permit holder may obtain special handling service with MRS.

"10.3.6 Pickup on Demand Service

"The permit holder may obtain Pickup on Demand service with MRS. Pickup on Demand service may be combined with Certified Mail (Priority Mail only), Delivery Confirmation, and special handling."

If the USPS sorting center is charging Alibris in violation of the DMM, then Alibris needs to negotiate with the USPS, not try to intimidate sellers into forgoing routine protections such as Delivery Confirmation and insurance.

This missive from Alibris goes on to state:

"USPS delivery confirmation only shows that the package was received at the destination post office and not our distribution center nor the customer's address. The local post office may hold packages for several days before they're delivered and received at our distribution center or by the customer. This delay can lead to orders being cancelled as late because they were not received within the time allowed. So it's extremely important that each seller ships within 48 hours, as our policy stipulates, to prevent late arrivals and cancellations."

Again, the USPS would take issue with this conclusion. Here is their own description of Delivery Confirmation:

"Know when it got there with Delivery Confirmation™.

"Verify delivery with Delivery Confirmation. Our low cost Delivery Confirmation service gives you the date, ZIP Code™ and time your article was delivered. If delivery was attempted you will get the date and time of attempted delivery."

Again, if it is Alibris's experience that "The local post office may hold packages for several days before they're delivered and received at our distribution center," then I think that they should be working with the USPS, and not blaming delays on sellers.

I do agree that "it's extremely important that each seller ships within 48 hours, as our policy stipulates, to prevent late arrivals and cancellations."

That said, I know many, many sellers who have obeyed this stipulation and still had shipments not received - or cancelled. These late deliveries to the Alibris warehouse are completely out of proportion to all other USPS delivery experiences, so I would suggest that Alibris investigate receiving and processing procedures at its own warehouse.

Whatever galaxy it is in.


Alibris has in fact issued a retraction (see below), now visible on their web site. I will confess that I still find it rather condescending. As a professional bookseller, I consider using delivery confirmation on every outgoing shipment a non-negotiable standard. Not because I am protecting myself against potential customer claims of non-delivery, or the vagaries of the USPS - in my experience, lost packages happen at a rate of at least an order of magnitude less than 1%.

Rather, I use delivery confirmation because it allows me to provide superior customer service to my customers, who appreciate my accepting accountability for the tracking of their packages. As far as I am concerned, the Alibris warehouse is a customer like any other; why would I provide a lesser degree of service? I did not expect to be chided for this practice, nor to be told that it is not in my "best economic interest to use delivery confirmation."

"Newsletter Tips Error

"Our apologies -- our tips about MRS labels and delivery confirmation in our recent newsletter had some mistakes. A few of our sellers alerted us to a change in policy at the USPS that does indeed allow for both delivery confirmation and insurance to be included at the sellers expense with an MRS labeled package. That said, given the low overall number of order exceptions identified as "Lost by Carrier" en route to Sparks, it may not be in your best economic interest to use delivery confirmation for these shipments. Far less than 1% of orders shipped to Sparks last year were not received.

"Although late cancellations and lost shipments to our distribution center are rare, our tip was intended as a reminder that shipping every Alibris order within 48 hours is a best practice that our customers have come to count on. We apologize if our operational tips caused any confusion or alarm.

"Warm Regards,
Heather Burns
Alibris Client Services Director"

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