ASellerTool Product Test

by Craig Stark

#102, 27 August 2007

Zip, Zip Zipping to Bookselling Profits

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When considering purchasing a tool that has the potential to help your business, it's important to keep things in perspective, to remember that a tool is something designed to perform a specific task, and as soon as you start asking it to do more than what it was designed for, you're on your own - that is, it may or may not perform above or beyond what it was designed for. And, if it doesn't, the tool shouldn't be evaluated on the basis of failing to do what it wasn't designed to do.

I'm mentioning this up front because I recently had the opportunity to test drive a PDA/scanner marketed by ASellerTool - and don't we all know how lovingly these devices are typically kicked around on book forums? Those who use them aren't always forthcoming about it (or mention it then duck), and those who don't use them, almost without exception, are usually revolted by the very concept. Funny thing is, only once in a blue moon will you see feedback from somebody who has tried one and not been pleased with the results. The preponderance of criticism, that is, originates from those who have never tried them. (More about this later.)

With any field lookup device, it's vitally important to keep this bookselling truth in mind at all times:

A bookselling tool is only as good as the bookseller using it.

If you're new to bookselling, no tool will turn you into a successful bookseller overnight. At best, it will enable you to make more money than an inexperienced seller who doesn't use one. Expecting anything more than this will likely lead to disappointment. The greatest benefits will inevitably accrue to booksellers who bring the most knowledge to the table.

Ok, the essence of the ASellerTool system is this: Prior to scouting, a PDA or other compatible device is connected to your computer, an Amazon pricing database (updated daily) is downloaded into it - a task that takes 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your connection speed - and you're off. Since the database resides on the PDA, it's accessible anywhere; there will be no issues with cell phone service availability whatsoever. When you reach your scouting destination, you simply point the scanner at the bar code on the back of a book, and in less than a second, pricing information comes up on your display - or you may elect to use an optional sound alert with or without an earphone. At the time of this writing, the pricing information displayed includes:

  1. Lowest 3 used prices
  2. Lowest new price
  3. Sales ranking
  4. Title
  5. Number of used offers
  6. Number of new offers
  7. Item conditions
  8. Buyer waiting (if item has no seller listing)

(Note that pricing information will also be returned for VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs.)

There will also be either a "Buy" or "Reject" indication on the screen, an optional voice alert, also an indication if the item is "Not Found." The "Buy" and "Reject" indications are triggered by user-created settings. Up to 6 different templates each with 7 pricing/ranking steps can be set up. For example, the following criteria could be put into place:

Minimum price of $10 and minimum sales ranking of 50,000.

Up to 6 additional steps could be included on this same template. A second step might be:

Minimum price of $20 and minimum sales ranking of 100,000.

And so on.

Obviously, some experimentation (and knowledge) will be required to deliver consistently good results. There's something to be said for stocking lower-dollar books with high sales velocity, and settings should reflect this. Also, a warning: Basing buying decisions on Amazon Marketplace pricing alone has its potential pitfalls. Possibilities for being led astray include ISBNs shared by two or more editions of a textbook, multiple catalog entries created by sellers for the same item, and Amazon prices that rise far above a global-venue average. (The latter situation often arises when a seller creates a new catalog entry to accommodate a book that isn't presently in the Amazon catalog and artificially elevates the price, hoping to snag a hapless buyer before other booksellers list their copies and start the race down.)

To repeat, "A bookselling tool is only as good as the bookseller using it." The more experience/knowledge you bring to the process, the less likely you will misinterpret pricing data.

Inexperienced booksellers using a tool like this would do well to confine most of their buying at lower price levels and always check publication dates on textbooks. Books offered at $.50 and $1, for example, that show $20 and up online comparables and good sales rankings would pose little risk; buying a book for $20 that has comparables of $50, $100 or so, however, with a sales ranking in the millions might. Textbooks published prior to 2003 or 2004 that show good comparables should be eyed with scepticism until more experience has been gained - or more information is retrieved.

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