Powell's Books, the Portland independent bookseller, has been grappling with a challenge to its bottom line. This spring, the online retail giant Amazon removed Powell's inventory from its U.S. online marketplace.
In a May 9 email to staff, company owner and president Emily Powell told employees that Amazon had removed Powell's as a retailer in April. She said Powell's had tried to restore its account without success.
"We have been flagged by Amazon several times in the past but have always worked through their process and been reinstated," Powell wrote. "Unfortunately, reinstatement no longer appears possible."
On May 14, WW contacted Amazon with questions about the removal. On May 15, an Amazon spokesperson said the company had restored Powell's to the U.S. marketplace.
"Selling partners are incredibly important to Amazon and our customers," a spokesperson tells WW. "We've investigated this situation and the associated issues have been addressed. As a result, the account in question has been restored."
It's not clear how large the financial hit to Powell's from losing Amazon would have been. But in her May 9 email, Powell described the financial hit as "substantial."
She said Amazon's decision was based on a flawed algorithm intended to remove questionably obtained merchandise. "We would have liked to build a strategy to move away from working with them, and replace our Amazon sales with Powell's sales, on our own terms," Powell wrote. "Unfortunately, Amazon has made this decision for us."
That decision seems to have changed this week.
Powell's Books declined comment to WW, both before and after Amazon restored its account.
Here's the full text of Emily Powell's email to staff last week:
From: Emily Powell
Sent: Thursday, May 9, 2019 12:33:53 PM
To: Company Wide Employee Distribution List
Subject: Powell's & Amazon
For many years Powell's has listed much of our inventory for sale on Amazon's various marketplace platforms. In fact, the original US marketplace was built to accommodate Powell's substantial inventory. Our relationship with Amazon has been complicated over the years, but also lucrative. While some of the sales that our partnership generates are quite time consuming and frustrating, others are seamless and a boon to our business.
In the fall we began hitting more bumps in our relationship. We believe that Amazon has come under increasing pressure to de-list accounts that are selling fraudulent products – e.g. fake designer handbags, textbooks, etc. As a result, they built algorithms to block many retailers who appear to Amazon to sell questionable products (or products obtained in a questionable manner). Many retailers, ourselves included, have been trapped – wrongly – in Amazon's new net. We have been flagged by Amazon several times in the past but have always worked through their process and been reinstated. Unfortunately, reinstatement no longer appears possible. Approximately one month ago Amazon removed us from their US marketplace. Despite all our best efforts, and the facts of the case, they will not allow us to resume selling Powell's inventory on their US site.
Many of us have not been fans of Amazon for a long time – for political reasons, frustrations with their business practices, or simply because they are our most significant competitor. We would have liked to build a strategy to move away from working with them, and replace our Amazon sales with Powell's sales, on our own terms. Unfortunately, Amazon has made this decision for us. While we will continue to work to be reinstated, we do not reasonably expect to resume doing business with Amazon US. We remain a gifts retailer on Amazon UK (issues surrounding Brexit forced us to remove our book inventory from Amazon UK earlier this year), and a book retailer on Amazon CA, Amazon FR and Amazon JP.
Powell's sales environment is typically quite stable – we go up a little, we go down a little, but we mostly stay in the same place. The loss of our Amazon US sales, while relatively small compared to the big picture, is nonetheless substantial as a result. John, Kim, Teyo, Sylvie and I are developing a plan that is focused on maximizing the Powell's experience for our customers, recouping our lost sales, and increasing operational efficiencies. You will certainly be hearing from us as we develop our next steps.
In a matter of weeks, summer will be here and our stores will be full of our customers. One thing we can all do to help is continue providing great customer service. Each of our interactions is an opportunity to delight our customers and share our book knowledge through hand selling.
You will be hearing from me again soon with another update. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to send any questions or comments my way.