High street bookshop chain Waterstones has said it is working hard to shift a backlog of unfulfilled orders after a problem with warehouse technical systems led to stock shortages.
The retailer, which has more than 300 stores across the UK, upgraded to a new system called Blue Yonder several weeks ago, but it has been struggling to get stock out to shops and full customer orders.
A spokesperson from the chain said: “Waterstones last month upgraded the system that manages stock distribution from our warehouse to Blue Yonder technology. This is now operational, with stock flowing to our bookshops and customers. Over the implementation period, however, a backlog of orders was created which we are now processing as quickly as we can.”
The Waterstones representative went on to apologise for “the unusual slowness”, and said the chain expects to have caught up with the backlog by the end of August. “By September we anticipate beginning to benefit from the much more sophisticated platform now at our disposal.”
Sam Missingham, publishing commentator and founder of The Empowered Author book marketing service raised the issue on Twitter and was inundated with replies from frustrated staff, authors and customers.
One Waterstones bookseller wrote, “We haven’t had deliveries for over a month because there’s an overhaul of our system, but something has gone wrong and we are having to order emergency stock directly from the publishers. Glasgow ran out of books.”
Another said, “Our systems for deliveries and order processing were super-outdated. They were upgrading them and something has gone wrong, so orders are not matching up properly on the system and as a result we haven’t been able to get any books whether they’re stock or for customers. Nightmare.”
The Waterstones spokesperson added that not all stock issues were due to the new system: “We note some of the public commentary, much of which complains that we have under-bought some titles. Unfortunately, no amount of sophisticated new warehouse systems changes the fact that booksellers we choose what to buy, sometimes being a little too reticent, sometimes too enthusiastic. We can’t blame Blue Yonder for this.”
Missingham said: “Waterstones’ problems with their warehouse systems’ upgrade have meant very few books have been delivered to shops.” Booksellers are “being urged to keep offering alternatives to customer requests for many new books” she said, while “other customers have been encouraged to order from Waterstones’ website. However, many customers have told of four to six-week waits and preorders not delivered on publication day with Waterstones still taking payment for many.”
She believes the problems have been having a “devastating impact” on authors whose newly released books were not in stock at the chain.
Edinburgh-based author Sara Sheridan said her latest novel, The Fair Botanists, was Waterstones’ Scottish book of the month, “but lots of shops ran out [because] of the ordering glitches”.
Meanwhile Susannah Wise, whose second novel Okay Then That’s Great was published in July by Gollancz, said, “It’s nobody’s fault but it is really bad timing – my first book came out in the pandemic so had that problem and now these distribution issues have happened around the release of my second novel.”
She added that, while “obviously everyone is doing their best”, authors whose books have been published recently have lost out on promotion they may have got from Waterstones. “Even when the issue is fully resolved they will likely have a backlog of several weeks of newish books, and then of course there will be another lot of new books coming out,” Wise said. “I don’t know how they will be able to shelve all these books and give them the priority they deserve.”
Missingham said the shortages have also “had a knock-on effect on publishers, with the smaller presses unable to weather this as well as the larger publishers can.”
She warned against customers taking their frustrations out on booksellers in stores though. “The problems lie in the head office,” she said. “Please consider this next time you visit a Waterstones, the staff are doing everything they can to find you a great book to read.”