It sucks that we can't ship everything as quickly as we'd like. But here's why.
Nothing would please us more than to be able to ship every single item you order quickly. But unfortunately the music industry just doesn't work like that.
The biggest reasons for delays in shipping your items out to you are:
- We are wholly reliant on labels and distributors. This is the single biggest cause of delays.
- We ship real, physical things i.e. vinyl, CDs, and tapes.
- The diversity of our catalogue often adds complications.
- Vinyl pressing plants cannot keep up with current demand.
- We make mistakes.
1. We rely on our labels and distributors
Now, we love and respect the hard-working girls and boys who staff the labels and distributors we work with. The majority of the stuff we get in these days comes from distros and without them there would be no Norman Records.
But we have no control whatsoever over them. Our supply chain basically works like this:
- You place orders for items on our site.
- If we have those items in stock they are pulled from our shelves and placed in our customer order boxes. Job done.
- If we don't have those items in stock then we order them in for you from the label or distributor.
- We then have to wait for those items to arrive.
- Once they arrive, we add them to your orders and ship them out.
Please note step 4 there: we have to wait for items to arrive. There is nothing we can do to speed this up, other than moan at the people involved. Maybe the likes of Amazon can bully them into speeding up, but we can't.
Essentially, we are at the mercy of our own suppliers. We can only ship items to you if we have physical copies of them to actually ship, and any delays distributor-end cause delays Norman Records-end.
So if you're one of the hundreds of customers who have been patiently waiting for, say, the latest Mac DeMarco album then this is usually the reason why.
2. Shipping physical things takes time
Norman Records has always supported, and will always support, the physical format. Vinyl is our passion.
But unlike computer files (delivered immediately) vinyl, CDs and tapes have to brave the world's shipping companies and routes. Again, we salute the fine people who pick up, sort and deliver the music we sell. Our delivery folk turn up on time pretty much every day no matter what the weather or traffic is doing. They lug hulking, big boxes of records on and off hulking, big lorries. It's a stressful, often thankless job - and we doubt it's paid all that well.
With physical shipping, things inevitably go wrong. Boxes get dropped off at the wrong places. Boxes fall over in the back of the wagon, get damaged, and need to be returned. Boxes destined for Italy make it to the airport on time only for baggage handlers to put them on a plane bound for Peru. Etc.
As with suppliers, there is nothing we can do about this other than moan at Royal Mail, UPS, TNT, etc. when something doesn't turn up on time. All we can do is sit and wait, cross our fingers, curse - and apologise when you, our customers, ask what is causing the the delay in getting an item in (or even why an order we've marked as dispatched isn't yet in your hands).
3. Our wide-ranging catalogue can cause difficulties
Norman Records has always tried to offer a diverse selection of some of the less well-known and harder-to-find music out there.
To do this, we have to deal the smaller labels and even directly with artists themselves.
These people are the lifeblood of the music industry. Without them, musical boundaries would never get pushed and we'd all be listening to Mumford And Sons and reissues of The Who. You know the score. But, to put it bluntly, some of these labels and artists are not well suited to the demands of international e-commerce! For many, running a label or distributing physical releases of their band's work is a labour of love that has to fit around a full-time job elsewhere.
As such, whilst we may ask in January for a label in Tokyo to ship us ten copies of their latest hand-made CD by a Japanese sound artist it might be March when we finally receive five copies on LP. Thus, a customer already facing a two-month wait can easily be left with a four-month one.
4. Pressing plants are on their knees
Ever tried getting a record pressed recently? We have. It isn't a pretty story. Records that used to take a few months to turn around are taking much, much longer than that now.
As of the time of writing (May 2015) this problem is particularly severe due to one reason above all else: Record Store Day. We've been hearing discontented mumbling about the impact of RSD on release schedules for several years already. But the mumbling has reached outcry levels this year.
And it's not just that the few pressing plants left standing are all stretched beyond capacity. We are hearing an increasing number of people complaining about how some of the manufacturing is being done, with multiple test pressings required to get a quality product. It's not just the pressing plants that were put out to grass in the 80s as the industry switched over to Compact Disc: so were many of the engineers and technicians who know how to run (and repair) busy presses.
5. Our own mistakes
Last but certainly not least, we are human, we sometimes make mistakes. Here's a non-comprehensive list of the kind of slowing-down-your-orders things that regularly happen here at the Towers:
- Stock is filed on the wrong shelves and is 'lost' until it turns up years later.
- Records intended for Customer A end up in the hands of Customer B and need to be returned (or re-ordered) so that we can get them to Customer A.
- You wanted the purple-splatter vinyl but we sent you plain old red-splatter. Meanwhile, the guy who wanted the red-splatter got the purple. (On this one we'll sometimes plead for leniency: it can be nigh-on impossible to tell one sealed white label apart from another sealed white-label.)
- Bugs introduced into our stock control system by Nathon don't get repaired quickly enough because he's too busy fixing the bugs he introduced into the order control system. Or the auditing system. Or the content management system. Etc.
- Phil, with his famously fat fingers, orders 2 copies of something rather than the 20 that are needed.
- In the mad rush to answer the thousands of customer queries we get each week, emails get marked as 'done' or, worse, accidentally deleted.
We're not total idiots, of course. We're kinda proud of our service overall. But for these mistakes, and many others, we can only apologise and promise to try to improve.