<<< Continued from previous page

Moving on.

Next was a $109.95 copy from a 96% positive seller described: "a few hilites good cover" What is it about booksellers who can't spell or arrange a few words sensibly that bothers me? And would this seller take more care packaging my book than he or she took to describe it? Okay, call me a sucker, but I clicked into feedback anyway, and guess what? The first two out of three sub-5 feedbacks mentioned poor packaging and a resulting damaged book.


Keep in mind that while this was going on, that $116 for a new copy was looming brighter and brighter in my mind - I mean, at this point, I was thinking, why am I going to so much trouble trying save a few bucks when I could just buy one new and be done with it?

A $110 copy from a seller with 0% feedback over the last 12 months was next. I should've stopped here and gone to the new copies, but I soldiered on in the interest of thorough reportage.

$114.99 with this description: "All books in Acceptable - Good condition. Books may NOT include Online Access Codes (InfoTrac, MyEconLab). Books MAY contain highliting/bent pages."


$115 by a just-launched seller.




Clicking at last into the list of new copies, I quickly skipped over five more sellers because all had boilerplate descriptions and far less than stunning feedback. Finally, I encountered a new copy listed at $114.99 by a 100% positive feedback seller who also mentioned that it was a 7th edition, included InfoTrac, and was listed as "Fulfillment by Amazon." (I should note here that this was the very first seller I came across who mentioned anything at all about the edition.) I would've preferred to see a brief condition description, even a single word like "flawless" would have helped, but I had three other books to order and it was almost dinner time - and actually, the remaining three books were even more problematic to buy!

Ultimately, I ended up buying all new copies either directly from Amazon or fulfilled by Amazon because there was something that gave me pause about every last one of the sub-$116 used copies - and many of the new copies as well. Also interesting to note is that dozens of used copies were listed at prices higher than I bought my new copy for.

It might be instructive to list some of the more common factors that broke deals for me either singly or in combination with other factors:

  1. Sellers with feedback in the 80s and low 90s.

  2. Just launched sellers.

  3. Boilerplate descriptions, especially those that suggest I'll be dealing with a seller who has completed millions of transactions - as if that would be comforting in the dark at three in the morning.

  4. A statement that the book may ship from a different location. (Apart from suggesting that some sort of fraught-with-peril dropshipping is about to happen, if that different location is Alaska and I'm in Florida, what then?)

  5. Ships from UK or other international location. (Apart from the obvious delivery time issue, does this mean that I'll be the unhappy recipient of an international or pirated edition?)

  6. A statement that supplementary materials - e.g., CDs, InfoTrac, etc. - are not (or may not be) included with the book.

  7. Any indication that more than one copy is available and the best one will be shipped.

  8. A book listed as new with indications in the description that it clearly couldn't be.

  9. Descriptions with no indication that the book is in the possession of the seller (though Fulfillment by Amazon will trump this for me).

  10. Poor diction or spelling in the description.

Oh - and one more: The word "may" anywhere in the description.

It might also be instructive to list a few factors I saw as positives for textbook purchases:

  1. Free Priority upgrade.

  2. Ships daily (or in 24 hours).

  3. Tracking number provided.

  4. Shipped in sturdy box.

  5. Both the edition, ISBN and format (hardcover or softcover) included in the description.

  6. Detailed condition notes along with indications that a CD or whatever is present.

So - what does this true life buying experience have to do with the future of bookselling? A lot, I think. You can't move forward as a bookseller unless you're able to compete effectively against other sellers today. On the basis of what I've presented here, it should be abundantly obvious that you don't have to move mountains to outshine well over 90% of competing Amazon sellers (and of course this number holds up pretty well on most other venues as well). Relatively minimal changes in your descriptions today can have a huge impact on sales tomorrow. If you don't yet have a sense of how important this is, I urge to pick out a few common titles and do some virtual shopping. Count the total number of sellers offering any given book then calculate the percentage of sellers you would feel comfortable actually pulling the trigger on. It might be an eye-opener.

Finally, if you take nothing else away from this article, take this: The future of bookselling looks bright for the sellers who are best able to communicate a sense of trust.

Part III will address the single most important technical factor that will make you or break you in the coming years. Stay tuned.

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