About buying and selling used books and stuff online. Plus my adventures and random thoughts.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Top Ten Mistakes Online Buyers Make

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The Internet can be a scary place to shop, but despite the rising number of complaints, people are doing more and more shopping online. Christmas is coming, and surveys show about forty percent of shoppers will make at least one purchase online this year. So what are common pitfalls of online shopping and how can you avoid them?

1.) Ignoring feedback. Feedback ratings for most sellers on Amazon, eBay, and similar venues are prominently displayed, and you ignore them at your peril. A score of 80% may sound good, but it means one in five buyers who left feedback was unhappy. You may need to spend a little more money, but go with a seller rated 95% or better and avoid the hassles of returns, claims, and slow or no refunds.

2.) Not reading the return policy or terms of service. No one reads policies, right? After all, they are more boring than reading the dictionary. So sellers count on this when they write the policies, which are often crafted to give the merchant all the advantages and the buyer none. Know if returns are permitted, and if so, who pays for shipping, you or the seller? Restocking fees of 20% are common; you might want to know how much the “100% satisfaction guarantee” will actually cost should you need to return a purchase.

3.) Not reading condition notes. Third party sellers usually offer lower prices on Amazon and elsewhere. Each item sold on Amazon, Half.com, and e-Bay includes a description that, when ignored, can cause you a nasty surprise. For example, there is the Amazon seller who sells his “new” books with this condition note, “Only a few ink marks on twenty or thirty pages, and underlining on less than 50 pages.”

4.) Choosing standard shipping. Need that gift next week? Must have that book when class starts on Tuesday? Select the “expedited shipping” option when you check out. Standard shipping takes up to twenty-one business days—that means twenty-one Monday through Friday days: when you add in Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, standard shipping can take six weeks.

5.) Using feedback to communicate with seller. If you are unhappy with your online purchase, tell the seller before posting any negative comments—send an e-mail explaining the problem. Reputable sellers, with good feedback, want to protect their feedback ratings. If you give a negative feedback before the seller fixes your issue, you take away a big incentive from the seller, who now has no reason to try to help you.

6.) Paying High Shipping Costs. It’s really easy to find things online which are cheaper but sometimes you’ll pay the difference in inflated shipping and handling fees. This is especially true when making a purchase from a small retailer or via an online auction sites. (Amazon always charges the same flat rates for the same items; one flat fee for books, another for DVDs, etc.)

7.) Wrong Shipping Destination. Many sites will remember previous locations where you had items shipped. Usually, they’ll remember the last location used so don’t be tempted by One-Click purchases. Your item will be shipped to the last person who received a present from you. (By the way, the “ZIP plus

8.) Buying from startups. Everyone has to start somewhere, but do you want to be the one to take a chance on an unknown? Amazon puts a “just launched” icon next to a new seller’s name when they are just starting out. That new seller could well be a responsible, serious person committed to making a business out of the online sales game—or they could be a totally unscrupulous thief, looking to scam you. With no track record, how can you tell? If you feel lucky, click on “buy.”

9.) Rushing the buy. Everything online is faster, right? Well, you do save time by not having to drive to the mall and stand around waiting for a surly cashier on in a long line, but rushing your purchase can be a big mistake. Spend some time with your online merchant; read product reviews and be sure you know what you are getting and from whom. Time invested before you click “buy now” will save time if it keeps you from making a bad purchase.

10.) Not leaving feedback. Got a bargain and happy about it? Or mad at being ripped off? Share with others by leaving appropriate feedback—see number one above.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Do You Not Like Money?

Know the answer the next time you sell online.

Okay, so, I’m not usually that rude. Actually, mostly, I’m very polite. But, golly goodness, the provocation was extreme.

I’m standing in a young woman’s dining room last July, buying a stack of textbooks from her. She says, “I’ve tried selling them on Amazon, but they just aren’t selling.”

“Un-huh,” I say, concentrating on my PDA and the data it shows me on her books.

“I priced them $15 less than the lowest price,” she says. That got my attention.

“Why? Do you not like money?” Rude comment, I know, but really, what is wrong with people?

How about you? Do you sell online? Do you not like money?

Textbook Seasons

For starters, we’re talking textbooks here. People do not buy textbooks in July because they want some light reading for the beach. People buy textbooks because some professor or teacher expects them to read a chapter or two in order to pass their classes. And classes start in August, September, January, and sometimes in May or June, but almost never in July.

So, if you’re on the river, why are you cutting your textbook prices in July? And why, if you want to go low, why are you $15 under everyone else? If you undercut by $1, your listing will still be first, so why undercut by $15? Heck, lots of items show mere pennies separating sellers. And one penny under the next seller will still put you in front.

Seasonal Selling

Be clear on what you are doing; understand why and when people buy online. Keep in mind that retail is seasonal. Surveys show nearly forty percent of Christmas shoppers start their shopping by the end of October. Another near forty percent start in November. Internalize those facts, learn them, know them and make decisions based on them. Is mid-October the time to start cutting prices? Really?

It’s OK to Like Money

Now, if you know me, you know I’m a Christian. Here’s what the Bible actually says: “The excessive love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” Not “the love of money,” or the “like of money,” but the excess.

So you can stop feeling guilty for liking money, and stop trying so hard to get less for your wares.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to Open a New Book

Sometimes, a new book can be damaged by improperly opening it. I thought everyone who cares about books knew this, but evidently not. I recently got a snotty e-mail from a man who bought my collectible fine condition copy of a book written by a famous political conservative.

"Nothing in this book identifies it as a first edition," he complained. "And it makes a horrible creaking kind of noise when I open it, there must be some kind of awful damage to the spine."

I wanted to yell at the man -- "Yes, the damage you inflicted on it!"

Let me explain.

A well made hardcover book has pages that are sewn together, a process call "binding." Wikipedia has a fine article on the process here. A brand new, never read book, will have relatively stiff thread holding the pages together. Glue may also be holding the boards to the text block. As the book ages, these parts may actually stiffen. Now, when a book is read, the threads stretch and the binding loosens. Usually, the reader is unaware of this relaxation in the binding. However, if the book was never read and is more than a few years old, the stretching of the threads makes a distinctive sound; a sound of cracking the spine, damaging the book in invisible ways that will shorten its life considerably.

Any new or previously unread book should be opened gently; lay the spine flat on a table and hold the text block up; working with a few pages at a time, from the outside in, open the book, alternating with the front and back. For a detailed description, check out this nice article at Tate Publishing.

As far as the "first edition" complaint, publishers use a variety of ways to identify firsts. The words "first edition" may not appear anywhere in a book that is, in fact, a true first. This information is hardly secret; in fact, a reference I carry with me all the time is a small book written to help book dealers identify first editions, Bill McBride's indispensable "A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions." Numerous articles posted on the internet discuss identification of firsts, such as this one from Quill & Brush, or this from Empty Mirror Books, or this from BooksSeattle.

Well, I could not figure out how to yell at the man via e-mail. So I explained about how to open a previously unread book and how publishers confuse the issue on first editions. I only hope he opened the links I sent.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Folio Society Books

Part of my "work" requires me to look at and appraise thousands of books offered up for sale at thrift shops, church sales, estate sales and other venues. I imagine it's like panning for gold, only with books. Sound dull? The rest of my family thinks it is, but it does not really feel like "work" to me.

Like any miner, I live for the moment when I discover the golden nugget hidden in the sludge. Last year, I felt like I'd found a rich vein of nuggets when I bought the entire library of a retired English teacher. Most of the books were published by the "Folio Society," a British enterprise I'd never heard of before. Many others were "Heritage Book Club" books, another outfit unknown to me.

The highest possible production values for mass-market books set these two publishers apart from the run of the mill. The paper is acid-free, very good quality bond. The printing is selected to match the subject, as are the illustrations. The publisher might use period illustrations for history, or woodcuts or other original art. The covers are usually fine cloth, with a handsome embossed design, often of original art, and gilt lettering when appropriate for cover titles and author's names. Instead of a dust jacket, these books are protected by slipcases. The slipcases are usually plain, although they can be adorned with eye-catching art. My copy of the Folio "Maltese Falcon" has a striking print pastedown on the slipcase.

The books themselves are classics of both historical and contemporary English literature and world literature in translation; fiction, biography, science, art and history.

Robin Smiley, editor of Firsts, the book collector's magazine, said she could not understand why a collector's market does not exist for these books. In particular, the first editions would be desirable.

I wonder that, myself.

Well, most of these books will stay in my private collection, for now. I am still regretting sale of my copy of William Blake's Songs of innocence and of experience, illustrated by the author.

Interestingly, a little research shows Folio Society has devotees writing on Library Thing. They even said some nice things about the William Blake book.

Of course, you can get these books directly from the Folio Society in the UK. Barnes & Noble are the US distributors. They have a nice PDF file touting the virtues of these books.

As for me, I expect to see more of them at estate sales. I am thinking, though, I might go back to Amazon or e-bay to pick up a nice copy. Because, for a book lover, a beautifully made edition of a great book is a double joy.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What Feedback Means to Me

As an online customer and book dealer, feedback influences all my buying and selling.

I recently saw a feedback rating of 50% for a seller listing collectible books for a price much higher than the market rate. Why would anyone gamble on that seller? Not only do customers have a 50-50 chance of losing their money, they also have a high probablity of jaw clenching, tooth grinding frustration. Why, when so many highly rated sellers eagerly await your business?

The seller must be counting on people not paying attention to the feedback rating. And it must work, because he keeps on listing books.

As a book dealer, I am after the people who do pay attention. I want them to check my listings next time they go shopping. I want them to remember the good service, the accurate description, quick delivery, and other things I do to earn my feedback score.

I wish my rating were 100% positive, but even I make mistakes from time to time. I try to do what I can to make amends whenever I disappoint a customer. Besides, there is something "too good to be true" about a 100% positive rating. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

My hope is that people will pay a tiny bit more to deal with me than my low end competition. A few bulk dealers routinely undercut my prices by pennies. Their positive feedback runs below 95%; mine runs at 98% or better, depending on the time period. They use automated programs to make sure they are always the cheapest; I do everything by hand. They are huge operations, with many employees, multiple locations and thousands of books; my operation is tiny and family run. I can't always stay ahead of their automated price cutting, but my feedback score is objective proof that I beat them on quality and service.

So feedback means success to me. As a customer, the feedback for the seller I buy from tells me how likely I am to be pleased or disappointed. As a dealer, the feedback I get tells me and everyone else how successful I've been in reaching my goal of quality products and the best possible service.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bookride: Unique take on World's Most Wanted

If you want to read a witty, well written blog with interesting book lore and stories, then Bookride is it.

I particularly enjoyed reading about celebrity book collectors.

A wealth of information, highly recommended.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Firsts Magazine

A well written magazine all about collecting books, Firsts, supplies a wealth of information in every issue.

Book collectors want true first editions; but identifying a book as such requires significant knowledge. Sadly, most Internet book dealers who have gotten into the game over the last couple of years lack that knowledge. Many, many mistakes show up in listings on the Internet all the time, I believe honest errors by people who simply do not realize the different between a "first thus" and a "first state."

Not only does this magazine educate the collector and dealer on the nitty-gritty details of collecting, each issue focuses on a single author or small group of authors, listing the work of the author and giving key points on the identification of valuable editions.

I've been reading Firsts for a while, and ordered back issues as well. I use it to help make sure that when I say a book is a first edition, it really is. In this business, as in life, reputation is everything.

Highly recommended.

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