Monday, October 6, 2008

Pressure Free Book Buying

Something that has begun occuring more often, and which happened quite regularly this past September Rush was upper year students standing in front of the skids of first year books and attempting to sell their used textbooks to first year students.

While there is an inherent issue with this (the act of someone standing in the middle of a retail space in which rent and utilities are paid and performing their own sales transaction), the fundamental reason why I found it offensive was because of the pressure it put on first year students to make a snap decision to purchase a book. With a perceived "good deal" dangling in front of them, many students felt pressured to have to decide NOW whether they would take advantage of the offer.

But the downfall is multi-varied:

First, was the edition of the textbook they were purchasing even a valid one (ie, the same edition that their instructor was using in class?)

Second, if the student changed their mind, would they be able to return their purchase within a reasonable time frame or even return it at all?

Third, was it actually a good price, particularly when compared with the options our store offers to students, which includes used books sales, which, in many cases are well below the industry average of 25% cheaper than new books (if we can get a really low cost supply of used books, we take advantage of that and pass the savings along to the students)

The bottom line, in my mind, comes down to this: students should be aware of ALL the choices they have when purchasing textbooks. Our role as booksellers should be providing them with as much information as we can to allow them to make the BEST, most INFORMED decision possible.

Students should feel NO pressure to purchase course materials, whether it is from myself or my staff OR from someone else who happens to be standing in my store.

Here is how I personally addressed the issue at our store when it occured this past September.

1) I let the students who were flogging their books know they had various options available to them. In our case, we have a BOOK BUYBACK program in which they can recoup up to 50% of the original selling price of their textbook. There is also an on-campus consignment bookstore operated by our Student Union group which I would let them know about. And third, our website offers students a free online classified allowing them to list, barter and sell their textbooks directly to other students.

With all these options available, there should be no need for them to stand in front of a pile of textbooks in my store and pressure another student to purchase from them.

2) If I witnessed a student putting any sort of pressure on first year students I immediately asked them to stop it as politely as possible. I explained the mandate that no student should feel pressured to purchase course materials. I also cautioned the student they were pressuring to not make a rash decision; reminding them of the option to return a book (new or used) to us by the return deadline.

3) If the aggressive seller persisted, I requested in no uncertain terms that they leave and reminded them that this activity was not acceptible.

Again, at the end of the day, our job as campus booksellers should be to ensure students are making informed decisions on purchasing their course materials. The students should NOT feel pressured. If we have done that, we've done our duty as academic booksellers and we hope that they make the decision to purchase their books from our store.

Because when they make THAT decision, it supports our ability to be around in the years to come to continue to serve student needs and support the academic mission of our respective campuses.

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