If you only look at a book’s price and a bookseller’s rating when you purchase a book from the internet, you might be unpleasantly surprised. Let’s examine how booksellers are rated. Most sites rate dealers based solely on their fulfillment rating. In general to be a five star dealer, you simply have to fill 95% of the orders you receive. There are many worthwhile dealers who don’t have five stars. Many dealers sell through several venues. They do so because it is difficult to make a living if you only sell on one. Sometimes a book is ordered almost simultaneously through two venues. The bookseller then has to decide which one to fill. His or her rating will then take a hit on the other venue though no fault of their own. The rating system also does not take into account how well a bookseller describes a book, how well he or she packages it and their customer service skills or lack thereof.
Until I smartened up, I was fooled a number of times by five star dealers. I have received books from five star sellers that were much worse than their descriptions. Five star booksellers have sent me books that were library discards or books with underlining in them when the description never mentioned these flaws.
Many of the five star dealers, especially the big ones, treat books as if they are no different than other commodities, and they do not protect the book well when shipping. Many simply put the book into a non padded, plastic mailing bag and ship it. Often the book arrives damaged. Furthermore, many of these dealers attach bar code stickers to the books that are difficult to remove without damaging the book.
Customer service is also not always what it should be. After I contacted one five star dealer with a question about a book I wanted to order, I received an automated response stating the company could not answer individual questions about books.
On another occasion, I spent extra for expedited shipping from another independent bookseller who sells on amazon, yet he sent the book via media mail. When I asked for a partial refund of my shipping, his answer was that since the book had arrived within the estimated time, he did not have to refund me the additional money I spent for expedited mail. I reported this to amazon, and to their credit they refunded me my money.
When ordering a book, go deeper than the seller’s rating and the price of the book. Two things I look at carefully are a book’s description and reviews of the seller. How a book is described tells you a lot about a dealer.
Let’s compare three descriptions of the same book by three different booksellers.
Example 1: “Good. Buy with confidence. Excellent Customer Service & Return policy.”
Example 2: “Used – Good. A+ Customer service! Satisfaction Guaranteed! Book is in Used-Good condition. Pages and cover are clean and intact. Used items may not include supplementary materials such as CDs or access codes. May show signs of minor shelf wear and contain limited notes and highlighting.”
Example 3: “Very good soft cover with light cover wear. One corner bumped slightly. Not a library discard. No underlining, highlighting or other markings, except for former owner’s name on front free end page.”
The first example tells us only that the book is good. Even though there are industry standards which state what “good” means, different sellers interpret “good” differently. The seller’s description states “buy with confidence.” How can I buy with confidence when I do not know if the book is a paper back or a hard cover, if it is a library discard, or if it has any markings in it?
The second example gives us a longer description, but because the description is not definite about the book’s condition, it is not any better than the description in the first example. The description appears to be a boilerplate—a description that is added to all the seller’s listings. I want to know if a book does or does not have wear and markings, not it may or may not.
The third description is the best because it is the most detailed description. The dealer does not spend time blowing his horn. He simply describes the book, and he does it with adequate information. This is a dealer I can trust and buy from, even if his book costs more and even if he or she is not a five star dealer. I can buy from this dealer with confidence.
Because of the different way people interpret condition, I never purchase a book that is described as poor, fair, good or acceptable. Very good condition is my minimum threshold.
Customer reviews can help you decide if you should purchase a book from a particular seller. I particularly look for reviews that mention how a book was packaged and if it was as described. All sellers end up with some negative reviews. Some negative reviews are unwarranted and can usually be spotted. I pay attention, however, if several reviews mention the same problem. If a number of reviews say the book they received was poorly packaged, I will not likely purchase from that person.
To summarize, I look at the following items in the following order prior to purchasing a book online. 1. The book’s description—Is it sufficiently detailed. 2. The book’s rating—it must be rated very good or better. 3. Customer reviews of the seller. 4. Price. 5. Seller’s and venue’s return policy. 6. Seller’s star rating—I generally don’t worry about this unless it is really low.