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What We Looked for in Reviews of Textbook Websites

Only a few review sites bother with the online supply of college textbooks, but we found enough textbook website reviews to form a general impression of what happens when ordering textbooks the ecommerce way.

None of the sites we researched consistently earn top marks from customers. Even our top picks are the objects of stinging criticism from some users about delivery snafus and the buyback/return process for purchased and rented books.

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The majority of negative comments concern anger over not receiving the quoted buyback price or not being paid at all because the vendor asserted the book never arrived at the warehouse. Other reviewers find fault with customer service for refusing to address minor disasters such as delayed shipping (even when expedited shipping was paid for), mistaken orders, unheeded requests for cancelation, etc. Still, we read plenty of reviews lauding the experience and the product provided.

Price Savings.

The reason college students turn to ecommerce textbook vendors is to save money. In reviews they assert that prices are almost always cheaper than the campus bookstore, and each of our top picks garners its share of raves about the bargains enjoyed. As more than one student review crows, the prices found online suit their budgets far better than the alternative. In a survey conducted by Akademos, the vast majority of respondents (all college chief financial officers) cited lower online prices as the reason more and more students are spurning brick-and-mortar campus stores.

Reliable Delivery.

Negotiating textbook websites is generally straightforward, making the act of buying or renting books a snap. Reviews indicate, however, that delivery sometimes is problematic. Valore Books takes a lot of heat in reviews at Reseller Ratings, where students complain about books going missing in transit, waiting for what seems like eons for the order to arrive, or receiving a different book from the one requested.

Conversely, TextbookRush stands out in reviews posted at the same site for accurate (i.e., the right book) and speedy (i.e., within days) delivery. Chegg customers likewise seem satisfied with the pace of delivery, according to reviews at SiteJabber, where one student reports that shipping fees were reimbursed when a book arrived one day late. Most students' experiences with Skyo and eCampus.com were positive, as well, with assertions about books arriving quickly and in good condition. However, we found several posts griping that eCampus.com had arbitrarily canceled orders at the last minute.

Delivery on orders executed through a textbook website's marketplace may be more of a crapshoot. We noted frequent complaints about delivery problems in reviews related to third-party sellers. Customers may have little recourse, as the host textbook site has little control over these independent operators.

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Hassle-Free Buyback.

Selling books back at a campus bookstore typically nets a small fraction of the purchase price. Although many students assert that they do better online, the bulk of grievances aired in reviews of ecommerce textbook vendors concern discrepancies between the stated buyback policy and the amount of money students receive.

Many sites claim students can collect up to 50 percent of the price paid for a textbook. The reality is somewhat different, according to reviews. Students call out Valore Books as a serial offender. Comments posted at Epinions contain numerous stories about checks not received, disputes about the condition or the edition of the returned book, and vendor claims about books not being returned despite student protestations to the contrary.

By contrast, most reviews of Chegg posted at BookScouter say the company pays fairly and quickly. We read accounts by some customers of TextbookRush who say buyback money landed in their PayPal accounts before they knew it, although some reports at Trustpilot tell of being paid, but not always the expected sum. Skyo evades this swamp altogether by shunning the buyback market, aside from an affiliation with BuyBack.com. Not coincidentally, it earns very strong reviews.

Remember that the books you sell back must be in good condition, with no excessive highlighting, notes, water damage, weakened bindings, or loose or missing pages. One major quibble students have with the buyback process is that the company, not the student, determines the book's condition. Buyback prices also are influenced by the newness of the edition and whether the company expects the text will be used in the future. Such uncertainty explains why some students opt to sell and buy used books at Half.com, a subsidiary of eBay, where comments at Yelp and at Viewpoints reveal that both parties to these transactions appreciate the directness and transparency.

Some college textbook sites, such as TextbookRush and eCampus.com, buy back books for cash or credit; Amazon offers credit only. Opting for credit nets a more generous price, although not necessarily by much; $159.50 (cash) versus $167.48 (credit) at TextbookRush for Campbell Biology, for example. Valore Books pays by check or into a PayPal account and also partners with a company called SmarterBucks that lets you put the buyback money toward your student loans.

Responsive Customer Service.

Given the raft of issues that often arise with textbook websites -- delivery, returns, buybacks, a book's condition -- it's likely that sooner or later you'll need to speak with customer service. Reviews show that different students have different experiences even when dealing with the same company. After reading dozens of reviews, we were able to glean an overall impression about the user-vendor interaction for each website we researched.

vSkyo, for example, earns a high pass from users for customer service. Indeed, we found few reviews that even mention calling for help or filing a complaint, and those that do report receiving a quick and adequate response.

Some textbook website reviews gripe about indifferent Chegg representatives, although one parent who sent books to children at three different schools writes in a post at Consumer Affairs that a call to customer service quickly resolved the problem (rental books returned with incorrect labels). Reviewers generally report productive encounters with eCampus.com representatives. One customer, though, says multiple complaints about a book that failed to arrive yielded only the same automated response, with no resolution.

Then there's Valore Books. This vendor has been the target of hundreds of complaints lodged with the Better Business Bureau in Boston over the past few years. Unhappy customers allege a variety of irritants, notably that calls to customer service are a total waste of time. As of this writing, Valore Books' BBB accreditation had been revoked.

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