Bookstore: buyback process misunderstood

Sept. 29, 2014

Jonathan Toman
[email protected]

Buyback: store says books not an investment, students feel otherwise.

College students spend a lot of time worrying over pieces of paper. Assignments, the diploma we are all working toward, but most importantly in the first part of the semester, books.

Students get their books from many places, but the bookstore is the on-campus option.

Cole Aggen, sophomore criminal justice major, gets his books on campus.

“I get them from [the bookstore] because it’s nice and convenient,” he said.

Gilbert Kuhn, senior biology major, has worked at the bookstore for four years and gets his books at the there as well.

“It works out better for me cost-wise,” Kuhn said. “And I feel like they’re more understanding if you have to drop a class or something.”

Store says books not an investment, students feel otherwise

Buyback nationally is a 10-40 percent return and Sharon Coddington, course materials manager, believes there is a misconception when it comes to buyback and books in general.

“I’m not sure where it came about that books are an investment. They’re an investment for the class, an investment for your intelligence, but they’re not an investment,” she said. “It’s not a good way to think about books.”

“So when the kids come in with books and expect to get all their money back or half their money back, it seems like maybe that’s a misperception of buyback and of books in general,” Coddington added.

Kuhn and Aggen see it differently.

“I think they are [an investment], sometimes you need the book forever,” Kuhn said. “I think they are, yea.”

“Oh yeah, definitely, they’re a very good source of knowledge,” Aggen said.

Freshman nursing major Kristina Pegues thinks it’s contingent upon the class.

“It depends on what you’re using them for,” said Pegues. “Some books I don’t think you really need for your classes because you never really open them.” The bookstore uses VerbaCompare to see what other people are getting for their books.

“We try to be very close to that, and usually a little bit more because I want to keep the books here on campus,” Coddington said.

She acknowledged that online is often the best option for selling back books.

“A lot of these kids I’ve noticed will buy books online and then sell them back and almost get the same amount of money back, so that seems great to me.”

Deniston explained that buyback price is market driven, and that students will not necessarily find a better price elsewhere.

According to Deniston, this would explain why the bookstore has seen an uptick in rentals.

Spring 2014 rentals were 9.7 percent of textbook sales while that number rose to 12.5 percent this semester.

Store looks to stay competitive through VerbaCompare

Copy of ricci-bookstore3

To remain competitive, the bookstore has several strategies.

The bookstore implemented the VerbaCompare system, which gives recommendations on the prices of books after certain parameters, such as current pricing, trends, margin amount, the time it has been on the market and the time it has been at that price, are set by bookstore staff.

Aggen said he does not use the VerbaCompare system.

But Coddington knows there are other options out there, and it didn’t make sense to ignore that, which lead to the comparison system.

“I never tell a student not to go anywhere,” she said. “They’re smart shoppers.”

Coddington highlighted the stories she has heard regarding getting the wrong book and having book orders canceled as reasons to buy from the bookstore. Additionally, she said the store can deal with extenuating circumstance one-on-one and acquire their information directly from the faculty.

According to Coddington, prices for books from Amazon and other online competitors are variable. They look at the busy time for the book, and increase the cost when most students are going to buy the book.

The bookstore does not do this, according to Coddington, and the price does not change over time unless there is a mistake.

But the store does use VerbaCompare to evaluate pricing.

“It likes to know where our busy time is, just so it knows what is good for competitive pricing,” she said.

The bookstore runs into a couple of issues when it comes to supply.

The book might not be published by the time it is needed, or it may need to be reprinted as the publisher has run out of copies.

According to Coddington it is more effective for students to place their order online or ask a staff member to ensure knowledge of any issues and to get the book you need in sooner.

“We just want the students to have the books as fast as they can,” she said.

Coddington makes an educated guess as to the number of books to stock, based on historical data, class enrollment numbers and the age of book.

“It feels like a guess sometimes, but no it is an educated guess and it is more of an art than a science,” she said.

The students in lowerlevel classes will often times get the book more often than upperclassmen. But that trend can be reversed by some classes that sell fullenrollment.

“It must not be on the market apparently, or we have the best price and that’s why everybody wants to get it from us,” said Coddington.

All bookstore surplus reinvested in campus community

The bookstore is owned by the university and reports to auxiliary services, and the store generates its own funds (through books and merchandise) and does not use any student fees. All surplus profit the store makes (anything above operating expenses and bookstore reserves) is reinvested in the campus.

The surplus funds go to several areas. Donations and community support, which are contributions to student clubs and departments for student-centered activities came to $2,228 for fiscal year 14.

The bookstore reserves are used for facility changes such as the 2012 renovation. Funds for a new point-of-sale and operating system, set for implementation for fall 2015 will come from these reserves. The current system is more than 10 years old.

The bookstore requires a margin on the items it sells to remain operationally functional. That percentage has gone down in the past year, from 29.7 percent in fall 2013 to 23.3 percent this fall.

19 students on bookstore staff; no students used as temporary hires

According to Paul Deniston, director of retail services, the bookstore currently employs 19 students. Students work as low as 11 hours per week and as high as 23, with none of them surpassing 25 due to the campus policy on student employment.

The bookstore also hires temporary employees during their rush, which occurs at the start of both semesters.

The rush sees a spike in both sales and volume, but current students are not hired as temp employees.

“We typically don’t like to use students because [temps] work 40 hours,” said Kuhn.

The bookstore works with student employment for all the long-term hires, while the temp hires are coordinated through campus Human Resources and in-house procedures.

Temp agencies have been tried unsuccessfully, and most of the hires are made through referrals. Former employees and even their spouses are hired on for the rush, according to Coddington.

Around six temps were brought in this fall, although that number has been greater in past years. The bookstore is looking at starting a program to use current students as temp hires for rush.

 Store looks to improve faculty book adoption timeframe

The adoption of the books by professors is a key cog in the process of getting students books.

“If we got all of the adoptions on time, that would probably benefit the students greatly,” said Coddington.

The bookstore communicates weekly with professors and will conduct physical visits to faculty, explained Deniston.

Coddington explained that most of the professors are timely when it comes to getting their orders in.

“Most of them always turn in their order in a timely manner but could it improve yes, it could always improve,” she said. “It’s actually getting them to do it that is sometimes the difficult part.”

However, faculty are often not hired on until the last minute. “If the faculty hasn’t been hired, obviously we’re not going to be getting an order,” Coddington said.

Three professional staff positions in the text department have been approved for hire. Part of their role will be to meet with professors to help with adoption of books.

According to Deniston, the assistant textbook buyer and customer fulfillment coordinator positions are closed and in the interview process, while the book division manager position will be posted Oct. 1.

Spring orders are due from faculty Oct. 15.