GW Bookstore competes with online retailers

While buying books for classes once entailed hours in line at the GW bookstore to buy textbooks at University prices, an increasing amount of students said they are opting to buy their books online after comparison shopping at about a dozen Web sites.

With classes a week away, many students on campus and at home said they have begun the semi-annual hunt for the hundreds of dollars of books required for class.

Students said they are now able to comparison shop between e-retailers like Ecampus.com, Half.com, BarnesandNoble.com and the GW Bookstore, which lists books and prices at Efollet.com.

GW Bookstore Director Pat Lee said GW has a “huge online presence,” and the University has worked to stay competitive with online retailers.

Students are now able to log on to the GWeb portal and click on the bookstore icon to immediately see the books they need for their specific classes, she said.

“They can get everything they need with one click . where else could they do that?” Lee said.

She said the University has been affiliated with Efollet.com for about five years, allowing students to search for required books and purchase them online. Students can then stand in shorter lines to pick up books once they arrive on campus, she said.

“You have your books right on campus and you can return any time you want for returns and exchanges,” she said. “With the other Web sites, you have to wait a long time for shipping.”

She said the recent addition of 3,000 square feet to the bookstore has made the store “more shoppable,” and said the average wait time should be no longer than 15 minutes.

Representatives from textbook Web sites said their sales are better than ever and that delivery times are improving.

“We will blow the doors off last year’s projections,” said Brent Tuttle, vice president for Internet marketing for Ecampus.com.

Tuttle said the three and a half year-old Web site’s traffic is consistently increasing and that sales are up 150 percent.

He said the Kentucky-based company is hoping to attract more students with affordable prices and timely delivery.

“We have a warehouse of more than 10 million dollars worth of books, making us the largest online in-stock seller of textbooks,” he said.

Ecampus.com President Matt Montgomery said the Web site’s inventory has allowed the company to survive the Internet bubble burst.

“We bought and developed our backroom services . so we can ship your order the day you make your purchase,” Montgomery said.

TextbookX.com representative Jeff Katz said the three-year-old Web site has also seen recent sales growth.

The site recently added an exchange allowing individuals to buy and sell their books with each other.

While Katz noted there is no way for a Web site to combat the timeliness of the campus bookstore, he said online retailers can compete with low prices.

“We are always trying to cut down on the time factor . but we look to be more appealing to students by saving them the most money,” Katz said.

Searches for commonly used textbooks at four textbook e-retailers and the GW bookstore resulted in wide discrepancies in prices. While all the sites priced a Political Science 1 comparative politics textbook within an $8 range, a search for an introductory psychology book resulted in a more than $50 difference between GW and Half.com.

Most used books were more prevalent and more competitively priced at textbook Web sites.

Students in line at GW Bookstore Sunday all said they checked prices online but decided to buy some of their required reading in the bookstore because of its proximity and overall convenience.

First year graduate student Satish Iyar said he bought books from the GW bookstore and Ebay-run Half.com, which allows individuals to buy and sell books.

Iyar said he checked which books he needed at the bookstore and then saved $60 buying texts online. He said he still buys books he wants in top condition at the bookstore.

“If I was a public spokesperson for Half.com, I’d say you should definitely shop at Half.com,” he said.

Sophomore Tommy Scazzafavo agreed.

“I had an $80 economics book from the bookstore and I bought it for $11 dollars at Half.com,” he said. “It was in perfect condition and it took two or three days to deliver.”

Montgomery said students are taking a larger risk by buying at sites like Half.com.

“I don’t know whether I would want to risk my books on other students,” he said.

Other students said they are content buying books through the University bookstore.

“I’ll by them at Efollet and get them at the bookstore . I won’t even have to leave my room,” sophomore Steve McCarthy said.

Third-year law student Keith Wesley said she will also buy books at GW, noting “it seemed like a hassle to find the titles online.”

Lee said she has seen the number of student purchasing books at Efollet and picking them up the store increase steadily.

She said the store expects a “smooth” couple of weeks.

“We do our best to get the people through . and we have hired triple the usual staff,” she said.

-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.