Opinion: Online shopping for textbooks is not the best option for students

Budgets and time crunches can make online shopping for textbooks a frustrating experience

I’m no stranger to the appeal of e-commerce, especially for school supplies. My order comes straight to my dorm, I get the alert that it has arrived on my phone and suddenly the stars align.

It’s simple. It’s time efficient, usually. It’s meant to be more affordable than in-person shopping, especially when it comes to renting and purchasing books for classes. But I’ve never had such luck.

Unless I'm shopping on Amazon, I’m always experiencing the trial and error that comes with being a consumer of e-commerce, and shopping for textbooks is no exception.

That’s not to say that in-person shopping for textbooks is my preferred option for purchasing and accessing materials, even though purchasing new books, especially from on-campus bookstores, seems to be popular among college students. 

According to the National Association of College Stores 2017 to 2018 Student Watch Attitudes & Behaviors toward Course Materials report, 77 percent of students are purchasing their course materials from campus bookstores, compared to 42 percent of students who buy their materials on Amazon.

Some economists suggest that depending on the textbook, it is better to purchase the textbook and then sell it when students are done rather than renting the textbook. 

In addition, textbook companies often don’t disclose the hidden fees of buying and renting textbooks, such as shipping costs and tax, in an effort to lure in desperate students like me who are ordering their books at the last minute.

This can drive up the price to a point that the initial cost is deceiving.  

For example, Amazon provides free 2-day shipping to Prime members. However, if a student doesn't have Prime they could be paying between $7 to $20 for expedited shipping on a book.

Will the package arrive on time for that first assignment due? Who knows, but it’s no longer in the hands of the student anymore.

However, the Sun Devil campus stores does offer options for students to purchase online and pickup in store, as well as several rental options. 

But usually, by the grace of the mailman, the package arrives at the Hassayampa UPS store where students discuss with one another where they got their textbooks and for how much to find that, in reality, no one got a “good deal.”

The uncertainty in the arrival time of the textbook is just another added headache as students' deadlines approach. 

According to the NACS report, "in spring 2018, there was a spike in the percentage of students waiting to get their course materials until after the first week of classes."

Different people have different values of their time," department chair and professor in the ASU Department of Economics Gustavo Ventura said. “Students, as far as I understand, are busy and have a high value of their time. Therefore, it’s natural that they would do a lot of online shopping."

Students that have been consistently disappointed by online shopping sites may find that shopping for textbooks is not easy, cheap, or convenient by any means, and the online shopping industry is not changing any time soon, which could lead them to seeking other options closer to home.

The ASU bookstore offers textbook purchasing options that even include price-matching to help students make the most feasible decision for them. However, if students do more research, it's likely that they can find textbooks for little to no cost.

ASU students need to take that into consideration when looking toward future semesters. 


Reach the columnist at sirich@asu.edu or follow @sydneyirich on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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