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Bellevue College Bookstore Adds Comparison Shopping

Starting in August, Bellevue College in Washington added a service that enables its bookstore shoppers to compare the price of alternative sources for textbooks and even buy them from the online store of their choosing. The comparison also includes estimated shipping costs. The college has integrated VerbaCompare from San Francisco-based start-up Verba to integrate the comparison shopping features.

VerbaCompare lists the campus bookstore's pricing, along with pricing from Amazon, Half.com, AbeBooks, and other companies. Available through the college's own website, the service allows the student to choose to purchase the book from any of the listed sites from within the website by adding the book to a shopping cart and completing the transaction.

 
VerbaCompare allows Bellevue College Bookstore's customers to compare textbook prices from other vendors.
 

The Bellevue bookstore site includes a reminder to the shopper that by buying directly from the Bellevue College Bookstore, he or she will "get the right book, instant pick-up, and easy returns." The same note includes warnings to students to watch out for international and instructor editions from Amazon Half. "These editions are not legal for resale," the site reminds them, "and are not eligible for buyback at the end of the term."

Why include the service at all? According to Director Kristen Connely, for a number of reasons the bookstore saw a dramatic drop in sales during the second half of the year. "We thought, what are we going to do?"

The inclusion of Verba has had two immediate effects. Connely said the site helps her staff make quick adjustments to the pricing of textbooks based on competitors' offerings. Also, "If the student clicks on the link to a third-party vendor, the bookstore receives a commission," she added. "Not only are our sales strong right now, but we're getting commissions from places we wouldn't have gotten otherwise."

The bookstore introduced a textbook rental program last year on a first-come, first-served basis. It's also about to fully deploy a netbook rental program that was tested in the spring 2011 term. And it's encouraging the piloting of digital textbook resources in many of its institution's courses.

Connely admits that these practices don't necessarily mesh with standard college bookstore practices. "We're supposed to be a retail system to bring in funds for the college," she said. "But I see that we're part of this college, and we're all working toward our students' success. If it means we need to work a little harder and try some new things to get to that point, then that's my job."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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