Durham Book Exchange’s new return policy angers students
Published: Thursday, February 11, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
On the last day books could be returned at the Durham Book Exchange, just before the 5 p.m. closing time, a line of fidgety students carting textbooks trailed down the length of Main Street.
Store Manager Lorraine Mechem stepped out into the frigid winter air to face the crowd, announcing that the store was closing in five minutes. Students who had been waiting hours in line burst into a riotous uproar.
Since then, Mechem said she's been dealing with outraged customers demanding their money back, crying, parents on the phone, even name-calling.
"I've been called a terrible manager," Mechem said, shaking her head.
"I've been called sneaky," Assistant Manager Maggie Lund said.
After the first week of spring semester classes, all prior book sales are now void and cannot be sold back for more than 50 percent of the original cost.
This is just one of the newly-implemented return policies set by Main Street's Durham Book Exchange. The signs are posted everywhere in the store, between the makeshift aisles of shelved textbooks, displayed for customers in bright, bold red lettering. The new return policies state as follows:
All returns are subject to a 10 percent restocking fee. Textbooks can only be returned through the first Friday after the semester begins. If a return is made within two days of the original purchase, refunds will be issued in the same form as original payment. All returns made after two days of purchase will be for store credit only.
There are no returns without original sales slip, returns on new books not in original condition, or returns of opened shrink wrapped packages or software. There is no cash refund on credit card sales.
And the bookstore reserves the right to refuse returns under certain conditions.
These new policies have many UNH students outraged.
"It's completely bogus," Tim McDonald, an undeclared sophomore, said. "They're ripping us off."
Mechem has been serving the university for 30 years since the store's establishment in 1980 and said he has never faced such a negative response.
"We used to be known as the cool guys," Mechem said. "Everyone came down here as an alternative to the UNH Bookstore because of our cheaper prices, but now we're made out to be the bad guys."
The bookstore decided to change their policies when at the end of last semester, they were faced with so many textbook returns, they said they knew they had to adjust to the changing industry.
"We realized that people were buying the books then selling them back to us because they could find them elsewhere for cheaper," Mechem said, referring to online retailers. "We thought two days would be enough time for people to do their online research, then resell them back to us."
The Durham Book Exchange conducts business like most other small, independent bookstores. Textbooks are recycled between wholesalers, bookstores and the warehouses they are stored in between exchanges. Due to this constant recycling, slight commission occurs with each exchange, and the Durham Book Exchange is not impervious to these costs.
The Durham Book Exchange deals with six textbook wholesalers, buying as many used books as possible between semesters. As a last resort, new books are ordered directly from the publisher. Used books are significantly cheaper and sold to students at a 25 percent discount of the retail price because of the discounts the bookstore receives from the wholesalers.
When you peel back the price stickers on a textbook and they become progressively more expensive with each exchange, it's a result of the cycling business and the changing economy, Mechem said. Wholesalers set the prices, and the small independent bookstores they deal with, like the Durham Book Exchange, sell the books as such.
"We're not hiking up the prices," Mechem said. "It's the prices we pay, too."
The restocking fee in the return polices dispute between students and booksellers at the Durham Book Exchange is equal to the money spent in salaries for those taking the time restock the textbooks into the computer systems and putting on a new sticker, Mechem said.
The Durham Book Exchange has always struggled to top the competition's prices, whether it's the UNH Bookstore or big-name rivals like Barnes and Noble. But the small, independent, privately-owned bookstore blames online competition and the economic downturn.
Online sellers like Amazon, Chegg.com and eBay are growing in popularity with more affordable prices, and customers are demanding why the Durham Book Exchange cannot match these prices.
Mechem responds that it's a different way of doing business.
"We can't get 80 books with all different prices and shipping," she said.
Students such as junior Business Economics major Ryan Guidice disagree.
Guidice said he has turned to a more practical strategy: buying and reselling textbooks online.
When he was a freshman at UNH, Guidice said he bought over $500 worth of textbooks through the Durham Book Exchange. By the end of the semester, he said he'd opened two or three of these books, did not even crack open a few, and actually ended up doing considerably well in his classes.
Guidice vowed never to buy through the bookstores again. Instead, he turned to online retailers to scavenge for deals.
"It's so easy," he said. "If you can put in 10 minutes of your time to go online, you can pay less than half the prices the bookstores sell them for."
Guidice said he uses the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a nine-digit code usually found on the back cover or along the spine of a book, to find listings of the prices they sell for online.
While more students are turning to this strategy of buying the required textbooks, others say they loathe the hassle of navigating eBay auctions, Chegg rentals and the time needed to ship the textbooks to campus. As a result, they forfeit bigger price tags for the convenience of on-campus bookstores.