For our textbook clients, it is shocking how many of the books they order are unsellable for a variety of reasons, and need to be returned. Here’s an outline of the reasons you might need to return something, what your rights and expectations are in the situation, and how you should handle it. Including copy+paste templates!


Sharon McCutcheon

The Marketplace

The first consideration when there’s something to return is where you bought it. Amazon has the best customer service, both in terms of procedures and reports, but each marketplace DOES have places to complain and to arrange compensation. It’s just a matter of learning your way around.

Be advised that all this DOES take time, and it’s perfectly fine to look at that time investment and decide you’ll take the loss. Just be aware that this is what many shady sellers are banking on! They make things harder so you’ll give up.

It’s especially important to be clear on the rules in the marketplace. For instance, it’s agains the Amazon rules to sell instructors editions or international editions EVEN IF this is disclosed in the listing. But it’s not (AFAIK) against the rules on any other platform. So you can’t go in, guns blazing, to an AbeBooks seller and denounce them for sending you an instructor’s edition– they’re allowed to do that.

What we want out of the Return Process

Returns are a necessary evil of the textbook process. We don’t want them to drag out. So we need to go in with our desires clear. If possible, you want

  • A prepaid return label, failing that, the shipping refunded after receipt
  • A full refund without a restocking fee

The refund is obvious. Some places do charge a restocking fee but you should fight it unless the fault is yours (ie, you were gated and can’t sell the book you ordered.)

The prepaid label is for two reasons. The first reason is that this means you don’t have to check later that they refunded your shipping costs. The second is that if CVAP has to set up the return manually, there’s a bunch of extra steps involved and we charge $5 for that manual return, on top of the shipping.

Prepaid labels are pretty easy for any reasonably-sized business to set up for you. Only the smallest guys (kids selling their old textbooks sort of thing) can’t give you a prepaid label when you ask.

Reasons to Return

There are three main reasons to return textbooks:

  • Condition much poorer than described
  • Prohibited items (International or Instructor’s Editions)
  • Inventory bought by mistake (i.e.; the stuff you didn’t realize you were gated from)

We’ll handle each of them in turn:

Condition Not As Described

Grading a book involves judgement. Judgement is different from person to person. That’s why we don’t recommend you getting a return if the item is graded one grade below. In other words, if you order a VG and we grade it G, or if you order a G and we grade it A, I promise you, it’s not worth the time and trouble to get a return. Save it for when the VGs are graded as As, or for cases like broken bindings, missing pages, extensive water damage that was not disclosed, and so forth.

This is a straightforward return process usually. As you’ll find in your own turn, you can’t really argue when a customer says “This book is MUCH WORSE than a [condition] book should be.” Sometimes a seller will ask for pictures to substantiate your claim, but generally they don’t want to waste time on a customer who’s only going to get more angry at them the more they make excuses. They don’t want you to escalate to the marketplace oversight department, such as Amazon A-Z claims, as that causes a black mark on their record and likely won’t go in their favor anyway.

You might also consider accepting a full or partial refund in lieu of return. If it costs half as much, you might find you don’t mind trying to sella heavily-highlight UA book.

“Dear [Seller]

I received this book in a far worse condition than I expected. Your listing says [X] but I would call it [Y] [due to reasons, if you have them]. I would like to return it to you and repurchase a copy in better condition. Please forward a pre-paid label because it is difficult to get down to the post office during business hours in order to return it to you media mail, and I am sure you do not compensate the postage if I return it Priority Post.

Thank you for your prompt reply,

[Me]”

If you don’t get a prepaid label, be sure to extract a written agreement to pay for return shipping.

 

Prohibited Items

Instructor’s Edition: Two templates here, one for Amazon…

“Dear [Seller]

I have received an Instructor’s Edition of the book I ordered. Instructor’s editions are against Amazon’s terms. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200267740 I’m sure this was a mistake on your part, but I need a prepaid shipping label in order to return it to you (I can’t get down to the post office during office hours to ship media mail.)

Thank you for your prompt reply,

And one for elsewhere:

“Dear [Seller]

I have received an Instructor’s Edition of the book I ordered. Instructor’s editions are against Amazon’s terms. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200267740 I’m sure this was a mistake on your part, but I need a prepaid shipping label in order to return it to you (I can’t get down to the post office during office hours to ship media mail.)

Thank you for your prompt reply,

 

Here’s one for the International Editions, since copyright law (presumably) should be taken seriously by all companies.

“Dear [Seller]

I have received an International Edition of the book I ordered. It says that it is not supposed to be sold in North America. I’m sure this was a mistake on your part, but I need a prepaid shipping label in order to return it to you (I can’t get down to the post office during office hours to ship media mail.)

Thank you for your prompt reply,

Bought By Mistake

This is a tricky one, and I usually tell people that they should expect to eat the return shipping cost but you might be able to get the restocking fee waived if you ask. Because the seller is not guilty of any wrong-doing here, you should approach it like you are asking for a favor.

Dear [Seller]

I am so sorry but I seem to have bought a copy of [Title] by mistake. I would like to return it. It is completely my fault but I wonder if I can get you to send me a pre-paid shipping label? I never seem to find the time to get to the post office, and then these things pile up. If you need to deduct the cost of return shipping from my refund I completely understand.

Thank you so much,

[Me]

 

Hopefully this process will be quick and painless, but most of the time it will take 2-3 exchanges with the seller until you reach a satisfactory conclusion. Be sure to set reminders to follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, because stall tactics are another great way sellers avoid having to set up returns.

If you have to escalate, do, because people who want to avoid confrontation are, in part, how shady sellers are allowed to carry on as they do. But remember karma– you sell books too, and you wouldn’t want an angry customer trying to shut you down either.

Hope this helps,

Shanna