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buying used books on Amazon vs eBay
October 4, 2012 8:22 PM   Subscribe

First time buying used books via Amazon. Is the process the same as that of eBay's?

I always find and buy used books via eBay because they offer PayPal. Recently though I've discovered that some of the sellers on eBay are also on Amazon, and I've spent the better half of this week going through my list of books and comparing the prices. Some questions:

1. A book is offered at $0.99 at Amazon vs $1.99 at eBay by the same seller. Should I go buy from Amazon then if that is the case? (Most books in my list have this scenario)

2. Most likely they would not combine shipping, no? So really each book would actually cost around $4+. Is it futile to ask the sellers if they would give a discount for shipping? (I am planning to buy around 3-5 books per seller).

3. I have never tried buying via the used books section of Amazon. Would it be just like buying new books — you go to checkout and pay (by credit card)? What if am buying several used books from one seller? Do you suggest I contact the seller first and express my intent?

4. What if I am buying from several sellers? Should I just buy them by chunks — for example, Seller 1 first where I'm buying 3 books, then checkout, then just repeat the process for each seller?

5. I plan to buy books with specific book covers and editions. Should I trust that the photo + info displayed is accurate in Amazon? I am asking because with eBay I really do get to see the info corresponding to the actual book I'm buying...and I am overwhelmed at the thought of having to contact each seller in Amazon to confirm the details (though would do it if really needed).

6. If I want the seller to deliver the books to a different address, should I edit my own account to reflect that or just talk to the seller about it?

7. Any other advice you can give me on how to make this process easier/smarter?

Thanks!
posted by pleasebekind to Shopping (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
1&2. It'll tell you how much shipping is at the right side, or in a listview like this under the cost of the book.

2&3. Never tried it, it's worth a shot to ask I guess, but I wouldn't expect super timely responses, as it seems like a lot of these places have a ton of books, so I'm not sure how big they are staff-wise or how up they are on their emails and such. I've only ever contacted a seller on a clothing purchase, and it took a few days to respond (and then again for them to respond to my reply, and then some more time to ship...). I know textbooks can be kind of a time-sensitive purchase, so if time is of the essence, I'd just not bother with it unless you're totally strapped for cash.

3. Yes, you just check out as usual.

4. Not necessary, Amazon will organize everything. You just put everything in your cart, and if I remember right, it kind of chunks it out by seller (You're getting X, Y, and Z from this seller and this is how much that will cost (items and shipping), and A & B from that seller, and here's how much you're giving them), but you just pay one sum.

5. I've never had an issue with receiving books that appeared different or were inaccurate, but maybe someone else can speak better to this.

6. It will ask you where you want them shipped at the end, above any previous addresses you have entered there's an option to add a new address. If you want some books shipped to one location and others shipped to another (not sure why, but hey), that's when I would do separate checkouts vs. doing it as described in #4.
posted by jorlyfish at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2012


  1. Take shipping into consideration when comparing prices as well.
  2. I don't think I've ever bought two used books from the same vendor from Amazon. Note that some vendors do Fulfillment By Amazon, which means that they ship the books to Amazon's warehouse. Those books will typically be Prime Eligible.
  3. Buying used books is like buying anything else from Amazon. You pay once just like you would ordinarily pay, and Amazon handles making the payments to all the vendors that your order requires buying from.
  4. I can't think of any reason why you would want to break up one order into many smaller orders. Amazon will happily do that for you.
  5. Amazon's catalog data ranges from excellent to total crap. If you really care about the book cover, then contact the vendor. The more popular the book is, the more likely it is that the information is accurate. The less popular the less likely.
  6. I'm pretty sure the seller has to ship to the address you specify to Amazon. Sellers can get in serious trouble if they deviate from the plan.

posted by b1tr0t at 8:40 PM on October 4, 2012


1. I buy a lot of books from Amazon Marketplace for this reason but don't count on a discount for combined shipping (see below).

2. The default is for shipping to not be combined, even for multiple books from the same vendor in the same order. Unless they've changed it since I last sold a book there, there's actually no mechanism on the vendor's end to adjust the shipping cost beyond issuing a refund post-purchase on the shipping: you'd have to contact the Marketplace seller and ask if they are willing to do this + there's no mechanism built into Amazon that I'm aware of that could enforce this kind of agreement between seller and customer should the vendor fail to make good on the promised refund.

3. The shopping cart looks and works just like buying a new book from Amazon. You can also purchase new and used stuff in the same order. The vendor only receives an email from Amazon when payment for one of their listed books clears: honestly, if I were a seller who got an email from a customer saying "Head's up, I'm about to buy these 5 books from you," there's really nothing in it for me to do anything until the sale actually happens.

4. Doesn't matter.

5. Amazon doesn't give its Marketplace vendors a way to display the actual copy of the book a vendor has for sale: book sellers enter their book's UPC code and Amazon displays book cover art from their database: what you see might not be what you get other than matching the UPC. If you want a specific edition/cover, you have to contact the seller pre-sale.

6. I don't know

7. I frequently purchase used books from Amazon, a good percentage of them have turned out to be former library books (pulled from circulation). This means they are ink stamped and stickered with the usual cruft that is on library books as well as encased in that plastic wrapper around the dust cover. That the book is a former library book is not always disclosed in the vendor's description. If I were being picky about the condition of a particular book, I would hesitate to buy used from Amazon.
posted by jamaro at 8:53 PM on October 4, 2012


1&2. Combined shipping is a no-go at Amazon (and it may not make financial sense to buy multiple books from the same seller, anyway).

3. No difference.

4. Just load up your cart & check out all at once.

5. Amazon is TERRIBLE if you're at all interested in specific editions/covers/etc, not least because sellers may engage in, ah, selective omission. (Besides ex-library books not being marked as such, many sellers also pass ARCs off as paperbacks.)

6. You should edit your account.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:07 PM on October 4, 2012


Put a LOT of weight on the rating of the reseller. I buy and sell a lot on Amazon. I would only buy from a seller with a rating less than 95% if i was desperate. If the ratings is over 95% you can almost invariably trust their description of the book. I have never bought a library book from a reputable seller unless it was described as such. If someone sold me a library book without informing me I would certainly give them a poor rating. I believe down ratings are more impactuful on Amz than Ebay, so any seller avoids them like the plague. (not sure about ebay, i think so...) Very likely a reseller will not give you a discount for multiple items. On Amazon, if a reseller sells an item for .99 cents they are making more on the shipping than they are on the item, for certain. (usps media, very cheap)
posted by jcworth at 9:14 PM on October 4, 2012


2. jamaro is correct, as far as I can tell. Basically, for every book sold, Amazon gives the seller a fixed amount ($4 for most books) to cover shipping. Shipping might actually cost less than $4, or it might cost more than $4, but the seller gets $4 per book, regardless. So, if you ordered multiple items from one seller, they could put everything in one box and save themselves the shipping costs, but I don't think there's any easy way for them to pass the savings on to you.
posted by gueneverey at 9:16 PM on October 4, 2012


Amazon is great for used 'reader's copies', but not so much if you're looking for things like first editions. The listings will specify paperback or hard cover and the general condition, but that's about it.
posted by easily confused at 1:42 AM on October 5, 2012


2. Mostly likely, most sellers probably won't combine shipping BUT, as a data point, I sell a massive amount of books via Amazon (for the non-profit at which I work) and if I get a message from a buyer snagging say, three books, we're always happy to combine shipping and refund the difference. It's certainly worth asking but do it before you order maybe.

5. As for accurate descriptions, nthing the answer that said to buy from a reputable seller. Also, keep in mind that Amazon has an extremely streamlined and easy process for returns. If the seller says it's a first edition and it turns out it's not, you can return the book as being materially different from what was listed. If I goof a listing, we always refund return shipping as well because that one's on us. The return process on Amazon shouldn't take you more than a couple minutes to get started, unlike ebay.

6. ABSOLUTELY change your address. Amazon doesn't give a way for a seller within their shipping mechanism to change a buyer's address and in fact discourages sellers from doing so by taking away all protections if they ship to an address other than what's on file. If a buyer asks that of us, to ship to a different address, I always cancel the order, have them change their address, and then ask that they re-order.

Personally, I'm not sure exactly what kind of books you'll be buying but Amazon is easier and better for buyers and your protections there are much greater and easier to put into action should something go wrong. We sell on ebay too but I'd always go with Amazon over ebay as a buyer, if I could.
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:47 AM on October 5, 2012


Before you buy from Amazon take a look at abebooks.com. The last 2 or 3 times I built a shopping cart of used books at Amazon I checked Abebooks.com before ordering, and it was significantly cheaper. For some used textbooks it was 50% cheaper. And the stores on Abe do automatically combine for shipping.

That said, stores that use Amazon for fulfillment will do the $25 for free shipping thing. You can filter search results by books that will qualify for the free shipping.
posted by COD at 5:04 AM on October 5, 2012


6. You can add as many addresses as you like to your account, and just pick which one you want used for each order. (If you want books shipped to different places, that might be the one reason to do multiple orders.) Every time you pick an address to ship to that you haven't used before, Amazon has you re-enter some of your sensitive info, to make sure it's still you. I've had no problems sending presents to my sister, or having my stuff sent to the in-laws while I'm out of town, while still leaving my primary address in my Amazon account.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:40 PM on October 5, 2012


Sorry, but what does "use Amazon for fulfillment" mean?
posted by pleasebekind at 6:02 PM on October 5, 2012


Fulfillment By Amazon. The vendor ships their stuff to Amazon. Amazon stores the stuff, and then ships it to the customer when an order is placed.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:30 PM on October 5, 2012


So I've been doing some more research and came across Thrift Books. Has anyone tried buying from this website? It offers free shipping (standard mail) although the delivery says it's 4-14 business days. I looked at the books that I'm planning to buy and they might be coming from a warehouse either in Connecticut or Washington. I plan to have them shipped to an LA address. Do you think that will take very long?
posted by pleasebekind at 12:51 PM on October 9, 2012


They are almost certainly shipping book rate - which could easily take 3 weeks to go across country.
posted by COD at 3:33 PM on October 9, 2012


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