Bookbundle delays dismay students

Bookbundle.com, a fledgling online bookstore started by four Williams alumni, recently delivered textbooks to its student customers nearly four weeks behind schedule. Rich Sarkis ’01, project manager of Bookbundle, attributes his company’s tardiness to its failure to verify the timely shipping of the books. The company accepts full responsibility for the delay because it did not adequately test the system for processing orders and arranging delivery, he said. Many students were frustrated by the late delivery, but others who have finally received their books have been appeased by the company’s compensation for the delay. However, students who have still not received their books or any offers of compensation remain disgruntled with Bookbundle.

The College is the first campus Bookbundle has served on a large scale. Previous advertising at Boston University, University of Delaware and University of Illinois did not result in significant sales. Roughly 110 to 120 orders were placed by Williams students, totaling $5,000 to $7,000 in sales. Students were drawn to Bookbundle because of its incredibly low prices.

“I decided to try Bookbundle out as I am always happy to support fellow Ephs – especially since their price for my Macroeconomics book was at least 35 percent less than Water Street’s,” said Drew Newman ’04.

Pablo de los Santos ’03 expressed a similar sentiment. “I chose Bookbundle for their incredibly low prices,” he said. “I bought my biochemistry textbook for $70.50, while at Water Street Books the same book was in excess of $120. That’s just amazing. While everything else regarding the company leaves much to be desired, their prices are unbeatable.”

However, students were disappointed when their books did not arrive within the week-long period guaranteed by the website, and some had to turn to other vendors to complete assignments on time.

“I’d say Bookbundle is the biggest sham on the internet, and I am truly ashamed that the company was founded by Williams students,” said Elliot Morrison ’04.

Sarkis explained that the delivery of the books was delayed because Bookbundle’s affiliated shipping company’s software broke down and the company was unable to provide tracking numbers for the merchandise. Unbeknownst to Bookbundle, the shipping company chose to hold the merchandise until the tracking system was up and working. A spokesperson for Bookbundle apologized for the inadequate system testing and the company’s failure to monitor shipping activity. In most cases the delivery was weeks behind schedule.

“I ordered my Macroeconomics book on Jan. 31st,” said Newman. “They told me to expect the book within five days. However, it was three weeks before the book arrived last Thursday.”

Since this incident, Bookbundle has begun working with a more well-established shipping company, and company founders are determined not to let similar delays hinder the operation.

“Necessary steps have already been undertaken within Bookbundle and the company we deal with to ensure this will not happen again and all future orders will be delivered in a very timely and efficient manner,” said Sarkis. “Unfortunately, the Williams community has been witness to the growing pains that can be associated with starting up a business.”

Bookbundle is currently compensating its customers for the inconvenience. For students whose books were late, the shipping cost of $4.95 was waived and customers were given 20 percent off their next order and $10 in cash or check. Bookbundle representatives say that no credit cards will be charged for the purchases until after the students decide whether they want to keep the books, and the company is willing to refund any returned books at full price.

“Given the inconvenience faced by the Williams students during this process, Bookbundle and I personally have strived to keep them informed as well as provide them with true compensation and customer care,” said Sarkis.

Some students, however, have not received their books or any offers of compensation.

“No effort has since been made in the form of e-mail, telephone, letter, all information they required of me when I bought the book,” said Morrison. “I hear that they have been making voucher or discount gestures to other students who have gotten their books. I, however, have not gotten a thing – be it books, apologies, reassurances or any communication at all.”

However, many students have been mollified by the arrival of their books and the compensation policy.

“Although I would like to have gotten my books on time, I think Bookbundle did everything they could to get me the books,” said Ju Kim ’04. “I also received a number of e-mails updating me on the status of my books along with offers of compensation.” Kim is supportive of the company and would do business with Bookbundle again. However, other students, including one who is well-acquainted with the company’s operation, are not as optimistic.

“I’d say they definitely have the potential to be a good online bookstore, but they’re still immature,” said Rob Gonzalez ’03, who was involved in programming for the site early in its start-up phase. “In a year or two I’d buy books from them, but not now.”