Websites offer enticing bargains

Ephbay.com and Ephbooks.com, two ventures started by separate groups of Williams first-years, bring a host of options to students wishing to plan for next semester or to buy and sell items to their fellow Ephs. Both sites have come online in recent weeks and are tailored specifically to the Williams community, offering benefits over national services such as EBay or even local businesses such as Water Street Books.

Ephbay (www.ephbay.com) was founded by Nate Klein ’06, Jon Horn ’06 and Ali Moiz ’06 under the guise of the Williams Entrepreneurship Society, an organization the three have revived after several years of dormancy. The site functions as a regular auction site, similar to EBay. “It’s technically accessible to anyone, but we’re not advertising outside of campus,” Horn said. Once students register for the service, which is entirely free and requires that one submit basic information, they may place items for auction or bid on already-listed items. There is also a “get it now” option, which allows a buyer to immediately purchase the item for a price predetermined by the seller.

The idea for Ephbay originated with Horn, who realized, he said, “people were spending a lot on local businesses.” If students wanted to shop outside of Williamstown, they could go to Wal-Mart, a popular destination, or use online services. However, finding transportation and shipping costs, respectively, are prohibitive and sometimes make the choices less than appealing.

Even an auction service such as EBay has its drawbacks: “EBay is impractical because it assumes shipping is always cheap,” Klein said. By reducing the shipping costs to nothing, because all transactions are local, the three founders hope to make business easier for their fellow Ephs. “All we’re doing is providing a forum for people to sell their items,” Horn said. “Our goal was to give more control to the students.

“Ephbay has feedback, search and membership panels, plus you’ve got the Ephbay team, which is always working for people,” Horn said.

“[Ephbay] is like an e-mail to the whole campus,” telling everyone you want to auction an item, Klein said. Instead of students being restricted to putting up fliers, advertising in the Daily Advisor or asking friends if they want to buy books or other items, Ephbay opens the market for a good to the entire campus, which should facilitate transactions. In addition, groups that normally table in Baxter to sell tickets to events will be able to do so on Ephbay in the “tickets and events” section of the site.

The actual site design was done by a design company in Karachi, Pakistan that Moiz, who is from Pakistan, has worked with before. Outsourcing the development of the website, Klein said, allowed the three to reduce costs by 90 percent. Collectively, they have only accrued a few hundred dollars in expenses. “Time would be the main investment, money a little bit,” Klein said.

Although there are no plans currently to charge a commission for each transaction, Horn, Klein and Moiz have discussed the possibility of adding a credit card payment component to the site. In the distant future, they have also considered recouping their costs and passing the site along to College Council for management.

The second site, Ephbooks, is an off-campus business that will sell textbooks at bargain prices to students. “We’re both potential econ majors. We thought it would be interesting to get our feet wet,” Rosie Smith ’06 said about the venture. Her business partner, Chris Gibson ’06, contacted a friend at the Parsons School of Design who designed Ephbooks for the two. They are now ready to start receiving order for the upcoming semester.

Ephbooks will initially only carry textbooks for major introductory classes, as the company has a limited amount of capital. However, Smith and Gibson promise substantial price reductions over what students would pay Water Street Books. “We’ re talking about tremendously lower prices,” Gibson said, as a result of no delivery costs charged to the customer (a problem with ordering books online) and generally lower purchase prices for the books.

Students will go to the Ephbooks site (www.ephbooks.com) to browse through the selections. Once they have chosen what books they want, they submit an e-mail request, via the site, to the Ephbooks team. Gibson and Smith, who will be stockpiling textbooks and storing them in an off-campus location over the summer, are guaranteeing delivery within 24 hours of an order being placed. The two will employ a number of delivery personnel to help with the drop-offs. Once the book is delivered, the student will then be billed for the purchase and required to pay in either cash or check form. Ephbooks will allow students to return books during registration period, as they add and drop classes.

In addition, Ephbooks will be buying back used textbooks at the end of the semester and reselling them on their site next year.

“We hope to be profitable immediately, but we are committed to staying involved for the long run,” Smith said.

“We’ve committed to the long-term benefit of the school. The quicker we succeed, the quicker the burden of prices at Water Street Books will be taken off students,” Gibson said.

“By getting our foot in the door of the market, we hope to develop better relations in the future with the College,” he said.