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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.



Julie Fauble

If your book description is the sign that gets the customer in the door, then your Terms of Sale make up the front desk where you complete the transaction. This is the place that can make or break the deal.

Here is the opportunity to make a customer for life. Here is where you can present yourself as a professional, as someone who cares about the customer and who stands behind the merchandise, as someone the buyer can trust.

Or you can present yourself as: a) a rank amateur; b) a person of questionable ethics; or c) a cheesy, rude creep who sends customers screaming.

Presenting a professional image rather than a shady one is not difficult. The key is to communicate one’s integrity and demonstrate a respect for a code of ethics. Communicate respect for the customer, the product and the profession.

That’s the principle. Very simple. Here are a few specifics:

1) Who are you? Provide full contact information including a personal name wherever appropriate. People like to know they’re dealing with a real person. Include a phone number (ideally a toll-free number). Not everyone likes to do business only through e-mail, and sellers who don’t provide a phone number do lose sales. The more information you provide, the more reason customers have to trust you and give you their business. Show respect for your customers by honoring the different ways they are comfortable doing business.

2) Details matter. Check your terms of sale for typos and spelling errors. No reason to undermine your credibility just because of a slip of the keyboard.

3) Politeness counts. Don’t be afraid to use the words please and thank you. The sentence “please inquire for international shipping rates” is much warmer than “international shipping rates available upon request.”

4) Payment . Accept as many forms of payment as your situation allows, including credit cards if at all possible. Accepting credit cards is not difficult, and it does increase sales as well as add legitimacy in the eyes of customers. Customers have different preferences for payment, and the more options you offer, the more customers you reach. Some will only ever pay with credit cards, some will only use checks, and others will be most comfortable with third-party options, such as PayPal, Amazon Payments or ABE.Commerce. Be flexible and respect your customers’ preferences by offering as many options as you can.

5) Shipping. Clarity and brevity are the (often conflicting) goals here. Some folks try to cover every possible contingency, resulting in long shipping terms that customers won’t like wading through. Others keep it so short it’s almost meaningless, i.e. “shipping extra.” Try to strike a balance. Let your customer know what to expect.

6) Insurance. This is the area where many reveal themselves to be either newbies or scoundrels. As a mail order bookseller, your responsibility is to get the book as described to the buyer. Any bookseller who tries to shirk responsibility once the book hits the mail is not to be trusted, and booksellers who state they will not be responsible for books lost or damaged in transit are losing sales, and deservedly so.

A professional bookseller does not attempt to push his responsibilities onto the customer. If a book is lost or damaged, the professional bookseller offers a refund or replacement. This is not only the ethically correct choice; it is the law in many, if not most, parts of the world.

Booksellers deal with the issue of insurance in a variety of ways. Many self-insure (i.e. accept the risk of loss themselves), while some purchase insurance on every package. Some build the cost of insurance into their set shipping rates, and others do not. The specifics are not relevant as long as the customer is assured that he either gets his book or gets his money back.

7) Returns policies. Here is another opportunity for the professional to shine. Include a returns policy that will help your customer feel comfortable buying items unseen. Specifics can vary from one bookseller to the next; terms might be 10 days or 60 days, and some may accept returns for any reasons, others only when an item is not as described. Make your returns policy as generous as you feel your situation will allow. The key is to assure your customers they won’t be stuck if they don’t get what they’re looking for.

8) Being cheap. Don’t nickel and dime your customers to death. We have witnessed dealers charging extra fees for credit card users, for insurance and even for providing mylar covers for dust jackets. Even in cases where this isn’t unethical, it’s just plain tacky, and it turns off customers. Build such anticipated costs into your asking price so that your customer can have a simple, pleasant transaction without needless distractions.

9) Being nice. Do not threaten, bully or otherwise be rude in your terms of sale. This may seem self-evident, but we have witnessed terms of sale on auctions that were downright hostile and abusive. Any policy can be expressed in ways that are factual and respectful. Again, the word “please” can be very useful.

In summary, your Terms of Sale are a reflection of you and your business, so make certain they’re reflecting the image you want to present. Follow the K.I.S.S. rule wherever possible. The Golden Rule comes in handy, too. When in doubt, come down in favor of the customer; it invariably pays off in the long run.



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