When you spend a lot of time looking at books like commodities, as I do in our business, sometimes you sort of forget that the books have things in them. Things like information, sometimes true and sometimes false, heartrending, well-told stories and trite, really badly told stories. When I go home and pass my bookshelf I don’t think of those books the same way I do looking at order details. If I’m looking at order details all I want to know is when did it ship, is it late, how was it paid for. I’m starting to ignore titles and authors and no longer respect the passion the customer was in when she got out her credit card and ordered the book. Maybe it was a book from childhood that she was finally able to find after long years of searching. Maybe it’s a gift, or it was written by the customer’s grandfather who passed a very long time ago. Of course we invest ourselves in our book choices, and often the book itself evokes so much emotion that the price doesn’t even matter.

I know you hate it when your orders are late and the USPS doesn’t care if you are waiting on tenterhooks for the package to arrive in the mail. Maybe you paid the seller a lot of extra money to get there fast but your UPS driver took a wrong turn that day and ended up lost two neighborhoods away from you. Maybe you got home from work and saw the attempted delivery slip on the door and broke into tears of purest frustration. That darn book just won’t get where it’s supposed to go and you can’t believe that the bookseller, the post office or the web-site you ordered it on (even God) cannot be of any help you.

Of course I get asked about these things pretty often, working as I do for Biblio.com; I seem to know quite a few book-lovers and college students who have suffered all the aforementioned frustrations. Once they find out I work for a used book marketplace, I’m the natural sounding board and source of information. “How can I make sure these things don’t happen?”, they ask me, eyes void of optimism.

Because I am also armed with the knowledge that thousands of book orders arrived safely and in a timely manner everyday, I do know a thing or two, or more, about successful orders. Here are some of the best things you can do for yourself if you really really want that book on time, or at least to be sure that you are promptly refunded if it doesn’t work out:

1. Order WAY in advance, especially if you need it for school, a birthday, anniversary, or anything time-sensitive. Many booksellers dealing in large volume with textbook orders find themselves a bit overwhelmed at this time of year, causing orders to be shipped out later than usual. Delivery estimates are in general quite realistic, but are still only estimates; there’s no way for the seller to know for sure if it’s going to get to you within the time frame specified. Your order may run late, despite the seller’s best efforts. So place your time-sensitive orders four to six weeks before the day you need them, sooner if the book is coming from overseas and you do not want to pay for expedited shipping. Incidentally, you’ll run into fewer problems with books running out of stock this way too.

2. Ask the seller to insure it. If the book is an expensive purchase for you, if it is very rare, if you have been looking for a copy for ten years, let the bookseller know that you want it insured and that you are willing to pay for the insurance.

3. Make sure you can’t actually get that book from a local bookstore instead, even if it is not exactly the edition you are looking for. You might pay more for book price, but you won’t pay for shipping, and you won’t have to wait. You can find booksellers in your area by clicking on the “Booksellers” tab on the Biblio.com home page. We don’t mind if you walk to your local store to buy it, even if we are an online marketplace. We truly do wish to encourage and be supportive of locally owned businesses. We really mean it, and we love actually being in a real bookstore.

4. Check to see if the bookseller automatically purchases delivery confirmation when shipping orders. Many sellers do not when shipping via standard mail because there is an additional fee involved. E-mail the bookseller and let them know that you are willing to compensate for the cost of adding delivery confirmation and/or tracking information. Incidentally, domestic expedited shipments generally include tracking as a matter of course.

5. Get to know your bookseller. If you have found a book or two in that seller’s inventory already, or if you have already had a positive experience ordering from that seller, check out their inventory first when you are looking for your next book. There’s nothing like being a regular. I’m not promising anything, but often you will receive more thoughtful service.

I’d be happy to have feed-back on this post, especially from booksellers. Let us know what you would do to make sure you got your orders on time and in good shape. You probably know much more about shipping books than I do, no matter how smart I am.

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