Updated January 13, 2015

Study: Best Place to Buy Textbooks Online - BigWords vs Chegg vs Half

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We've all been there. It's the second day of the semester and you overlooked one of the books listed in the syllabus. You go down to the campus bookstore, and sure enough, the line not only extends outside the store but it's sold out of the book you need.

Many large campuses have a difficult time keeping up with book demands because many professors – even within the same discipline – teach from so many different titles. This is not only a nightmare for waiting in line, it’s also a nightmare for your wallet because it’s difficult to get any decent money back for your books when you’re done with them.

Away from campus, a specialized industry has developed for students to buy and sell textbooks quickly and painlessly. Yes, it’s possible. The only hard part is figuring out which of the many sellers and buyers are worth your time. CreditDonkey is here to help; we have reviewed several choices to help narrow down which one would be best suited for your individual needs.

Roundup Methodology

  1. Buying Experience
  2. Selling Experience
  3. Simplicity

Buying a textbook in college is an investment. For the average college student, one book will typically cost $175, according to the averages. In one year of studies, you could pay upwards of $900 just for books. For penny-pinching college students (in other words, just about every college student), that type of expense hurts. So many don’t even bother: according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, 7 in 10 students have skipped buying a textbook because of its cost. Websites that have books that are not only available but actually affordable have certainly helped students’ budgets - and they’ve helped students keep up with their studies. It’s pretty hard to do your homework without books!

But when you’re done with the class, you want some return on your investment. There’s no point in lugging around books you’ll never read again every time you move. And you need some money back to put down on the next round of books. You need sites that make buying or selling books fairly easy and fair (we have found that a perfect site that does both buying and selling well does not exist). Whether you’re buying or selling, you don’t want an incredibly complex user interface, and you don’t want to go through hoops to send in your used book or to receive a new one.

Best Buying Experience: Chegg

  • Buying Experience: Offers best database of new/used books, 5/5
  • Selling Experience: Fairly easy selling experience, 3/5
  • Simplicity: In-depth but user-friendly interface, 3/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 3.67

Chegg is easy on the eyes and user-friendly. While an account is required to get a quote on a title - or even just to dive into the selling aspects of the website - this company offers a great database of new and used books for those trying to buy. It operates among the top companies in the space and is ranked very favorably by user reviews. Whether you’re looking for a specific book or want to compare prices for a particular course of study, Chegg is an excellent choice. With promos that change depending on the season, Chegg also offers some great shipping rates and regularly runs free shipping on purchases over a certain threshold. For students on a budget, that’s music to their ears. Another great feature of Chegg is its policy of giving users who are trying to get a textbook quickly the opportunity to use the eBook edition while they wait for their physical copy in the mail.

According to Miguel Helft of The New York Times, Chegg has been opportunistic by improving a process that has become volatile and inefficient. “With demand for good deals on textbooks running high, Chegg’s success comes in large part from being able to address those inefficiencies,” he wrote.

Why We Like It
Chegg is great for students who want the best deal on books. The site boasts savings up to 90%. For students on a budget, that could be the difference between having the textbook they need that semester or having to go without.

Its Downsides
Chegg offers a great selection of books to buy, but the selling process is a little more complex. As we mentioned, you have to open an account just to get a quote on a book.

Who It Works Best For
Chegg is best suited for students who have to keep a close watch on their budget.

Best Selling Experience: BigWords

  • Buying Experience: Offers strong database, 4/5
  • Selling Experience: Offers a solid selling experience, 5/5
  • Simplicity: Slightly more complex than necessary, 4/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.33

BigWords does a lot of things well. You can compare costs, buyback rates, and even see what you could get elsewhere when selling your books. As we’ve mentioned, the selling experience is really about getting a return on your investment. How much can you get back when you turn around and sell these books back? Well, BigWords will let you know up front. It won’t wait and withhold that information – or make you wait until the end of the semester to find out. Smart students think about the resale value as they’re buying, and this company will tell you exactly how much it will be worth at the end of the semester and show you the price differential for buying and renting. All of this info can help you avoid disappointment when you’re done using your book and looking for some payback.

CNN’s Jennifer Bragg speaks to BigWords’ ability to compare multiple prices, and said the company “will even add up the total price of an order so you can compare the cost of multiple books plus shipping.”

Why We Like It
BigWords scores well with us here at CreditDonkey because it provides plenty of information up front. If you’re trying to figure out your selling strategy or how you’ll be able to obtain your books, this information is invaluable.

Its Downsides
If you’re looking for a simple experience, BigWords isn’t the best for you. While it offers a good overall experience, the site could learn a thing or two from sites like Half that can offer a very familiar user-experience because of its association with eBay (see below).

Who It Works Best For
BigWords works best for students or parents who are trying to plan out their costs beyond one semester.

Best for Simplicity: Half

  • Buying Experience: Good buying experience, 4/5
  • Selling Experience: Great selling experience, 5/5
  • Simplicity: Best experience, 5/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.66

Half is great because it’s an extension of eBay, so the setup may be familiar to you. Not only do you get a great buying and selling experience, but you also get one of the simplest overall experiences on the Internet. Setup is easy. Once you create an account and establish a payment method, you can complete orders using one-click – making the buying experience a breeze. If you’re selling, Half allows you to print receipts, packing slips, and even return labels from the site at the time of the sale. Even better is the site’s link to PayPal, which ups the feeling of familiarity for most people who are used to this common method of payment.

In an article for NBC, Kelly Lucas of Techlicious notes another plus of selling through Half - that the site prevents those you are buying from from seeing your credit card number.

Why We Like It
If there were a category for best overall experience, Half would win it hands down. It boasts a great selection of textbooks, books, movies, documentaries, and TV series that can appeal to anyone. It makes selling incredibly streamlined as well, with its PayPal integration.

Its Downsides
While it would seem as though the most books would be available on an eBay-driven site, the supply here is actually a little weaker than other sites.

Who It Works Best For
Half is great for the student or customer who is used to buying or selling on eBay or Amazon since it has a similar payment structure and user interface.

Honorable Mention

Textbook Rush receives an honorable mention on our review of the best places to buy and sell textbooks online. It boasts the highest amount paid back to customers, but our research found that this company doesn’t quite stack up to the three we ranked higher.

Amazon is another site that gets an honorable mention. It is more complicated to use than the other sites but it has a great deal of options. You can buy directly from Amazon, buy from third-party sellers, and sell directly to Amazon. Or if you want to do some extra leg work, become a seller and sell through Amazon’s portal. In our comparison, the prices offered here to sellers were often less than you could receive at sites like Half or BigWords.

Most people eagerly think of Amazon as the go-to source for buying or selling textbooks, but the truth is better options exist. While it does carry a broad selection of titles, the site doesn’t organize search results or content as well as the others.

Similarly, Book Byte and eCampus both deserve an honorable mention in our review but couldn’t break into the top tier due to their limitations. They offered a somewhat shaky user experience in comparison to the sites we reviewed.

In a space where simplicity is important, but the buying and selling is more important, all of these sites do one thing well. They put the control back in the hands of the student – and take it away from campus bookstores and universities that have made buying and selling textbooks painful and unaffordable.

Josh Durso is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Josh Durso at josh@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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