Bookstore managers have a bumpy start

Eden Cohen, Staff Writer

When the bookstore employee who was helping junior Jada Castor never returned, Castor said, she couldn’t hold back her stress.

Castor’s Operations Supply Chain Management professor assigned a presentation for her second class session, she said, for which she needed the textbook. So, on the first class day, she and a presentation group member went to the bookstore to get the textbook for the presentation.

However, Castor did not see her book’s white and blue cover on the shelves. An employee said they should have 15 stocked and offered to look in storage.

But the employee never returned, she said, so she was left waiting, wondering and worrying.

“I was already worried because I felt the class was going to be rough, and if my group was called on the first day (to present) and we had to tell (the professor) we weren’t ready, that would give a really bad impression,” she said.

Castor said she was not impressed with the customer service.

“Last year, if they were out of a book or anything, they would take your name and call you as soon as they got it in,” she said. “I feel like they could have actually looked for the book or let me know they just weren’t going to get it out any time soon.”

Once another employee explained the book would be available in three days, she ordered the book online, paying an extra $20 for express shipping.

“I didn’t trust they’d (the bookstore) get it out in time, and I was right,” she said.

When she visited the bookstore out of curiosity three days later, she said, the book was still not on the shelves.

She and her group members worked on the presentation until 2 a.m., she said, and then never presented. Since a significant class portion could not complete the assignment without the book, the professor had to change the presentation schedule.

Bookstore manager James Thomas said Castor’s book “Operations and Supply Chain Management” by F. Robert Jacobs was likely not stocked because of a miscommunication among the professor, his division staff and bookstore employees.

Some textbook adaption requests were incomplete, Thomas said, and others ordered outdated editions no longer available. He estimated that 95 percent of books were on the shelves by the semester start, although that number should be closer to 99.

Thomas said he plans to work with division staff in the upcoming weeks to establish clear communication and prevent similar reoccurrences.

The customer service quality could be explained by a hiring roadblock, which Thomas said prevented him from hiring some employees until a week before classes. This, plus having only a month and a half to prepare before classes, could possibly explain hasty training and busy employees.

Preparing to open included high stress levels and copious overtime for him and his employees, Thomas said. Employees also had to learn a newly updated system, which they did not have sufficient chance to test before student moved in.

“It was more of a bumpy transition than I would have liked,” he said.

The transition had more bumps than just Castor’s case, however. Junior James Bair said he had trouble ordering from the store’s website.

Bair said he ordered his books two weeks before classes began and purposely selected not to cancel his order if a used book was not available. Despite this, he said, his entire order was canceled when a book was unavailable.

He was not told that his order had been cancelled until he went to retrieve his books, he said. He ended up re-ordering the books, he said, and receiving them four days after he first went to retrieve them.

Bair said he was unable to read some class material, but his main concern was the stress the ordeal added to his already-chaotic year’s start.

The unfilled online order, Thomas said, was because the website was overhauled. Orders placed during the overhaul vanished, he said.

Vanishing online orders shouldn’t happen again, he said, because the website is scheduled to be updated only once every five years.

The website and system updating, a rushed preparation and a slow Internet connection were unfortunate coincidences, he said, which combined to complicate operations.

“A lot of the things were just conspiring,” he said, “but it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy.”

Another problem arose from the Earth and People textbook: “Earth and People: An Introduction to Geography.” Earth and People professor Ola Johansson said the book’s price was significantly too high at the semester’s start.

“We know from experience that it shouldn’t be more than $50,” he said. This semester, however, the book costs around $120, he said.

Johansson said he contacted the publisher and calculated that the bookstore added a $70 surcharge to the price. Once confronted, bookstore employees lowered the price to about a $20 surcharge, he said, which is a usual amount. As of Thursday, a new book was $72.

Still, the damage was done. He and the class’s other professor, William Kory, decided to teach this semester without the book. Johansson said they will have to provide extra materials, but they will manage.

Thomas said the original price was higher because of a misunderstanding between the publisher and his company, Follett Corp. of Westchester, Ill.

Since the books were printed on campus, he said, they should have received a discount from the publisher, but they did not. Thus, the employees calculated how much to charge in the store off an incorrectly high price.

To compensate, bookstore employees allowed students to return the book past the usual deadline, Johansson said.

“We’ve come up with comprehensive solutions,” Thomas said. “You have to know what the problems are before you can fix them.”

It is questionable as to whether these solutions will be sufficient. Castor and Bair said they would not shop at the bookstore again.

“I’m, unfortunately, parting ways with the bookstore forever,” Bair said. “It’s not worth the hassle.”

Still, Thomas said they would continue to improve.

“I know we will do better in the future,” he said.