I’ve been a customer of Half Price Books going back into the 1990’s. They have six stores in my city and we’ve been to them all. They are the source of a number of the books, vinyl, and CDs we’ve purchased, and also a place where we’ve sold these items. Recently, I’ve received emails about their online bookstore, HPB.COM, touting a “new” online presence.
This makes sense of some things we’ve seen in their physical stores. It used to be that all you saw on merchandise was a little price sticker. Increasingly, these have been replaced with barcode labels, with adhesive that makes them not easy to remove at times (a subject for a separate post sometime!). Essentially, with the right IT work, this creates the capacity for them to have over 120 warehouses scattered across the country, and to be open to book buyers from everywhere, all the time, and not just those who walk through the door. If Amazon is indeed getting into the brick and mortar book store business, Half Price, one of the more successful brick and mortar sellers, is going after the online market.
So how have they done? Here are some of my impressions as I’ve looked around the website. First of all, when one goes to the home page, you are welcomed to the “new HPB.COM.” As you mouse over this you can “start shopping” immediately or move the banner to the right or left and see other featured promotions going on either online or at their stores, including their current city-wide clearance sales. Clicking on “start shopping” takes you to featured best sellers of the week, new releases, rare finds, staff picks, books made into movies, and a special HPB collection, which has changed at least once already today. You can also scroll down the home page to see boxes featuring bestsellers, various news items about Half Price Books, staff picks, and more.
Across the top of the page is a drop down menu bar allowing you to go to various pages for books, movies and TV, music, textbooks, rare finds, as well as a “gift card” and an “about” page. Each of the first four drop downs provides links to popular categories, customer favorites, and “superbuys” by price. Just below that menu bar is a search box that allows you to search for a particular title or category.
And this is where it gets interesting because it will give you a featured search result and price, usually for a Half Price store somewhere in the country, and then below, a “marketplace” that includes other places where the item is for sale, not only other Half Price outlets, but also other online “third party” sellers. Prices can sometimes be very low, less than $1, depending on the book, but you should be aware that there is a $3.99 shipping fee for each item, plus sales tax if you are in a state where Half Price does business. Even so, it may be possible to find things at a lower price than at other online sellers, but I would compare, and look at user ratings.
One feature I wish the site had that I could not find, even though I searched for my favorite local store, was the capability to find out if the item was at that store. You can if you scroll down a list of all the available items but you will not be taken there directly. What you can do once you locate your local store is find out about events, staff picks, meet the manager, and more, which is a nice feature.
I did not find anything here that made this my “go to” site for buying books online. But I should add the caveat that I really prefer brick and mortar stores in most instances. I would also say that HPB.COM needs to do work on its connection with Google searches. For example, I searched a book I recently received, Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura. It can be found on the HPB.COM site but searching online it does not show up on the first five pages of a Google search, where it is listed with a number of online sellers as well as at the publisher’s site. Even adding the term “Half Price Books” or “HPB” will only take you to the HPB.COM homepage.
My sense is that the industrious and adventuresome will find some good deals here, and hopefully have a good customer experience. I do think it is an interesting site to see what others are writing about books, including current bestsellers or new releases. Having watched Half Price over 20 years, it also wouldn’t surprise me that they continue to enhance this site. But I think I will continue to do my own book-buying at my local favorite HPB, or at a handful of other local or out of town bookstores I order or purchase from, along with using Amazon for something I need quickly. But that reflects as much as anything my love for the serendipity of visiting a store and finding something interesting that you weren’t looking for. But I’ve bookmarked the site–and you never know!
Have you ordered from HPB.COM? What was your experience?