Another thing you want to look into before making a purchase is the refund policy. What happens if you decide not to take the class after all? Can you send the book back?
Then, there is the question of delivery time. You can walk into the campus bookstore the morning of the first day of class and come out with everything you need. If you buy a book from an online store, you need to factor in the additional time it takes for the book to get to you whether it be a week or in some cases a month.
"Some campus stores have students coming in after a class has started to purchase a book because they ordered it from an online site and it didn't get there in time," says Jennifer Libertowski, a spokeswoman for the National Association of College Stores. "So a lot of times what appears to be a money saver really isn't."
It's also important to make sure you're getting the right edition of a textbook. While your campus store works with your professors to make sure the right edition is in stock, online bookstores tend to have multiple editions, so you have to be sure you're getting the right one.
Another variable when it comes to buying books online is the condition.
The condition is generally not a concern if you're buying new books online. Likewise, large online bookstores that collect books and resell them tend to have certain standards of quality that the books will meet.
However, when you're buying a used book from a marketplace-type site that is merely connecting you to someone who's trying to sell that book, you might find that your idea of good quality does not correspond with that person's idea of good quality. Many such sites, however, do have a built-in rating system that lets buyers post complaints about sellers, so it's a good idea to check for complaints before making a purchase.
The proliferation of online bookstores has not been lost on college-store retailers. "One of the ways college stores are responding to the online market is by developing their own Web sites," says Libertowski.
While books are often no cheaper on the campus store's Web site than they are in the store, you can avoid long lines in the bookstore by using the store Web site to order books, which will be held for the student for pickup. When shopping for books online, compare prices and delivery terms to make sure you're getting the best deal, and start as early as you can.
"Clearly you can't procrastinate until the day before class to order all your books," says Loyola. "You do need to do a little more planning ahead than some college students tend to do. The payoff is if you do plan ahead and order your books a week or two before class starts, you're going to save a ton of money."