My Eye-Opening Experience
Let me begin with full disclosure.
I'm Judy W, the Customer Champion at Sonlight. I've been a long-time Sonlight user (still am). I've been a Sonlight Curriculum Consultant (still am). I've talked with hundreds--actually thousands--of Sonlight customers and potential customers. And as Customer Champion, it is my job to look out for your interests. (If you need to get in touch with me, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A few years ago I participated in what I found to be a rather enlightening experiment as I attempted to discover if it really was cost-effective and time-effective for our customers to piece together their Sonlight Curriculum as opposed to purchasing a complete homeschool package. I re-ran the numbers again in the summer of 2009 to see if things had changed. The numbers in this article are from 2009, even though the description of curriculum-buying experience comes from a few years back.
I looked into three representative Sonlight programs to see how the numbers would turn out. I "bought" Grade 1 All-Subjects Package and Grade 5 All-Subjects Package (which are complete packages that include curriculum for every subject) as well as History / Bible / Literature 300 plus Science (Apologia Chemistry) and Math.
I compared Sonlight to the world's largest online bookstore, one of the largest "big box" bookstore chains in the nation, and an online book merchant that offered the most aggressive pricing I was aware of.
My goals were to:
- see how tough it was to find everything I was looking for,
- discover how much, if any, money would I save by ordering what I could from someone other than Sonlight,
- and evaluate the overall purchasing experience.
I have to tell you, my experiment was a real eye-opener for me!
In a nutshell, my final results turned out as follows...
How tough was it to find everything I was looking for?
The "big box" bookstore: At the closest chain store (about 20 minutes from my home) of the "big box" bookstore, I was able to locate only 35 of the almost 400 books I had on my list. A nearby clerk indicated that I would need to search their website to find the rest. She did offer to do it for me, but indicated it would be just as easy to do at home.
Some additional questioning revealed that this chain does offer an educator's discount even for homeschoolers, but it would only be available for purchases made in the store. Thus, I would need to look up nearly 365 titles on their website and return to the store with the list of item numbers in order to qualify for the discount.
It took me about two hours of work to make my list at home. I made a return trip to the store to place my order, only to be told that the one individual who was able to make such an order for me was not working that day. I left my order with a promise that someone would get back to me to let me know my order was to be processed. This seemed like a great deal of work and time invested, and I hadn't even paid for the books yet!
Online book stores: My next task was to make the same attempt with the two online book stores I mentioned. My efforts to track down and order the books I needed produced similar results and similar frustrations. Each online book seller uses different search methods. I spent about two hours on each merchant's site typing in titles and searching. At both web sites, there were items I needed that were either not available or impossible to find.
And then there were all the titles that the online merchants didn't carry. In those cases I was usually bombarded with search results that listed dozens of books, none of which was the right one, but all of which had similar words in their titles. I had to scan the list to make sure I wasn't accidentally missing a better deal than Sonlight would offer!
Overall, I found it takes a great deal of patience to type in and search for all the titles when I was shopping online at "discount" competitors as compared to the one- or two-click order process Sonlight offers for its complete packages.
My experience with these two booksellers was much the same as with the first ... a great deal of work and time invested, and I had yet to pay for the materials I was attempting to order! And what further stood out to me with all three vendors was the fact that I still had to purchase some of the materials from Sonlight. None were able to sell me all the books I needed.
Did I save any money?
My next goal was to determine how much, if any, money would I save by ordering what I could from someone other than Sonlight. Obviously prices have changed in the few years since I originally undertook this experiment. Overall, the final price with the local chain store I visited was approximately $30 more than Sonlight's price for the Grade 1 All-Subjects Package, over $130 more for the Grade 5 All-Subjects Package, and about $4 less for the History / Bible / Literature 300 products.
You might then ask ... what about researching used book sources? I surely could find many of the titles I need in good, second-hand condition. While I did not specifically pursue finding used materials, a couple of our customers have.
It would seem that their experience was similar to mine. While they both found they could save some money by shopping around, both had to invest hours to turn up the savings.
The overall experience
My final goal was to evaluate my overall experience. In addition to the frustrations I've already described in actually finding the books I needed, shipping costs varied from vendor to vendor. Most shipped via Media Mail, which takes significantly longer than the free trackable shipping that Sonlight uses for domestic shipments on orders of $150 or more.
The combination of hours invested in tracking down the books, the fact that I still needed to order many of the titles from Sonlight, and the less reliable shipping made me confident that Sonlight still offers more value for money spent.
Not only is there greater value in ordering from Sonlight because of the ease of ordering and the free shipping, but there are also significant perks.
SonlightCares™ includes a 10% discount on every order for a whole year and free domestic shipping on any order of any dollar amount for a year. And if your children use at least five History / Bible / Literature programs in their K-12 education (including the high school levels), they could win significant college money through Sonlight's scholarship competition.
And finally, Sonlight regularly contributes to Kingdom causes. Last year, nearly two-thirds of Sonlight's post-tax profits went to missions organizations. We count it a privilege to support international missions, Bible translation. When I purchase from Sonlight, I am part of it all.
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