As the academic retail industry faces unprecedented changes in student behavior and rapid advances in technology, campus bookstores need to rise above the transaction. Today’s campus bookstores must focus on delivering a superior experience that supports and celebrates the cultural and academic aspirations of students, faculty and alumni. This web seminar, originally broadcast on December 10, 2013, addressed how to build meaningful relationships with campus stakeholders to drive revenue for your institution, empower local store teams with innovative retail best practices, leverage advanced retail technologies to deliver a superior and seamless shopping experience, and create campus partnership marketing opportunities to increase brand loyalty and revenue.
Chief Operating Officer
Barnes & Noble College
The drive to lower textbook costs for students has been transformational in our industry, first with used books and then the explosion of rental titles. With more than 80 percent of our title base now available for rent and a strategy of marketplace pricing for rentals in place, we have worked hard to deliver affordable textbook solutions for students while protecting textbook market share. At the same time, we are investing heavily in the infrastructure and technology that will be essential as the transition to digital course materials accelerates. Today’s students are looking for a connection with the brands they shop. They expect the retail shop, both online and in store, to deliver an engaging experience that resonates with them.
Faculty today have also increased the pressure to do more with less funding and resources, as the expansion of digital and interactive learning tools are adding to the stress on today’s professors. Funding cuts and enrollment swings are also causing schools to find solutions that drive revenue and simultaneously support the school’s mission and value. At our annual meeting of store managers in 2005, we realized that the old college bookstore model was not going to work moving forward. We needed to evolve and change along with our customers to adapt to emerging trends. We committed to stop focusing on textbooks as a transaction, and instead shifted our focus to building relationships to keep our customers coming back. We believe that you cannot be afraid to hear what your customers think nor can you assume you know what they want or need. Six years ago we launched an in-depth study to understand student perceptions and behaviors, specifically how they viewed our campus bookstore as it compared to our competition. The bookstore won every time with the students on credibility, convenience and service. If we provided these key elements, we knew they would reward us with their business.
Serving nearly 5 million students, faculty, alumni and fans today, we have incredible levels of interaction through in-store events, direct communications initiatives, our school-specific social media platforms and our college student blog, The College Juice. We are truly connected to them beyond the twice-a-year book transaction. They are talking to us and sharing their feedback and ideas that shape and guide our business decisions, marketing and product development. In July 2012, we launched a survey of 50,000 faculty members to better understand how the bookstore can be more of a support system for them. We previously thought that faculty had a strong preference either for or against digital course materials. Instead, the survey found that faculty actually preferred that students had a choice in how their materials were delivered. We also thought longer, tenured professors would want to use digital materials less frequently than their younger colleagues. But what we found out was the frequency and duration of use of digital materials does not vary significantly by age or tenure of professors. Based on this response, we introduced an online faculty community, FacultyEnlight, this past summer.
This enables them to discover, research and adopt the course materials they want all in one place. We also wanted to create this community to give faculty a voice and to engage beyond the materials adoption process. We now have 68,000 faculty actively using the new platform, working together to find more affordable course materials and additional format options for students. That collaboration has allowed store managers to build stronger relationships with faculty. Getting faculty in your store’s corner is so important to delivering what students need. Overall, we are constantly doing research, both formally and informally, with our students, faculty and our campus partners. That ongoing conversation is what builds relationships and helps us stay smart about our business. We ask, listen, take action, and then circle back to make sure we got it right. That invaluable feedback gives you a pipeline of fresh ideas and that is how you can be sure your store will evolve and continue to be the first choice of your students and faculty.
Vice President, Marketing & Operations
Barnes & Noble College
Students told us that they want a relationship with a campus bookstore. From acceptance to graduation, to game day to finals week, your engagement with them needs to make sense and be personalized to their experience. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Students also told us that they need help. As a retailer we need to be the students’ guide and expert. The newer students in particular are overwhelmed and unsure as to what books they need and which format is best. In our research, students told us they want a voice and they want to be involved and engaged in the brands they support. When we launched our local Facebook pages almost four years ago, we really didn’t know what to expect. Today, our more than 700,000 Facebook fans keep us busy. We answer textbook questions, share news about events and merchandise promotions, support local causes, or simply ask for opinions of new products. You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask questions. It is only going to make you better. Students also said we need to deliver an experience they can’t get anywhere else. Knowledgeable booksellers offering incredible service to your community, welcoming study spaces, events that are crowdsourced and voted on by your student community; all of these will establish the bookstore as a social hub and as a credible retailer, and give your customers a reason to come back.
About three years ago, we embarked on an intense journey to better understand and reconnect with our new, incoming students. Through social listening on Facebook, we were able to analyze over 50,000 conversation threads. We learned that students were jumping online and socializing the minute the acceptance letter hit the mailbox, and by the time students got to spring and summer orientations, they had already spoken to their peers about where they were going to buy their books. So we needed to be there sooner to celebrate their acceptance and to guide them. We worked with schools to create educational campaigns delivered through emails and videos to help them understand how their bookstore was a complete support system for all their academic needs. Today, we are partnering with more than 400 of our schools on such campaigns, which resulted in more than $20 million in extra online revenue through the Fall rush alone. In the spirit of supporting and championing our schools, we have also recently turned our focus to alumni. We’ve found a lot of them want to stay connected to their schools and their campus bookstores. They want to buy, they want promotions and offers, and they want products that are relevant to them in their postgraduate lives.
As of November, more than 100 of our campus bookstores and alumni offices are working together to create custom campaigns specifically for their alums. This includes opportunities for them to donate or give back to their schools, right in their online shopping cart. The important message here is that there’s an opportunity for increased engagement for every type of school. Every school should be reconnecting with this important audience. It is an incredible way to drive your school brand, while creating a new source of revenue.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.universitybusiness.com/ws121013