Posts tagged Auburn University Bookstore
When it comes to choosing the most affordable course materials, students are often confused. For years, Rusty Weldon, assistant director at Auburn University Bookstore, had tried to verbally communicate his expertise on the topic to students and their families. Dedicated to saving his customers the most money, however, he decided it was time to show them instead.
“Buying course materials has become a lot more complicated than it used to be, and I wanted to streamline that for our students,” he explained. “At times, it’s been difficult for us, as a store, to determine whether we should buy or rent certain titles, and we’ve learned a lot through the process. It’s important for us to share that knowledge with our students from an expert point of view.”
Based on their past experiences, Rusty and other members of the Auburn University Bookstore staff worked together to compile their knowledge into an organized marketing piece.
“I recruited two of my student employees to determine the content,” he described. “They have eight years of experience in the store between them, so it was neat to get their perspective and hear what they thought of the book buying process.”
Through their collaboration, the store produced a textbook buying guide organized into various sections with tabs that made it easy to locate information on several topics. Answering questions on everything from rentals to buyback, the informative guide was designed to walk students through the process of buying their textbooks.
“My student employees ultimately decided what information to include and how to present it in a way that their peers would find relevant,” he added. “The fact that it took on a student voice made it come across as authoritative without being heavy-handed.”
To debut the new buying guide, the store handed them out to new students and their families during several freshmen orientation sessions.
“It was a good place to start the conversation because they’ve never gone through the book buying process before,” Weldon said.
This approach proved to be much more successful than the materials they had relied upon in the past.
“Before, we handed out a brochure but, because of its size, it wasn’t very detailed,” he explained. “As a result, we struggled to convey the information verbally by trying to squeeze a 30 minute conversation into two minutes.”
“The new format, however, is detailed enough that families can take it home and find the information they need to purchase textbooks right at their fingertips,” he added. “It resonates so much further.”
Weldon wasn’t the only one who found the new format to be more effective. Students and their families were impressed with the extensive information and appreciated the store’s effort.
“It’s been absolutely wildly popular!” he described. “We distributed over 1000 after just three orientation sessions, and both mom and dad walking away with them in many cases. We’ve also seen a better reception of our course materials than ever before; it’s been great.”
In fact, the new promotion is reaching further than Weldon or his staff ever anticipated.
“It really opened the door for us with staff and administration,” he explained. “After seeing all the information included in the buying guide, they agreed that course materials are complex enough a subject that we should be able to present to students about it during orientation. That’s something we’ve been working toward for 10 years, so it’s very exciting!”
The store’s commitment to helping Auburn students doesn’t end with this marketing piece, however. They continue to implement countless initiatives to save their customers money, including price comparison and rental textbooks, and are working to spread the word.
For example, the store saved students $859,000 on textbooks last year, alone. So, during orientation, they hung a huge banner outside the store, asking new students how much they could save them.
“It was a great head turner and conversation starter,” he said. “We’ve done a lot to ensure that we’re a low cost leader when it comes to course materials and concrete numbers help us prove that. Then, we’re able to follow up with our buying guide which shows them how shopping with us will save them money, too.”
Beyond the tangible benefits, Weldon believes the guide will also create an enhanced perception.
“Overall, I think it will help strengthen our brand. By positioning ourselves as an expert resource, we can establish trust with our students,” he explained. “We truly care about saving our students money and hopefully this will help them see that they have someone on their side; that we’re more than a just store, we’re a friend.”
Although the store unveiled the guide at freshmen orientation, Weldon and his staff don’t plan to stop there.
“We’ve already added an electronic version to our website because so many students are now purchasing textbooks from our online price comparison site; we’ll continue to spread the word to existing students during Fall rush, too” he said. “We’re hoping it’s a piece that has a lot of legs and reaches a lot of students.”
By definition, being proactive means creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen, rather than responding to it after the fact. And in today’s collegiate retail industry, it’s becoming a word synonymous with success.
In order to meet the ever-changing needs of students, the most innovative stores are staying competitive by embracing this mindset with the development of new practices. Understanding the importance of a proactive philosophy, Rusty Weldon, MBS wholesale customer and assistant director of Auburn University Bookstore, along with his staff, did just that, by restructuring their pricing methodology.
The evolution of the online marketplace, with textbook pricing determined by students, had placed significant pressure on the store’s old pricing models. With textbook prices continuing to rise yearly, the store’s leadership realized that they could no longer operate within the traditional industry pricing standards while still maintaining their responsibility to Auburn students.
In the fall of 2009, the store decided to break from tradition by changing the pricing model on some of their custom titles.
“We found out pretty quickly that this was a strategy that made us really competitive,” Weldon explained. “Soon, we started looking for ways to incorporate it across the board.
Expanding on their new approach, they began their first rollout of the program in January 2010. In order to break the used book pricing model, the store bought back used books from students at market-competitive prices.
“We looked at some of our major competitors, including Amazon, to help determine each title’s fair market value, and changed our margins accordingly,” he added.
As a book was used longer on campus, the buyback price was slowly adjusted each semester to account for the age of the book. This prevented students from buying a book at an inflated price toward the end of its use.
This aggressive approach provided the AU Bookstore customers with significant savings on their textbooks.
“First and foremost, this was a reinvestment in our students,” said Weldon. “It’s great if we see extra savings or even traffic. But, we took such a big risk because we wanted to show them that they can count on us, and that we genuinely have their best interests in mind.”
Like any new strategy, Auburn University Bookstore’s updated pricing methodology required some extra effort. Contributing considerable amounts of time, the leaders of the store worked to discover how to best execute the program.
To help spread the word about their enhanced value to students and faculty, the store created eye-catching shelf-tags featuring a large dollar sign and their school colors. Based on the concept of price comparison, these tags list a textbook’s title, the store’s price, as well as the national price average. Laminated and placed along each shelf, they help to focus students’ attention on the store’s pricing.
The combination of a new structure and their promotion through shelf-tags created an overwhelming student response. The store found the added value created a sense of urgency and had students rushing to be the first in line to claim their cost-effective used titles. In fact, staff members were removing 12-15 of the tags each morning during the first week of rush because they had already sold out of that book!
“It was a very positive reaction! We had students asking when they could start buying next semester’s books, before this semester’s finals had even finished,” added Weldon. “We also saw significantly less students renting titles because they could buy the used books cheaper, and still receive part of that money back during buyback.”
Saving students over $132,000 in the 2010 spring semester alone, Auburn University Bookstore’s forward-thinking mentality has certainly paid off.
“The textbook world can seem like a pretty scary place for a lot of us in the industry right now, so it’s really fun to see our hard work return this way,” he said. “It completely reinvented our business. We were able to turn heads and change traffic patterns which made students see us as the destination for textbooks.”
Accordingly, the store has experienced positive unit gains every term since the update, making the program a resounding success! Even better, used units sold were up 10% from last year, accounting for 3,000 additional used books sold.
“Students are saving so much on used titles that they’re able to afford to buy more books, so we’ve been able to move more new units, as well,” he added.
To those considering updating their pricing model, Weldon suggests starting small and slow.
“Do your homework, carefully consider how you lower your prices, and take the time to work out all the kinks, because if you do too much at once you can really break your back,” he explained. “But most importantly, talk with your students and find out what value means to them, because that’s your ultimate goal.”
To learn more about how an updated pricing structure could benefit your store, talk with your MBS Systems Representative.