Students ordering a particular calculus book on Iowa State University Bookstore's website will find suggestions for calculators recommended by the syllabus and binders to hold the looseleaf text. The bookstore's move toward cross-merchandising online like staff would in-store has resulted in a measurable increase in web sales for non-textbook materials.
In this day and age, most bookstores are finding you can’t get by only carrying textbooks. You need to stock your floor with binders, calculators, notebooks, writing utensils and as many of the other supplies students might need in their daily lives.
But not every store has an easy time selling them — especially online, where customers are just a click away from big box stores and other web retailers. Iowa State University Bookstore, however, is reeling those sales in.
The store has had gains in sales on binders, calculators, bar charts, flash drives and art supplies in both online and sales and reservations through cross-merchandising. Just like a sales associate would on the floor, Iowa State’s web store offers additional materials they might need when ordering certain types of books.
When customers go to check out an order for a certain class, the bookstore’s site recommends suggested materials that would be useful — or necessary — for a student to have. Students ordering loose-leaf texts see a recommendation for a binder, while those ordering for a math class will see the calculator recommendation.
Iowa State’s online store transactions function through MBS Systems’ inSite eCommerce solution. Among many features, inSite allows stores to attach merchandise to a website’s course list in addition to textbooks.
“Once we discovered inSite had that capability, it was common sense that if you do cross-merchandising in the store, why wouldn’t you do it online as well?” said Heather Dean, Iowa State University Bookstore Book Division Manager. “If the book list says they need a binder, they are more likely to click to add a binder to their order.”
Heather said it follows the same principles her staff uses when organizing the store. The store arranges displays of suggested items near their corresponding textbooks, which allows the customer to see the items they’d need while they’re shopping for texts.
“We train our staff to cross sell, but when you have a massive amount of students shopping in the book department and 15 people on staff, you can’t feasibly talk to everyone," Heather said. "We want to make that process as intuitive as possible.”
Heather noted that her online cross-merchandising did not push the most expensive model of binders or other supplies — its purpose was simply to showcase the variety of options the bookstore had more readily available to students compared to other larger off-campus retailers.
“Sometimes there’s a class that prefers a certain flash drive or a specific Sharpie marker, so we create those items on the website and attach it to the course,” she said. “We’re trying to make it more apparent to faculty and staff that HEOA compliance is not just books, it’s the supplies as well.”
The move to cross-sell online has helped further forge a connection with faculty through the academic coordinators who handle adoption submissions on campus. Heather’s staff works with them to promote this feature, and the store is working on building further relationships with the College of Design to formally adopt required supplies for classes.
It has also had a measurable impact on the store’s bottom line.
“This fall semester, approximately 3.5 percent of our total store art and supply sales were generated from our course materials website, where we cross-merchandised various products like binders, calculators, drawing supplies, engineering paper and lab supplies,” she said. “It's not necessarily a huge percentage, but it is sales that we likely would not have if we didn't set ourselves up to capitalize off of our eCommerce system.”