The following excerpt is from the article article Online-Only Text Sales Requires Careful Prep, written by Cindy Ruckman, Director of Publications for the National Association of College Stores, and published in Campus Marketplace. Ruckman offers great detail on the process stores should take when considering an online-only textbook operation, based on MBS regional manager, Kathy Cameron's, expertise.
In her CAMEX 2013 Flash Session entitled What Happens When the Textbook Department Goes Virtual?, Cameron explained several areas stores should consider when looking for a third-party program to support their online textbook sales. Take a look at her advice below and view the full article for further information.
Cameron said campus stores can start the search for an online textbook partner by asking prospects about their virtual bookstore practices from the student perspective. Find out how the online interface will be branded and whether it can be customized to suit your school’s needs. Can the provider furnish all the textbook formats and options your store requires—new and used print, rentals, digital? Is inventory availability shown in real time? How easily can students place their orders and can they pay with financial aid?
Stores should take a close look at providers’ order fulfillment, including how they make procurement decisions, the degree of automation in the fulfillment process, and from which locations the orders will ship. Cameron recommended asking for the back-order rate and order accuracy rate as well.
The availability of used textbooks is another important criterion. “How extensive is their used-book inventory?” Cameron asked. “What are their sources for used books?” Stores should inquire about whether buyback programs are part of the package and what type, including whether they offer guaranteed buyback.
Even if e-textbooks and other digital materials aren’t big sellers on your campus right now, you should still evaluate the capabilities of vendors to supply these formats. Cameron suggested asking which platforms and devices (including mobile) are supported, how many e-book titles are available, and whether digital content is integrated with the school’s learning management system. How do students access e-books—online or as a download—and what are their key functional features?
Customer service is another area stores should explore before signing with a provider. “What support staff is provided to manage the online store and the relationship with the school?” she asked. Providers should be able to describe their policies and practices, including how students can contact them about problems.
“Can a student at one o’clock in the morning have a live chat with somebody, because you’re not there?” Cameron said. “When you’re looking at a virtual bookstore environment, it has to be reflective of your store.”
The switch from physical textbook department to online-only may be wrenching for some store personnel, especially if the move was mandated by the administration. As a former store manager for 15 years, Cameron said she understands their anxiety.
“The first question I hear is, ‘If they take the books out, what happens to my job?’ Nothing,” said Cameron, explaining that the store still needs textbook staff to work with faculty and process adoptions.
In most cases, after textbook sales go online, the college store still remains in business, taking advantage of the extra space to expand into more general merchandise, technology, and service categories.
“The virtual bookstore only takes books out of the bookstore,” Cameron said. “That still leaves all the things that make you money. The high-margin stuff, that stays in the bookstore.”
If your store is considering an online-only textbook option, talk with your MBS Representative for more detail on how we can help.