As course materials become increasingly complicated, the overall student experience during rush can influence how they see the campus store. Some students see the crowds and immediately decide to order online. Others brave the rush only to become frustrated when they can’t find what they need and have to wait in line for help. Recently, we spoke with several stores that have implemented textbook counter service to improve the student experience in their stores.
From those conversations, we have gathered five best practices for any store thinking about making the switch to counter or clerk service.
5 Counter Service Best Practices
One of the universal pieces of advice from campus stores that have already implemented a form of counter service is to meet with other stores to gather information. Get input from stores that have recently transitioned to counter service and from those who have been providing it for a long time. All the advice you are given may not work in your specific store, but these conversations will give you a better idea on what to expect and help you form a step-by-step plan.
“I think getting that feedback and learning what others are currently doing and what they have done is probably the best advice I can give,” Madison College Bookstore Manager Scott Heiman said. “There’s more to it than just switching. If you can physically go to a store that does it, you can learn from that, too. The logistics, the layout and where the students are coming from, all make a difference in how you will set it up. There’s not one right answer.”
Every store sets up their counter or clerk service a little differently. You will need to look at your store and the anticipated traffic. How can you maximize your space so students can get their textbooks as fast as possible without impeding other students or faculty from shopping?
“We chose to set the counter up in the back of the store. That way, the rest of the store is free for students, faculty or staff to shop,” CWU Wildcat Shop Director Steven Wenger said. “Students can take care of whatever shopping they want to do and then come to us when they are ready to get their books. Or, some students prefer to leave their order with us and come back later to pick it up. Figuring out things like that and how to make the lines move faster were our top priorities.”
In addition to figuring out how to streamline traffic, stores also need to figure out their process at the counter. For example, at some stores, employees will pull up the student’s schedule at the counter, but other stores have areas set up for students to print their own schedules before the come up to the counter.
“We have four computer stations set up outside of our store,” Monroe Community College Book Store Manager Charli Suter said. “Using the MBS website, we programmed it so students can swipe their ID or input their ID number, and their schedule will automatically populate. From there, they can print their booklist. “
One important part of making a major switch like this is to make sure faculty do not feel alienated by the barrier. So, if you have faculty members that regularly come in to check their books on the shelves, be sure to let them know they are still welcome to come on the other side of the counter to look at their materials.
“It has helped the store as a whole. Our service has really improved. Because the textbook area is closed off, we let instructors know that they are still welcome to come behind the counter to check on their materials,” CWU Wildcat Shop Textbook Supervisor Sara Senter said. “Our people at the counter can answer most student questions like what books do I need or where are my books. That saves the textbook staff for the more complicated student questions and allows us to speak with faculty when they are in the store. We can quickly resolve issues that come up at the beginning of every quarter.”
Part of the reason why counter service is an effective solution is that it gives your employees one-on-one time with the students that need it most. Recent changes in course materials can be confusing, and students can use knowledgeable advice. Taking the time to explain to student their options and how their materials can be more affordable creates customer loyalty and students will view the campus store as a resource.
“Course materials keep changing. Last fall Cengage Unlimited was introduced, we have a big inclusive access program that keeps growing and there are so many different things that keep changing in the textbook world,” CWU Wildcat Shop Textbook Supervisor Sara Senter said. “Our students were getting more and more confused. This really helps us alleviate some of that confusion.”
For many students, their first collegiate retail experience is rush. A fast, streamlined rush experience designed for student convenience will leave a positive impression on existing and incoming students. So, as you are developing your plan to transition to counter service evaluate each step by asking yourself, “What will this do to improve our students’ store experience.”
“Everyone we talk to says how much they enjoy the service, and they like the fact that they don’t have to worry about getting the right books,” CWU Wildcat Shop Director Steven Wenger said. “We guarantee that they get the right book, and if they don’t, we exchange it for them. It’s cut down on returns and problems and has improved customer service."
Counter service may not be right for every store. However, thinking about out-of-the-box solutions to streamline course material distribution will help you improve students’ overall experience with your store.