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.”