College bookstore websites have always been important. However, due to COVID-19 the college store website became the primary connection bookstores have with students. South Central College Book Store has worked hard to ensure that its website offers students easy access to current information, detailed how-to instructions and every product a student could buy in the store.
Recently, we spoke with Katie Hewitt, Bookstore Manager/Retail Services Supervisor, South Central College Book Store, to find out how she manages the college store site and how she has simplified online shopping for students and the campus community.
“Previously, our website was a resource for students to order books if they couldn’t come into the store. Once COVID hit, our physical storefronts shut down, so we had to get everything we sell online quickly. My approach was to make our site as complete as possible. I knew it needed to be user-friendly and continuously updated,” Hewitt said. “I added how-to instructions to give students the step-by-step details they need to place book orders, recorded a video last semester about how to order books, and really did anything I could think of that would make it as easy as possible for students to order books, supplies or merchandise from the store especially since so many students had never had to order online through us before. Right after COVID, I actually took pictures from home of the clothing and supply items that I didn’t have stock photos of to get them on the website. I want the site to look like we are putting the effort in. When people are on there, I want them to have access to anything they can get in the store.”
By adding interactive features like how-to instructions and an FAQ page, the store created a great resource that helps eliminate a barrier between students and getting the books and materials they need.
“It is an easy place to direct people if they haven’t ordered from us before. We have gotten a lot of positive feedback on the instructions,” Hewitt said. “I am always in a continuous improvement mindset. I am constantly evaluating the site and asking what worked last time, what didn’t work, how can we fix it and how can we build on it. Our website is always a work in progress. After receiving the same questions in the fall from students, we created a Q&A section on our customer service tab, adding the important information students were asking about. It gave people easy access to the answers they are looking for without having to reach out to us. We also are always adding new promotions to the site, and there’s almost always a sale going on which I think helps for anyone logging on for the first time, it shows the customer we are committed to keeping things up to date.”
The store was also able to seamlessly absorb another campus location, so every book or merchandise order goes through the South Central College North Mankato Book Store. This helped improve order fulfillment efficiency.
“In our other store, we had a retirement in November. That meant we wouldn’t have anyone in our second campus location, so it just made sense at that point to bring everything to one place. We have a very small staff, and this allowed us to process everything, see every order, and not have to transfer things back and forth between campuses if an item was running low at one location. Since our storefronts remain closed due to COVID and we were shipping everything anyway, it just made sense. Having all of our books and orders in one location helped us better control inventory and made our overall process more efficient.
“To make the transition, we reached out to our Territory Manager, Heather, our inSite rep, James, and our Arc rep, Glenna, and told them our plan of needing to switch from two stores to one for the start of the spring semester. We worked with them and set a deadline for when the other campus bookstore website needed to be shut down. And, on December 1, we were ready to go live with the new structure,” Hewitt said. “I worked a lot with the MBS reps to keep it as smooth as possible. It was a really good transition. I think the ease of contact with the MBS representatives is one of the best features of the partnership. I can reach out by email or phone and get a fast response. I usually get a resolution within a couple hours but definitely within the day. That is helpful when you have such a small staff like we do, to have people who can help if there is an issue that needs to be fixed right away. It gives us a timeline to pass along to our customers and the peace of mind to know it will be fixed quickly. Even if I can’t get my rep immediately, I can always reach someone instantly who can help me with whatever I need. That’s been really great.”
The changes and hard work the store has done on the site hasn’t gone unnoticed. Student feedback has been positive and encouraging that they are headed in the right direction.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback, even from the fall semester to spring about the changes we have made. It’s definitely dropped the number of phone calls and emails with questions that we get from students.” Hewitt said. “It is so important to have a site that is relevant, and user-friendly. You know there’s no question when students visit that the information they are getting is the information they need.”
For other college stores looking to update or overhaul their site, Ms. Hewitt suggests having one person who can be dedicated to the website.
“Have someone who can be dedicated to your site. It’s a constant job which never ends. There is always something that needs to be updated. Having one person who can keep up with it, add the new items, work on the clearance section, create sales and marketing promotions, and update information as necessary makes it easier to manage. Your site should be a reflection of your store, giving students the best experience possible, and it is up to us to provide that.”