For many of us, times are unpredictable. As college stores look toward the start of a new term, strengthening online sales, student convenience and in-store safety precautions are three areas that will have the biggest impact no matter what happens this fall. We recently spoke with Lincoln Land Community College’s Director of Campus Services Andrew Blaylock to discuss the college store’s web orders and how they are preparing for fall.
How is your store preparing for the fall term?
For fall term, we have made a number of changes to our overall operations district-wide. Instead of having five retail locations, we are centralizing this into one order and distribution point and encouraging all students to place online orders through the bookstore website, instead of coming into one of the physical stores. This can reduce a student’s time in the store by as much as an hour and a half during peak times compared to an order pickup that can be made in just a few minutes.
For those who want to use cash or check for payment, we are allowing a limited number of students in-store and have set-up some precautions such as one entrance into the store and another exit point out of the store, as well as counter shields and required facemasks for all students and staff. We have also added hand sanitizer poles at the main bookstore entrance and temperature checks are done at the college entrance.
What are you doing to encourage web orders?
In summer, we only gave the option to order online, and in fall, we are strongly encouraging online orders since we now have limited in-store capacity for retail sales. We have offered students a curbside pickup option where they can remain in their car and we walk out orders to them. That has been a real hit. Normally in summer, we process about 500 orders online, but this summer we had about 1,600 online, with about half choosing curbside pickup and half choosing to have their order shipped to their residential address.
For fall, we are also offering the option to pick up orders at one of our regional center locations at no charge. Since we are the largest community college district by land mass in the state of Illinois, covering all or parts of fifteen different counties, this is a popular choice for students placing online orders. This also allows us to consolidate orders going to each regional center and deliver them there twice a week, so it’s more efficient than processing each individual order for home delivery.
How does your collegiate retail system help streamline your online ordering process?
Some of the best features of the MBS InSite system we used this year were creating a curbside pickup and setting up what days this pickup could be done. I was happy to have the ability to go in and create a new pickup method and have the flexibility to add notes that appear on the website for students to see. This was also nice to turn on and off as needed or to add additional service options like pickup at a regional center.
During the time when we were shut down to in-store sales, the ability to create an email fulfillment was also very helpful. We had already purchased many codes on hard stock paper that were on our shelves, and with all our classes going online for summer, we didn’t want to have to physically ship these to students. So, we created an ‘email fulfilled’ option on our site with a zero-dollar ship charge and had staff scan and email hundreds of codes to students.
What advice would you give other college stores preparing for the fall term?
My advice to other stores is to try to find ways to be as flexible as possible with how you offer services to students and faculty. The ability to change quickly and to be open to trying new things is important. One example of this is us being asked to carry a number of products that were needed when student labs couldn’t be held in person. We were able to set-up virtual and in-home lab kits that faculty requested fairly quickly. Being responsive to this was a good way to show our value in a time of need.