Even in the midst of a shutdown, campus stores are still going above and beyond to serve their communities and offer students unparalleled support. The College Store at SUNY Potsdam in New York has made four significant changes to provide students with outstanding service and demonstrate how much they care. We recently spoke with Lyndon Lake, Director, the College Store, SUNY Potsdam, to discuss what changes he has implemented in the store and how he keeps the store part of wider campus conversations.
“We have four programs that we’re doing. Two are related to textbooks and two are related to our products and services. With our products and services, we are offering curbside pickup and delivery. We take part in a program called Bear Cares that we are really excited about. With textbooks, we are offering students an online buyback option and free shipping on rental returns,” Lake said. “Another thing we are doing is promoting caps and gowns. Even though our commencement has been canceled, we're advertising and promoting caps and gowns to students for their own personal social events. Some students still want social media posts or to get their own pictures with family. We’re a small school. We have a little over 3,000 students, and we've done about 240 orders for caps and gowns. So that's been kind of a nice revenue stream to have.”
Campus store curbside pickup and delivery services
The College Store continues to serve students both on and off campus during these trying times. A handful of students were unable to return home when this started and remained on campus. It was important to the administration and the bookstore that those students would have access to the materials or supplies that they needed.
“With curbside service, we added groceries and school supplies to our website that we didn't have before. We have about 70 to 80 students that still live on campus — they were given waivers for various reasons. We also have off-campus students that utilize our services, too. We listed our groceries, school supplies, electronics, logoed apparel and anything they could order on our site,” Lake said. “An hour after the order is placed, students can come pick up their order. They can use their student ID card to pay for it, which is called Bear Express credit card, or if they want, they can do cash.
“Students let us know what time they're coming to pick up their order. We'll put the order in the vestibule between our two doors with the student’s name on it a few minutes before the time if the order was prepaid. They just pick it up and go. It seems to be working out very well,” Lake said. “With our off-campus students, we have done deliveries. We typically don't make deliveries during the semester, but with times as they are, we've decided we will. So, we take the order right to their house, call them and leave it on their front porch.”
However, store employees include a personal touch to each order that is picked up or delivered, letting students know they care, and we are all in this together.
“We add a card in each of the packages with a little note wishing the student luck or letting them know that we hope they are well. Things like that. We know with everything going on, a lot of people are having a hard time,” Lake said. “This kind of leads us into the Bear Care program. Faculty members will order items for the students who are struggling. This might include groceries, teddy bears or logoed items. Faculty and staff identify students that could use a little extra help. They hear about the student and turn around and place an order for them. We've had several $100 or $150 orders made for groceries and products. It’s a really nice package of goodies. Last week, we shipped out eight teddy bears to different students. Sometimes, the faculty and staff will add a card and gift card to a local restaurant, a takeout place or gas station as well.
“The store ships the package or delivers it to the student’s house. The store staff will again include a note in each one of those boxes with some kind words. We've had a couple students who have had a parent pass away because of the coronavirus. Or, maybe they're struggling financially or emotionally,” Lake said. “Our staff just wants to let them know we are thinking about them. Since the end of March, we've done about 35 to 40 of these orders. So that's done very well.”
Textbook and rental returns
With the end of term here, textbooks and rentals are also top of mind for both the store and the students. The College Store has provided their students with some simple return options.
“We're using the MBS system for Online Buyback. Students can go on and get a price quote, print the label and ship the books back to MBS,” Lake said. “For rental returns, we have provided a prepaid label that students can download from our website. They go in, download the label and return their rentals to the store. We pay for the shipping, so they don't have to worry about getting hit with any late fees or charges. That's been a big help.”
To set up the prepaid shipping label on their college store site, Lake worked with the US Postal Service and the store’s MBS inSite rep. It was quick and easy for the store to set up.
“To set up the shipping label, we went directly to the US Postal Service. The regional manager helped us. We had to answer some questions and they walked us through the online process over the phone. It took me about 30 minutes to complete, and they gave us the link,” Lake said. “Once we had the link, we contacted an inSite rep to help us get it on the website. They helped us with the landing page where the students can go to see the FAQs. On that page, there's a spot where students can print the label. Then they tape it on the box and ship it right back to us. We’ve just started to get some books back. Finals don’t start here until May 18. I know students were concerned about the cost of shipping their books back. We decided to absorb the expense and provide them with a prepaid label.”
One almost universal challenge right now is communicating with students about what the store has to offer and how traditional processes like buyback have changed. Mr. Lake worked with his employees to come up with an array of ideas for how they could help get the word out to all students.
“Our obstacles haven't been too bad. I’ve got a great staff that really think outside the box. We meet and talk through the different things we want to do and how we can mitigate issues that might come up. They do a great job of thinking outside the box. For buyback and rental returns, we use MBS inSite. Through inSite, anybody who's rented a book has their information logged into the system, so we can directly email them and list their books that they need to return to the store. Also, our school allows us to directly email all of the students, even if they didn't rent from us,” Lake said. “Each class has a Facebook group. We work with faculty and they've allowed us to join those groups. As long as we keep posts minimal, we can post in those groups to let students know what to do with their textbooks and rentals.”
Planning for the future in uncertain times
The store is already looking ahead and making plans for different scenarios that could arise.
“To help with social distancing and to keep — and I didn't think I would ever say this in retail — the number of people down in the store, we are looking at just doing online ordering for textbooks. We will process the orders here and box them and then the student will come pick them up. Usually during rush, we have two long lines in the store. One line is people who need to purchase books and the other line is people who have preordered books and need to pick them up. And then there’s a third line of people buying school supplies and clothing,” Lake said. “We're looking at possibly moving to online order only for the fall.”
Going into fall and summer, it is important for stores to look at their options for how they can better streamline their eCommerce services and help students prepare for the next term. Mr. Lake recommends trying something you have never done before.
“Don't be afraid to try something different. I think that's the biggest thing for us. We don’t know what the future is going to be. We’ve already started to come up with a Plan B and Plan C, so we don't get caught at the last minute,” Lake said. “Another thing I would strongly suggest is to reach out to your administrators. You need to be a part of the conversations happening around bringing people back to campus. We have 400 students that still have stuff in their dorms, even their books and clothes are still in the dorms, but they're back home. We've asked to be included in the conversation when they reopen the dorms. We will reach out to those students to say ‘Hey, we're here to help you. If you need boxes, if you want to return rentals or buyback, whatever you need.’ So, I guess that would be my advice. Just think outside of the box and reach out to the administration or other people on campus to be a part of the conversation.”