With another rush just around the corner, now is a good time to start thinking about how you can further streamline processes in your college store. We recently spoke with Jennifer Thomas, Director of Bookstore Operations, WCU Bookstore, to learn how her store streamlines order pickup with limited store occupancy and how they use their loyalty program to promote foot traffic all year.
At WCU, students are supplied with one book for each class at the beginning of term for a flat rental rate. This means every student comes through the bookstore before classes start.
“Our store capacity is capped at 53 people. Going into the spring semester, we needed to be able to serve more students faster, so we broke up how students picked up their materials to make it possible to serve more people at the same time. It really helped cut wait times down because we could get more people in the store,” Thomas said. “How we did it was we split up commuter students and residential students. There were 3,961 students living on campus in the Spring 2021 term. With those students, we already have their student ID numbers and names. So, we printed their rental card (which they could electronically sign or sign in person if they were here) and then we pulled their books, packed them in a box and stuck a label on the edge of the box — we had the print shop print a label for each of those students. When they came to pick up their books, they were directed downstairs to the basement, which has its own entrance and exit.
“For students not living on campus, they came into the store using the front entrance because we had to go through that process with them: print the rental card, get the signature, pull the books and box them. It worked really well splitting the two groups and cut the wait time down by a lot. We are going to keep doing that. Boxing books ahead of time was a huge timesaver.”
By working to make the entire process as easy and convenient as possible for students, the store was also able to save time and staff resources.
“We had signs outside that let students know where they should go for their books. Because classes started before students were on campus, if someone did a drop and add, they could just come upstairs and make those exchanges after they picked up their box. It worked out really well,” Thomas said. “It was also nice that everyone got their books in a box. We put a big bright label on the outside of the box that said, ‘Do not throw this box away.’ It had a paw print on the front to help students notice it. Last spring when everybody went home, they weren’t allowed to come back. Students had to scramble to ship their books back. If something like that happened again, this would make it a lot easier. We also added the rental form they would need to return the books at the end of term to the box. We did everything we could think of to try to make it as easy as possible for the students. It worked out really well.
“It was also less of a process for us because half of our work was already done. We were able to have some students come in to help box books and we had some part-time help, but we were still able to distance people. One person would print the cards, another would pull the books, someone else would put them in a box, and someone would take them downstairs to put them on a shelf,” Thomas said. “The students were really glad to have the employment opportunity. Normally, we hire about 50 students at the beginning and end of the semester for the rental return. They always work really hard, and I am glad to have them. We have some very good student workers.”
To keep customer traffic going all year long, the store has developed a great loyalty program that successfully brings customers back to the store time and again to celebrate their birthday.
“If you sign up for our loyalty program, you give the month and date of your birthday. The system sends an automated email saying there is a gift waiting for you at the bookstore. People will contact me and say ‘I got an email that there’s a gift for me at the store. Did I win something?’ I will ask if it is their birthday and then tell them that we have a $25 gift card waiting for them. Invariably, they will turn right back around and use it while they are here, so it works out really well. It’s a great incentive,” Thomas said. “We used to do balloons, but nobody really wants a balloon. They want a gift card. We’ve gotten a lot of foot traffic from that. We have also gained customers because of the rewards. Even if they are not on campus, we will send the gift card to them in their next order. When I can see customers using their loyalty points, I am like ‘Yes! This is great.’ It encourages customers to come back to the store over and over again which is what you want your loyalty program to do.”