Students ordering a particular calculus book on Iowa State University Bookstore's website will find suggestions for calculators and binders to hold paper. The bookstore's move toward online cross-merchandising has resulted in a measurable increase in web sales for non-textbook materials.
Most bookstore workers are finding they can’t get by only carrying textbooks. They also need to stock binders, calculators, notebooks, and as many other supplies students need daily.
Iowa State Bookstore has increased sales on binders, calculators, bar charts, flash drives and art supplies through cross-merchandising. When customers check out an order for a certain class, the bookstore’s website suggests useful materials. Students ordering paper see a recommendation for a binder, while those ordering for a math class will see the calculator recommendation.
Iowa State’s online store transactions function through MBS Systems’ inSite eCommerce solution. Among many features, inSite allows stores to attach merchandise to a website’s course list in addition to textbooks.
“Once we discovered inSite had that capability, it was common sense that if you do cross-merchandising in the store, why wouldn’t you do it online as well,” said Heather Dean, Iowa State University Bookstore book division manager. “If the book list says they need a binder, they are more likely to click to add a binder to their order.”
Dean said she follows the same principles her staff uses when organizing the store. The store team arranges displays of suggested items near their corresponding textbooks, which allows the customer to see the items they’d need while they’re shopping for texts.
“We train our staff to cross-sell, but when you have a massive amount of students shopping in the book department, and 15 people on staff, you can’t feasibly talk to everyone," Dean said. "We want to make that process as intuitive as possible.”
The online cross-merchandising does not push the most expensive model of binders or other supplies — its purpose is to showcase the variety of options the bookstore has available to students compared to off-campus retailers.
“Sometimes there’s a class that prefers a certain flash drive or a specific marker, so we create those items on the website and attach it to the course,” she said. “We’re trying to make it more apparent to faculty and staff that HEOA compliance is not just books, it’s the supplies as well.”`
The move to cross-sell online has helped forge a connection with faculty through the academic coordinators who handle adoption submissions on campus and has had a measurable impact on the store’s bottom line.
“This fall semester, approximately 3.5% of our total store art and supply sales were generated from our course materials website, where we cross-merchandised various products like binders, calculators, drawing supplies, engineering paper and lab supplies,” she said. “It's not necessarily a huge percentage, but it is sales that we likely would not have if we didn't set ourselves up to capitalize off of our eCommerce system.”