When Lower Columbia College Bookstore’s Director of Enterprise Services Alyssa Milano-Hightower, MBA, found out that the bookstore’s collegiate retail system would no longer be supported, she knew they had to move fast to find a new system provider. The store selected MBS Store Technology Solutions because the system would improve functionality and was economical.
“When we found out our previous retail system was quickly becoming obsolete, we started looking at alternate vendors with input from multiple stakeholders immediately. MBS was the top pick for us because of the diverse functionalities of the system — the online eCommerce capabilities, the more thorough reporting tools and the overall cost of the system,” Milano-Hightower said. “The support we have received from the MBS team while implementing the new system has been phenomenal! They have, without hesitation, held our hand throughout the entire process and have made sure we felt adequately trained on everything. We were able to bring our bookstore into year 2020 with a diverse online presence and I am very pleased with how the transition has been going.”
Implementing a new system in record time
Because the store’s previous system had to be replaced as soon as possible and the fall term was quickly approaching, the bookstore had no time to lose. Through a lot of hard work, long days and working closely with the support teams at MBS, they were able to significantly cut down the implementation time and get the new system going for fall.
“Implementation was fast! Something that probably should have taken half of the year, we were able to do in one month, including a complete inventory of all merchandise in our store, a mass cleanup of that inventory before importing into our new system, partnering with our on-campus stakeholders to ensure the install was successful, creating a brand new website and placing merchandise on that website — among many other tasks to get us ready for our fall quarter,” Milano-Hightower said. “The MBS team checked in with us pretty much every day. We had different trainings to learn the new system for two solid weeks, it seems like. It was a chaotic couple of weeks, that’s for sure. We had a couple bumps along the road, but we were able to call the support line and get all of those kinks worked out super quickly.”
The implementation team worked with the LCC Bookstore staff from the start. They developed an implementation plan that fit into the store’s timeline and helped outline each step the store would need to take to be up and going by fall. They also ensured MBS product experts were communicating with the store to ensure everything would be set up the way they wanted it.
“To begin with, we worked with the MBS Systems Sales Manager in July of 2020. He helped us align all of the necessary stakeholders prior to launching the project. Then the whole process really kicked off with Angela Gray [Senior Systems Consultant]. I had an introductory call with her where she made it really clear what the project scope looked like and what she would need from me to get things rolling. From there, we hit the ground sprinting! We had the install set for September 2, 2020, and we went live with our brand-new website on September 8, 2020. The next week, we were fulfilling online orders,” Milano-Hightower said. “Matt Simmons [Systems Engineer Installer] came out to do the physical install with our IT team here. We really worked with everyone through this process, and I couldn’t be happier! Jerrica and Patrick from inSite, Glenna and Melissa from Arc … everyone was there to help us the whole time, and it made such a big difference.”
A college store retail management system that makes a difference
The new collegiate retail system is already having a big impact on the store. The updated system has made it easier for students to place orders, streamlined SFA and provided options that previously weren’t available all while adding efficiencies and saving store personnel time.
“The biggest success we’ve seen thus far is for students and their Student Financial Aid experience. Previously, students would have to come into the store, have their full booklist rang up and then have to take the voided receipt over to our cashiering office. It was an entirely manual process. When we launched in the fall, we used the course import file functionality of Arc to translate book voucher awards directly from our financial aid office to automatically feed into our point-of-sale system. Now, our students are able to use their book vouchers directly on our website to place their order, and they don’t even have to come to see us if they don’t want to,” Milano-Hightower said. “We had 30 percent of book vouchers used that way at the start of fall quarter and are up to 90 percent of students using their book vouchers online for the winter term so far. It’s been a phenomenal improvement for the student experience as well as time management savings for the college. On top of that, ordering textbooks online is so much easier now. Our old system was very archaic, with a non-friendly user interface. You couldn’t really tell from the homepage where to go to purchase books. On our new website, students can easily see where to buy their textbooks. We also launched our rewards program this past quarter, which rewards students by giving them points to use towards future purchases, so that’s been a huge selling point for students to earn some money back.”
The store is benefiting from streamlined functionality. From shipping to merchandise, store personnel saves time and improves efficiencies with a system designed specifically for the demands that face college stores.
“Adding merchandise to the website is a lot easier and user friendly using the new inSite platform. Also, one of the biggest efficiencies for us is the ease of processing online orders. We’ve seen a lot of success there. Another functionality of inSite that our college has really benefited from is how easily it ties to the FedEx Shipping Manager to allow for online order shipping information to directly translate, producing FedEx labels and tracking information that auto-emails to students. That has been a huge timesaver for us. In the past, we had to manually enter all shipping information into FedEx.com, then print out the labels on paper, then attach them to shipping boxes we had to manually assemble. Now, we have a FedEx Zebra label printer that prints self-adhesive labels that affix directly to FedEx assembled boxes. It reduced the amount of time assembling shipping orders from 5 minutes per order to a maximum of 30 seconds per order,” Milano-Hightower said. “We also didn’t have electronic gift cards available online before, so that’s another improvement the new MBS inSite system has added to our college. Students can use their online gift cards directly on the site, reload them with funds and check their balances without having to call us. We also can now promote various marketing campaigns as image banners directly on our website homepage, and we have Constant Contact® as a marketing tool for distributing our new e-newsletter. Overall, the new functionality of the inSite tool has dramatically increased the value we can offer students, especially during our current pandemic.”
Looking toward the future
The broad and diverse functionality of the MBS system means the system can continue to evolve and grow alongside the campus store. Ms. Milano-Hightower has a few more MBS features and tools that she is considering implementing in the future.
“We are looking into potentially using MBS’ SimpleSource tool that would allow our college to receive greater wholesale discounts that can then translate to our students. The online marketplace tool via inSite is something my leadership team has expressed interest in, so we might test that down the road as well. There are also mobile scanning devices that we could eventually purchase to help increase efficiency when processing picklists and reduce errors. There are a lot of directions we can go from here, and that is very exciting for us,” Milano-Hightower said.
When asked if there was anything she learned from her experience that could help other college stores that are getting ready to implement a new system, Milano-Hightower said to make sure you budget enough time for the implementation and to work closely with campus stakeholders from the very beginning.
“Definitely get your IT & purchasing department stakeholders involved early. That was something we did that allowed for such great success during our implementation. I would personally budget for three to six months for a full implementation initially. We were in a slightly different scenario when we had to make the switch, as our contract was closing with the previous supplier and it would cost the college too vast of an expense for what we were receiving from that vendor. By involving your various on-campus teams as soon as possible, you increase the likelihood of success for the project and overall that success translates to a better experience for your students. We have learned a lot, but I’m very grateful we made the transition.”