Words like unprecedented have been coming up a lot lately to describe the current state of nearly every industry that has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The educational industry is no exception. During these truly unprecedented times, college stores like the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Bookstore have demonstrated their adaptability, creativity and flexibility as they continue to find ways to proudly serve students and their campuses. We recently caught up with NWTC Bookstore and The Buzz Coffee Shop Manager Gretchen Bonnema to hear how her store is preparing for a 100 percent online fall term.
“We, like a lot of college stores, have been online since spring break. It was decided by the college’s executive leadership team a few weeks ago that we will not reopen the Bookstore for the fall. Everything we offer students needs to be virtual,” Bonnema said. “Previously, 25 percent of our business was done online. And now we are going to add the other 75 percent. We are looking forward to that challenge. To fill orders faster, we will have two shifts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. picking orders. We are extraordinarily lucky at NWTC that our leadership and all of the departments are supportive and collaborative.”
Ensuring that the store’s complete inventory and services is available online for the fall semester requires planning and the right college store retail system.
“Doing a fall semester completely online is very different than doing late starting spring classes or summer semester online. For the past couple of weeks, we have been working on overhauling our website. When we are open, we are a counter service store — I like to say full service. So our team is working to identify the conversations we usually have at the front of the store with the students. We need to find a way to transfer that information online,” Bonnema said. “Luckily, because we are an MBS systems user, we use inSite for eCommerce solutions. inSite has a ton of flexibility that allows us to be creative and keep the students informed. We can put notes on individual courses and books, and we can link out to different catalogs that we have built for supplies. We are a technical college, very hands-on learning. There are a lot of courses that require supplies. We have built those catalogs online, and with inSite, we can link those catalogs to the course materials so students can easily access everything they need. We are also using registrar link which is a great product from MBS. Students log in to their portal and they get exactly the books they need. There is no concern about students getting the wrong course number or anything like that.”
Ms. Bonnema and her team are also looking at how student populations may change and how the campus store can continue to serve all students in the best way possible.
“We are trying to constantly think about how things could be different and develop plans for that. Because of COVID, some students who maybe would have gone to a residential school might decide to come to our school and transfer out when things are more settled. Our typical students in northeast Wisconsin don’t have a lot of experience with digital materials. However, students looking to start here and transfer, might have more experience with digital titles and appreciate the cost savings. Also, we have to accept that we aren’t going to think of every situation, and when a situation that we didn’t think of comes up, we have to adapt,” Bonnema said. “Going into the fall term, we will offer more digital books than ever before. Last fall we had four eBooks. Now we have 117. There has never been a high demand for eBooks in the past, but now, it is something students can get immediately and potentially save money. We think eBooks will be more popular than they were. We offered more eBooks for the summer term. We were very surprised by the number of students who did buy them. The students were grateful for the savings and easy access.”
The next challenge for the store is to ensure that students know they can order their course materials and supplies online. To help spread the message to students, Gretchen and her team have been working closely with other campus departments.
“To get the message out to students that we are open, we have been leveraging our marketing department. They are letting students know through social media that they have to order online. We have also worked with enrollment services. Enrollment services can let students know what they need to do to get ready for their courses to start. They will be very pointed about needing to purchase online, Bonnema said. “In addition to working with other departments, we posted links throughout the college’s website. Things like ‘Order your books online’ with some simple instructions.
“Recently, I recorded my screen and posted a video that walks students through the process start to finish. I started with the registrar link and went all the way through the checkout so students can feel comfortable with placing an online order from the NWTC Bookstore. We posted the video on the front page of our website because we anticipate getting a lot of phone calls asking how to get started,” Bonnema said. “It’s not that we don’t want to talk to students, but we only have so many resources. Being able to offer students a convenient way to answer the question and save time definitely helps us and them. With the increased prevalence of eBooks this term, I also created a video about how to access digital textbooks. We are helping students by giving them the tools they will need to work with us.”
▶ Check out the how-to video NWTC Bookstore made available to students: How to place your order online.
Gretchen suggests familiarizing yourself with all the ways your college store retail system can help you connect with students if your store goes completely online this fall.
“My director, Patrick Sorelle, and I have said so many times that we don’t know what we would have done without the MBS technology. It gives so much flexibility and allows us to be creative in how we communicate with students,” Bonnema said. “Responsive web design is huge. Some of our students don’t have a laptop. They will look at our site from a device. That user experience needs to be good or they will get frustrated. The quality of the technology MBS provides really helps us have clear communication with students and provide them with the level of service they expect from the store. I would suggest looking over every inch of the technology you have and use the tools available to you.”