Oklahoma State University's University Store has a smart approach to fostering student loyalty: an expert technology department, OrangeTech, with free services like repair and 3D printing. Any student in need of computer repair or assistance can find a tech-savvy associate on hand. For 3D printing, customers pay a minimal charge for materials but nothing for the processing and expertise. OrangeTech’s services give University Store an edge over off-campus retailers — and inspire customer allegiance.
OSU’s OrangeTech enriches the customer experience
Cost-free tech services nurture student trust in the University Store from the start of the college journey, according to Christy Lench, OrangeTech Assistant Manager.
“It really helps build relationships. Students know we’re here for them,” she said. “It usually starts in the first year. That’s when students buy a computer for school. Then they keep returning throughout their time at OSU.”
Lasting customer relationships are a critical feature of collegiate retail success. Research shows students typically spend the most money on textbooks at the campus store in their first year. After that, their campus store spending declines, partly because they look for textbooks off campus.
Students are often unaware that the margin on textbook sales is typically low for campus retailers. When they encounter high course material prices, they make the erroneous assumption that the college store gouges customers. Such mistrust can translate into reduced foot traffic and lower revenues on general merchandise.
Technology sales bolster campus store revenue
Data suggests that college stores can counter losses from the decline in textbook sales with a robust technology selection. Student spending on computers and other tech supplies has increased in past years, even as course material costs have gone down, according to the National Association of College Stores (NACS).
>>Tech and school supply sales increased 21% in 2017-2018, according to NACS.
>>The average student spent $612 on technology and school supplies in 2017-2018 compared to just over $400 on course materials.
When students know they can return to the campus store for free service, the initial sale revenue becomes only a small part of its long-term positive impact. Lench said that she worked nine years for a large tech retail chain before she joined OSU’s OrangeTech. Free services elevate the University Store above off-campus competitors. Students rely on OrangeTech’s expertise and commitment to serving educational goals, according to Lench.
“It lets us start building relationships from day one,” she said. “One thing we try to offer customers is a consistent experience,” said Lench “You can expect the people here to have the knowledge you need every time you come in. No matter what, you’ll find someone with the same level of experience who’s able to help you.”
3D printers drive campus store loyalty and boost foot traffic
University Store’s most eye-catching tech service is 3D printing. The store keeps one printer on display. Twelve others hum in a backroom. Customers drop in from the adjacent student union to watch the display printer fashion everything from anatomical figures to miniature Iron Chairs.
“We use the display printer to draw attention,” said Lench. “Anyone can send us designs, too. Parents send requests sometimes.”
The bulk of 3D printing is devoted to furthering student educational goals, according to OrangeTech 3D specialist, James Brenner. The school has hundreds of architecture, aerospace and other STEM students who need 3D printing for projects. That keeps the lab busy.
“We definitely use all 12 printers at points,” said Brenner.
Off-campus retailers often charge high fees for 3D printing because the complex service demands expertise.
“If you do it on your own, it can be a hassle. Very time consuming,” said Brenner. “Here, all you have to do is send the request, and we get it going from there.”
The campus store’s commitment to students
OrangeTech’s student-friendly tech services are an outgrowth of University Store’s mission to serve OSU’s population. The store feeds all profits into the Student Union, which sits at the heart of campus life. Thousands of OSU students rely on the Union daily for everything from snacks to club meetings and study.
Beyond expert services, OrangeTech furthers its mission with the training it offers students. The store is developing a program that will provide all OrangeTech student associates with valuable skills.
“We want everybody here to be able to offer full service,” said Lench. “We want them to be able to take a computer apart and put it back together. A lot of employees are eager to learn. They love the opportunity.”
For Lench, her OrangeTech management position presents another opportunity: the chance to support education. That’s a welcome contrast to her previous role at a mainstream tech retailer.
“I like it a lot,” she said. “It’s a completely different customer base. Here, you’re helping students. The mission is educational.”