Typically, when one thinks of change, big, significant differences come to mind. But, sometimes, small steps can be just as effective. That was certainly the case at Washington and Lee's University Store, during the winter buyback.
The store, which has always held buyback in the same location, spontaneously decided it was time for a change just an hour or two before the event was set to begin. Rather than setup at their typical indoor location, they improvised and moved it outdoors.
“It was absolutely beautiful outside, so we started talking about how nice it would be to let students enjoy the weather while selling their books,” explained Kati Grow, book manager. “It may not seem very exciting to some schools, but we’ve always, always, always done buyback inside, so it was a big deal for us.”
Ready to take advantage of the nice weather, the store approached their MBS buyers with the proposition of moving, and they were already on the same page, wondering if the store would go for it.
“Lisa, our MBS Representative, and Bob, an MBS hired buyer, were both very flexible and got on board with the idea right away,” Grow described. “Not all buyers would be willing to do something so last minute; they were great!”
The impromptu location wasn’t far from where students typically sell books; in fact it was no more than 6 feet away. But, it made all the difference in the atmosphere.
“We literally moved our setup just outside the windows where we usually host buyback, so there was no need to advertise the change,” she said. “But the sunshine and fresh air created a much more positive experience – no one minded waiting in line, and we noticed far less complaining.”
According to Grow, the location was absolutely perfect. Being outdoors meant the store was able to capture much more foot traffic.
“It made us visibly accessible to students walking by; we were literally in their way, so they took notice of us and many stopped to sell their books,” she added.
The fact that the store played music for the first time ever only further lightened the mood. With the help of their MBS buyers, they used a Bluetooth speaker to blast the tunes.
“Students had a general happy-go-lucky spring attitude,” she emphasized. “We received much more positive comments about buyback than we have in the past – and it didn’t cost us a thing!”
The move paid off in revenue, too. Once the store accounts for the impact of their expanded rental program this semester, Grow believes their buyback will be up in both dollars and in units. Although she does attribute some of that success to the move outdoors, she also believes their Buyback Voucher Program had a significant impact.
For the second year, they’ve offered students the opportunity to claim a limited number of vouchers that allow them receive the highest buyback price available for their specific books.
As we all know, the first students to sell their books will earn the highest buyback price, as they receive the retail value. When the store began advertising this logic to students, campus faculty members raised concern that this prompted students to sell their books too early. As a solution, the store implemented the voucher program.
“We needed to devise a new system that would be supported by our professors, profitable for our students, manageable for our store staff, and seamless with the buyback wholesalers’ software and buyback methods,” Grow said. “The approach we settled upon was a voucher system. This, we hoped, would allow the store to offer students a premium price for the same number of books without putting them under any sort of constraint regarding the timing of the physical buyback transaction.”
Through their voucher program, the store allows the first 20 students to claim a voucher that locks in the premium (retail) price. Once the voucher is claimed, the student can then choose to sell his or her book on the first day of buyback, the last day, or any time in between.
“It takes the time pressure off for students, and satisfies our faculty members’ requests, so it’s a win-win,” Grow said.
This semester, they took that effort a step further by taking the time to manually look up all of their titles on Amazon to see how their prices compared.
“It was a lot of work, but it gave us the opportunity to tell students ‘We’re paying $75 and Amazon will only give you $62;’ it proved that we really are competitive,” she said.
The word spread quickly and Grow believes that the effort brought positive PR to the store. In fact, many students stopped by saying that their friends told them the store was paying more than Amazon.
“We calculated that on 77 percent of our titles, our buyback price matched or beat Amazon’s price,” she emphasized. “That’s something we were able to tout with students, and it made it well worth the effort.”
Overall, the changes University Store made paid off with a more positive atmosphere, enhanced transparency and even increased revenue. Through their initiatives, they’ve realized that change is good, and something they’ll be implementing more often. And that’s a sentiment they hope to see spread throughout the industry.
“Don’t be afraid to make changes; even if they’re small, they can have a big impact! You just have to be flexible,” Grow said. “Take it from us; moving six feet into the sunshine can make all the difference!”