Student tech sales have revenue potential for college stores, especially on campuses where technology is deeply infused with the school’s mission. We sat down with Jake Swanson, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) University Store’s technology store manager, to talk about how his store competes with off-campus retailers.
CMU’s computer and technology programs are legendary. What’s it like to sell tech to some of the world’s savviest users?
Exciting. CMU has a unique energy. There are so many smart people here doing incredible work.
Do tech sales affect campus store relevance?
Definitely. As textbook sales drop and more digital delivery content becomes available, something’s got to make up the difference for stores. Often, it’s tech sales.
How do you compete with off-campus retailers?
There’s been a lot of talk about that lately. It used to be that educational pricing gave campus stores an edge. However, since Apple® opened its product to large national retailers, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete. Those stores can sometimes offer tech for prices lower than ours, even with our educational discount.
What we have is school loyalty. Students want to support their institution. When I’m talking to a student in the store and they ask why they shouldn’t buy a certain computer online for $100 less, I say, “You want to support your university.”
I tell them we can use our small profits to bring in work-study students, for instance.
How do you compete with an Apple Store nearby?
We can offer the Apple educational pricing to almost everyone at the university, and we advertise and market that all over the university. Apple allows us to do faculty and staff sales, so we get that word out to departments. Faculty and staff with children who are students try to buy from us, too. Plus, we offer our educational discount to alumni, which is something that not all campus Apple stores can do.
Another asset is that we provide trade-ins, just like the Apple Store, but we use a different company, so sometimes our prices are better.
Does it help to diversify tech inventory?
Yes. We offer tech at our store that students can’t buy within a walking distance. We have headphones, mobile speakers, PC laptops, and every adapter under the sun.
We’re talking about doing bundles next year. Those might include a pair of headphones, a mobile speaker, a backpack and an adapter.
No one else is going to have the Carnegie Mellon backpack.
Or the Carnegie Mellon USB that we throw in.
So, you recommend building school spirit into the products?
Yes. We have events where we give out a CMU heart decal for a laptop, for instance. Little things like that make a big difference.