As student expectations for convenience continue to evolve, so must college stores. Changes to the way course materials are handled and delivered have a big impact on the overall student experience with your bookstore. Recently, we sat down with the Associate Director of Kennesaw State University Bookstore Kimberly Holland to discuss the changes the store made to its course material distribution and how it benefits the students.
Tell me a little about how your store changed course material delivery to enhance the student customer experience.
For online orders, we now offer students five different locations where they can pick up their textbooks. We have one located in a dorm location, one on our Marietta campus and one in our Continuing Education Center. The location in the Continuing Education Center is nice because students can just pop in there and pick up their books really easily. They don’t have to worry about finding parking or paying for parking.
On top of the pickup locations, we do free shipping on course materials. Typically, we always run the free shipping at the beginning of the semester. On move-in weekend during the fall semester, we actually did 10 percent off of textbooks. That is the discount we give faculty and staff, but that weekend we offered it to students as well. We also run a pretty big initiative that offers students money off of textbooks when they purchase an Apple® computer at the beginning of the semester. They get $50-$100 off of their textbooks, which they like. We have pretty strong Apple computer sales, so it is a good promotion.
How have changes in the way students buy course materials influenced your approach?
We have seen a pretty significant increase in online web order sales. Because of that, we have actually opened up a warehouse for order fulfillment, so we don’t do it in store. That way the employees running around with the carts on the floor fulfilling web orders are no longer in the store, which improves students’ in-store experience. Students don’t have to wait for someone to finish pulling an order to help them or try to maneuver around the web order carts. It also enhances the online shopping experience, because it reduces the picking time when those employees don’t have to stop and help customers. Not that it is a bad thing to help customers, but now those employees can better focus on picking, pulling and processing orders.
What led to the change?
It was really about improving the in-store and online experience for students. You could see how crazy things could get and how long the lines could be in the store. Even though the line moves pretty quickly, it could still get pretty daunting. We were able to speed up the online ordering process and fill more orders in less time. We also started doing online fulfillment off-site to start downsizing our textbook department in preparation for a possible bookstore remodel that would decrease its physical size and bring in more student-focused departments, such as career services.
How have the students responded?
There were some growing pains in the fall semester, but I think students are starting to understand it better as well as the bookstore staff. More students are choosing other pickup locations. I think they like having that choice instead of only being able to get books at the store or having them shipped to their house.
We thought with the five different locations, that we might not get much traffic. We went in thinking maybe a dozen students to begin with, but we blew it out of the water. We had around 100 students pick up at other locations. It was pretty exciting to see. We are looking at possibly adding a second dorm location for the upcoming fall semester.
Has this benefited the store?
I think so. I think it has definitely made things better for the student customers, and that’s what we want. That’s what we’re here for.
What advice would you give stores wanting to start a similar program?
Just take your time and be patient. As you are trying to change processes and work on trying to acquire another location, the project may not hit all the deadlines that you want. So just be patient and kind of roll with the punches. Be ready to change your plan. I think we are all used to that in this business. We have to change with the times.