“There’s always that stigma of the bookstore trying to gouge the student,” said Aztec Shops’ Campus Stores Division Director Kathy Brown. Establishing customer trust has been key to the San Diego State University college store’s success.
The SDSU Bookstore earns student loyalty in a tough market with competitive pricing, selective merchandise and customer service focused on providing unparalleled shopping experiences.
“You know everybody thinks of the bookstore as textbooks, but I think what we offer that Amazon doesn’t offer online is the customer service,” said Brown. “And if we can establish the relationships with the students so they do trust us, that carries over to our general merchandise section or our computer department. When you buy online, it’s not necessarily a personal transaction. We offer that in-store.”
A new look
The Aztec Shops bookstore has responded proactively to competition from eCommerce with changes to its merchandise. It hired a new buyer, who stocked shelves with high-end items that give the store a polished look and inspire sales. Although the store continues to sell staples like logoed t-shirts and mugs, it also appeals to college women searching for fashionable gifts and upmarket accessories.
It recently installed a Free People clothing shop and carries a collection of Kate Spade bags and purses.
“Kate Spade we do really well with,” said Brown. “We’re changing the face of what the bookstore looks like and it’s working.”
The SDSU Bookstore also makes use of students’ social media savvy when it comes to marketing. In one instance, it set up a Snapchat geofilter that enticed customers during orientation.
“Our marketing team does things like that all time. We are very active on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook,” Brown said. “The students that work in the marketing department are really an integral part of that, because they’re so familiar with all those sites.”
The Aztecnology experience
The Aztec Shops bookstore also appeals to SDSU students’ search for fun. A few years ago, it invested in a set of gaming chairs, where visitors can indulge in surround-sound YouTube™-watching and gaming.
To use the chairs, students ask an “Aztecnologist” in the “Aztecnology” department if they can experience the experience. Then they receive a remote or a Playstation© controller and take a seat in front of a 75-inch TV.
The high-tech thrones vibrate in sync with on-screen action. Shoot a gun; the chair registers kick-back. Blow up a competitor; aftershocks zing through your body. Students have said it’s like wearing a virtual reality helmet.
“We sign out the remote controls because we have such a waiting list now. The seats vibrate with the game,” said Brown. “That’s been really popular.
Sales prerogatives didn’t drive the decision to invest in the chairs. Rather, the move was a gesture intended to establish trust with customers. The director and associates were looking to form lasting relationships with students.
“We just wanted to get the students in the store — not because we wanted them to buy something, but so they have somewhere to go,” said Brown. “So, if they do in the future need something, they can trust us and come to us and know that we’re here to support them.”
A similar relationship-focused outlook applies to the Aztec wholesale partnership. Long-term bonds facilitate trust that keeps the SDSU Bookstore returning to MBS Wholesale amid changes in the market.
“We have established a relationship with our current MBS Wholesale rep, Cathy Slane,” said Brown. “We really appreciate her honesty and her ways of trying to support us here, and I think that is extremely important when the market has changed. It’s nice to bounce ideas off of her.”
Both bookstore and wholesaler recognize the need to offer competitive pricing on textbooks. Saving students money shows the store’s goodwill, according to Brown. For the Aztec crew and MBS Wholesale, success starts with the heart.