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The More Things Change: How College Retail Hasn't Changed, Even When It Has

Posted by Dean Asher on 11/23/16 12:19 PM
Topics: retail management, retail technology, campus store

The college retail industry has changed significantly in the last few years. With the rise in big-box online retailers and shifts in technology, everything from marketing and advertising to inventory management and the title procurement process has evolved over the past decade. But that doesn't mean everything is different.

The More Things Change...

But that doesn’t mean everything is different. Your store’s goal to conveniently provide your students with quality course materials is unchanged after all these years. And though some of the ways you accomplish them certainly have changed, there are plenty of other timeless goals stores have today.

1. Serve your community

This one might be a no-brainer, but you’re still there to serve the school or community of which you’re a part. If students have the perception that you’re not there to help them, they won’t prioritize your services over your competitors’. Offering the most used titles possible, implementing rental and holding regular events for students can go a long way in that mission.

2. Analyze your data

Put in those words, it can certainly sound like a newer, digital-age practice. But understanding data like sales figures and using that information to inform business decisions is something smart retailers have been doing for years. Sure, it may have been easier for a Roman potter to realize his wares sell better on hot days when he sets up shop in the shade — he didn’t have the seemingly endless pool of sales data to sort through that you do — but that’s the exact same idea.

3. Source intelligently

Some sources of textbooks and services are better for your store and its needs than others. That’s a fact that will never change. You still need to source your items intelligently by finding partners who provide you with the best quality product or the most inventory in the class you desire. More used books or a more lucrative rental partner allowing the store to be more price competitive means more business from cost-savvy clientele, which is a big win for your store.

4. Provide competitive pricing

In some ways, consumer behaviors have changed a lot lately. People shop differently online or with smart phones than they do in store, and having instant access to your competitors’ prices in their pockets has changed the way your customers shop in store as well. But there is one hard-and-fast truth that has always been the case: students will buy from where they feel they get the most value.

5. Control costs with smart inventory management

Change is actually a good thing here. With the right tools, managing inventory has become easier than the days of manually checking stock with pencil and paper. Still, keeping on top of your inventory in a timely, intelligent and accurate manner can make sure your store stays adequately stocked with the course materials you need. This goes a long way in keeping costs down, and keeping your shelves full of the titles students need.

6. Use aordable, useful technology built for bookstores

There was a time where that meant having a long-distance phone line or a toll-free hotline, or putting a scannable barcode on a book. Those days are long gone, but keeping up-to-date on the latest technological trends is as important now as when those were cutting edge. Using tools like business intelligence, automatic inventory and accounting applications manage your inventory and cut costs across the board, leaving you with more savings to pass onto students and more manpower to focus toward customer service.

7. Reach customers wherever they are

When a customer walks in the store, you know it’s important to greet them, make them feel welcome and meet their needs. Technology like smartphones and social media enable customers to “walk into your store” from all over the world, but that same mindset needs to apply. You need to have a welcoming, intuitive and functional web presence optimized for any mobile or web-based device that welcomes customers into your store. Your marketing also needs to be far-reaching — students need to be courted even before they consider shopping at your store, or else they’ll go with competition. Finding a partner that produces sharp, versatile marketing materials and develop plans to implement them in store and on social media is a big needle mover for your bottom line.

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