Preparing for the fall term was not an easy feat. Shocker Stores Director Andi Stipp at Wichita State University has been working since the COVID-19 outbreak to make contingency plans. When her school announced they would return to campus for fall, Ms. Stipp knew the next step her store needed to take was to minimize in-store rush traffic as much as possible.
“We had about 50 million plans. Once the university announced that classes would be on campus, we had to figure out what we could do to eliminate large quantities of people coming into the store and congregating in lines during rush. That was our first tactic,” Stipp said. “We have about 1,200 students in the dorms. Dorm delivery was the perfect way to serve that load of students who would typically come into our store during rush without them having to step foot inside.
“We typically have a large international student population. We knew there was a chance that some of these students would have to be in isolation for a period of time. Dorm delivery gave us an opportunity to provide a service to students without putting anyone at risk,” Stipp said. “We worked with Housing and Residence Life (HRL) on campus to make this happen. When we approached them about helping us initiate dorm delivery, they said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s make it easier for our students who are going to be adjusting to college and to being away from home during a pandemic.’ We really thought about how we could help reduce student stress. So, we partnered with them (HRL), and they were great to work with.”
Streamlining textbook fulfillment
Ms. Stipp and her team worked to streamline their dorm delivery process so it would be easy to execute during a busy time of year.
“We packed everything up into boxes and created a color-coding system based on what dorm the student was in. We used bingo dots to stamp the boxes and then Housing and Residence Life shared a list with us containing student names, the dorm and the room or suite number. When a student placed an order and requested dorm delivery, we would color code the box for the dorm name, so we knew at a glance where it was going. We wrote the student’s room number and last name on the box,” Stipp said. “In addition to partnering with Housing and Residence Life, we also partnered with the transition mentors. These are students who usually conduct campus tours during orientation and help new students navigate campus during the first week. They delivered the boxes to the dorm rooms. It was just quick and easy.”
Students were able to take advantage of this new delivery option starting on July 15, 2020 which coincided with opening fall ordering.
“When the dorm option came up, it was a quick and easy way for us to control our inventory. We offered delivery from July 15 until July 31. It gave us time prior to move in week to process all the orders and get them to Housing and Residence Life,” Stipp said. “It went well. We didn’t have the numbers that we thought we would. But the next week, we ran free shipping. So, if we missed students in that initial timeframe, they could still get free shipping and have their books in the dorms when they moved in.
“We did have quite a few students take advantage of dorm delivery, but not as many as we thought we would. The school didn’t have any orientations on campus this summer. Everything was virtual. The biggest virtual orientation was that last week of dorm delivery — which was our biggest week for the service,” Stipp said. “I do think we will continue. Just because it helps lighten the load for our staff order processing wise.”
Increasing online orders and adding efficiency
Since the start of the pandemic the store saw an increase in online orders. This trend carried into the fall.
“Our online in-store order pickup always drives a ton of our back-to-school rush traffic. It has increased dramatically over the last five to seven years. We were jam-packed with web order pick up areas because of the sheer volume of web orders we were getting on a daily basis,” Stipp said. “We use MBS inSite and are always making little tweaks to what we do to improve efficiency. We heavily rely on the mobile order processing tool to scan our books to ensure we are giving customers the right books and there are fewer issues on the back end. The pickup utility has been phenomenal for us in terms of quick, accurate answers for customers. So, if a student comes in and says they didn’t get a book or didn’t pick up their box, we can pull it up easily on inSite without having to go through all the signed slips.”
Another way the store helped alleviate some of the in-store traffic was by setting up counter service.
“We’ve always had an open textbook department where students would get their own books. This semester we did more of a counter service type thing. Students came up to a table with their schedule out. They could come back with the associate or just say what they wanted and their new or used preference. We had a quicker turn rate with assisting customers,” Stipp said. “We had less issues with improper books being sold and didn’t have to worry about loss. We were able to answer the student questions more effectively and efficiently. Just that one-on-one conversation with students meant we could share our knowledge while moving people through the store faster with fewer long lines. We set up a laptop to refer to the website with pricing information based on CRNs. It was easy. It flowed really well. We are going to continue this moving forward.”
Bringing innovative changes to the college store
Ms. Stipp was able to work with other campus departments and make some innovative changes in the store to ensure that they could continue to serve students no matter what challenges came up. Her advice for other stores looking to start a similar program is to start planning early and look for help on campus.
“Find your partners on campus to help assist with the workload. Communicate and be open to feedback from them as well. And then run with your plan with the flexibility to always change.”
As far as getting the word out to students about any new programs they bookstore has, the best method of communication for the Shocker Store has been some more traditional routes.
“I think COVID makes communication difficult. People are getting information overload. It helped that Housing and Residence Life sent information out in their emails and posted on social media about our dorm delivery. We did it as well. We also spoke about it in Townhall meetings with students and parents and during orientation. Just the reminder to the parents and receiving information in the student’s welcome packet with the COVID move-in protocols all helped. It made getting your books part of moving to campus,” Stipp said. “It is hard to tell exactly what works because we don’t have a way to track it, but I think that this targeted messaging worked well. This semester unlike any other, we have had more sell through with books than we have in years. Also, we plugged information about books differently than ever before. We were able to talk about our store’s process with quarantining books and making sure the students are safe.”