Since University Store at Towson University began their rental program two years ago, Stacy Elofir, director, has been strategizing ways that the store could offer their entire inventory for rent. Dedicated to offering students the best value, Elofir was determined to make the idea both financially and logistically feasible for the store.
“I spoke with Jason Lorgan, director of UC Davis Stores, and he compared only having certain titles for rent to going into a grocery store with a list of items and only being able to find half of what you need there,” she explained. “Would you shop there? I probably wouldn’t. That visual really stuck with me; it just doesn’t make sense to pick and choose what we’re going to offer as rentals, we should give students the option on every title.”
This fall, Elofir made her goal a reality and offered just fewer than 4,000 titles for rent.
“Having every option open to our students takes the question of ‘is this a rental title?’ out of the equation,” she said. “Students always think they can get a cheaper price elsewhere, but now, they don’t have to wonder. We have every option in front of them for every title, so they can see that we’re competitive; it’s been very effective.”
This semester alone, the store has rented 21,000 units (compared to 15,000 last term) and has seen a 55% increase in dollars spent on rentals alone. In fact, the store has also seen increased sell-through rates as a result.
“It actually stimulates more spending because if students don’t have to run around to get everything on their list, then they’re most likely to purchase all of their books from you,” she added.
The only exception to the stores all encompassing program, is a select group of custom textbooks.
“It equates to less than half of a percent,” she explained. “We’re renting virtually everything we have.”
To promote the new option to students, Elofir and her staff created a campaign based on popular trends.
“Some of them were funny ads styled after someecards, others featured superheroes such as batman and wonder woman; we wanted to keep them catchy and silly,” she said. “They turned out very cute.”
The ads were featured through a variety of channels including electronic sign boards, in-store posters, and their display window. The most successful strategy University Store found for selling rentals, however, was shelf-talkers.
“It’s all about transparency,” she said. “Students want to compare prices and having them right in front of them was a huge help. We also offer price comparison on our inSite page, which has been very effective for web orders.”
Because the MBS system prompts cashiers to ask students whether they’d like to rent or buy a title at the register, University Store staff were able to have a one-on-one conversation with each student about the new offering, as well.
“That personal interaction is so important,” she added.
Although every rental price is not always the best value, Elofir stresses that the key factor is leaving the decision up to the student.
“Sometimes, the used book is actually the better option, but they expect the opportunity to choose what’s most beneficial to them,” she described. “It’s all about offering the best service to our students; that’s why I did this.”
Because of that motivation, she wasn’t surprised when she didn’t receive much feedback on the new program.
“Students expect ease, choice and transparency in their shopping experience and, if I can give that to them, then it builds the business,” she stressed. “In my opinion, no feedback is a really good thing. My job is not to anticipate kudos, but rather to deliver service that’s beyond students’ expectations.”
Despite the fact that students haven’t been vocal about the program, faculty and administration are impressed with the store’s ability to provide it.
“They’re honestly surprised that we can do it without asking for a commitment on a textbook from them,” she said. “But, I did two years worth of research before I began this and realized that 80% of our titles are reused from semester to semester, so it’s not worth it for me to chase down faculty members and force them to sign a contract; there was no need to add that extra layer.”
Along with the obvious benefits for students, the process has simplified rentals for the store, too.
“It’s easier to designate all titles as rental in the beginning, when you get your adoptions, then to go in and flag certain ones later,” she said.
To stores who are still on the fence about rental, Elofir emphasized the importance of beginning a program.
“If you’re not doing it, then you need to be!” she advised. “It’s a buzzword right now and it’s what students expect. If you’re not a part of that, your students will notice. It’s important to understand your campus, administration, store and students in order to know what you can do to make a difference and how you make it a reality.”