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Will Counter Service Become the New Normal?

Posted by Liz Schulte on 8/12/20 6:00 AM
Topics: college bookstore industry trends, campus bookstore retail, course material trends

Many college stores are making plans for fall amid uncertainty. While trying to plan for multiple scenarios, it is important to maximize the number of options available to students: a strong web presence with a responsive site, fast delivery, curbside pickup, and streamlined in-store pickup and purchasing. But how are stores streamlining in-store purchasing and keeping customers and employee safe? For many college stores, counter service is the answer.

Will Counter Service Become the New NormalCounter service can help stores maintain social distancing to protect customers and staff and add efficiency to the textbook purchasing process.

3 best practices for counter service

  1. Set a standard procedure for picking books
    When a student wants a book with multiple format options, how will you handle that? You could have the associates pick each option and then let students choose. Your associate could make the selection for them. Or, you can explain each of the book options to students before you pick the books. For example, if a book has a new, used, rental and digital version available, explain the different options and pick the student’s preferred format to save restocking time and still give students a choice.

    “Students come to the counter and give us their student ID. We pull up their courses and booklist, then we quickly explain new versus used books and optional versus required books. We always ask if they prefer new or used before we go to the shelf because we don’t want to bring a new and used copy. Sometimes, students have a class where there is a choice. For example, they may have to choose between five different novels. In that case, we talk to them first to see which one they would prefer,” Madison College Bookstore Manager Scott Heiman

    Also, since your staff is in charge of picking the books, you can save the store money by making sure associates choose the new books from MBS. Since new books from MBS are discounted, selling them first increases store margins. 

  2. Reconfigure your store for counter service
    To ensure customers have the space to socially distance in your store, you might need to reconfigure your store layout. Make sure there is enough space for students to line up six feet apart and space between the racks for students who might be browsing merchandise.

    “I had some funding sitting by for a rainy day. I always wanted to reconfigure our point-of-sale cash wrap area. I decided that the best route to protect our employees and students was to do counter service for textbooks. We are closing off the textbook area and moving four cash registers over there and installing plexiglass. We are also reconfiguring the floor space to allow for social distancing and make space for lines in the store. Students will be safe. We will be safe. And, we are providing that extra service for the students,” Jason Skiff, Manager, Southeast Technical College Bookstore “I like the new configuration of the store. Now students can just walk up and say ‘I need my books.’ We will pick them and ring them up right at the point-of-sale registers. We are also enhancing our online and pickup services. We will encourage students to order online books all summer long. They can either pick them up or have them shipped — we are offering free shipping this summer. Providing free shipping for students felt necessary. We might take a little hit on margin, but it is well worth it in the customer service aspect. Students appreciate it and it shows in sales. My summer sales are actually up when it comes to textbooks.”

    Read more about how Southeast Technical College Bookstore is preparing for the fall term.

  3. Keep traffic flow and social distancing in mind
    Limited store capacity might mean that it is better not to have lines in your store. If that is the case, counter service can still work for you. Just set a procedure for walk-in students that keeps the flow of traffic moving. You could ask students to make an appointment to pick up their materials or you can designate an outside area for students to wait for their order to be picked like the Delta College Bookstore does.

    “In the bookstore, we have two sets of double doors. We leave both sets wide open. We put rolling cash wraps in front of the doors and added plexiglass to them. We have been serving students right from the front doors of the bookstore. We offer different ways to serve our students. We run a website that students have been encouraged from day one to place their orders and have them shipped to their homes. We also work with several campus programs that help students. Many times, these programs aren’t able to provide free shipping and maybe students can’t afford to pay shipping costs. So, we turned back on the curbside or in-store pickup options,” Michael Williams, Auxiliary Services Operations Supervisor, Delta College Bookstore “Another issue is that some students don’t have a device and can’t place their order online. At the end of the spring term, a lot of devices were returned, and now we have incoming freshmen. Those freshmen don’t currently have devices, so we get a lot of students who still walk up to order their textbooks. When a student walks up we write down all the books they need and ask them to go to a central area of campus about fifty feet from the front of the bookstore to wait in the open area where they can maintain social distancing. We give them a time to come back and we have their books ready and waiting for them. This helps prevent any gatherings in front of the store.”

    Read more about how Delta College Bookstore has prepared to serve students this fall.


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