Providing a personalized shopping experience is dependent upon knowing individual customer’s needs in order to make their experience as easy and convenient as possible. A case in point are the new websites that Barnes & Noble College has recently developed to provide access and ease-of-use to particular sectors of the campus community. “We were looking at alumni and athletics fans, in particular,” explains Carol Alves, Barnes & Noble College’s Manager of Consumer Marketing. “If they’re looking for school spirit apparel, they’re more likely to connect through the bookstore website, but they might be less familiar with navigating the site than current students who are engaging with it on a day-to-day basis,” she adds.
Surveying athletics departments and alumni organizations revealed that the general bookstore site, with its prominent display of textbooks and school supplies, might have less appeal for those groups when looking only for school apparel and merchandise. That research has led Barnes & Noble College to create True Spirit fan sites — alumni and athletics focused virtual stores that specifically speak to the alumni sports fan and help capture the excitement of their college’s athletic brand.
The development is no small thing to a school like William & Mary, whose athletic program supports 23 Division I teams. “The bookstore is a great partner for helping us expand our brand and spread the spirit of William and Mary,” says Spencer Milne, Assistant Athletics Director for Marketing, Promotions & Ticket Services for William & Mary. “We have a dual relationship with the bookstore, not only as a sponsor of our athletics department, selling merchandise at our sporting events, but also handling our online merchandise store,” he adds.
With its mission of supporting the school’s Tribe athletics program, Tribeshop.com links off of the William & Mary athletics website in a seamless connection, where sports apparel and branded merchandise is presented in a relevant and convenient virtual store. “An alumni customer is looking for a very different shopping experience,” explains William & Mary Bookstore General Manager, Cathy Pacheco. “You could imagine an alumni sports fan wanting to celebrate the school’s big win and having to navigate the bookstore site first. They’re not looking for notebooks or backpacks, and so this gives them a convenient way of accessing the products they want without having to navigate our general website,” she says.
While managed by the William & Mary Bookstore, the Tribe Shop fan site is designed to function seamlessly as a link from the William & Mary athletics site. It’s also where customers will receive their merchandise packed in Tribe-branded shipping boxes and packing tape. In addition to the fan merchandise, Pacheco notes that the Tribe Shop also supports the athletics site with news and information. “The general bookstore website might not have all the breaking information on the game — or other specific team information that a customer might want to enhance their buying decisions,” she says. “I love the flexibility we can offer. For example, if athletics is launching a special promotion, we can support that very easily and change the home page according to that special event,” she adds. That’s particularly true of the current $27 million renovation of the William & Mary football stadium this year. “We’re especially excited about using our sites and social media channels to really impact the fan experience with that news and provide many more opportunities for our fans to support us,” says William & Mary’s Milne.
At William & Mary, the importance of the school’s alumni base is crucial. “We have a very strong alumni following, and they’re always very passionate about supporting us,” Milne explains. “Athletics gives an outlet for people’s passions, and our Tribe Shop helps provide them with that very visual support of showing their school pride,” he adds.
And supporting the athletics mission of partner schools is a task to which Alves and her team are especially dedicated. “In addition to supporting student academic success, we’re committed to serving our schools’ athletics and alumni programs as well,” she says. “Whether it’s Division I or Division III, large universities or small colleges, Homecoming or special events — we’re committed to looking for ways to better enhance and support our campus partners’ needs in every way possible.”