Back-to-college spending is projected to hit a record high of $55.3 billion in 2018—and 61 percent of families plan to shop at campus bookstores. How does Barnes & Noble College ensure that the merchandise these customers see in store is in demand and on trend?
It’s simple: the merchandising team works year-round to stay on top of the latest trends in retail as well as the preferences of each unique campus community. With deep insights and understanding—and in partnership with local store managers—each store gets the right assortment of merchandise at the right time for the right customer audiences. Here’s a look at how they make it happen.
Barnes & Noble College has an ongoing, collaborative relationship with Fast Forward, a globally-recognized trend service. Fast Forward provides the general merchandise (GM) team with tremendous insights on where consumers and the college demographic are going over the next 18 months to two years. These insights cover a wide breadth of trends, not just focused on fashion and style, but also on related areas like social media. Throughout the year, Fast Forward also helps to assess new ideas and innovations, as well as drill down into trend and color stories. Across the board, the partnership keeps the team well prepared for what’s ahead.
The GM team also takes a hands-on approach to uncovering the latest and greatest in retail. They attend a number of trade shows to closely keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening and how product is changing. In addition, the team and top designers at Barnes & Noble College’s largest vendor partners are constantly trend shopping in retail stores they’ve determined stay ahead of the curve.
“Trend shopping is one of many ways we work closely with our vendor partners,” says Joel Friedman, Chief Merchandising Officer for Barnes & Noble College. “We stopped being line buyers of what vendors offer in their product lines a long time ago. Instead, we’re curating the merchandise assortments that reflect both the broad trends we’ve identified and what our customers tell us they want to see. Our vendor partners have to be great listeners. They need to hear us and understand our needs and desires, so their design teams can develop and bring to market exactly what we and our customers are asking for.”
The Barnes & Noble College Insightssm platform taps into the perspective of thousands of students, parents, alumni and faculty nationwide to identify what they want in apparel and other school-spirit merchandise products. Last year, it conducted more than 57 research studies and 100 quick polls to help shape retail strategies and programs.
The GM team takes this research, along with results from the company’s merchandise data analytics, and relevant trend insights, and distills all information into curating the right merchandise mix for each campus. Store managers play a key role in making buying decisions, with the ability to choose colors, silhouettes, sizes and graphics that their customers want and buy. The focus always is on what’s happening today — and what’s coming next.
“We’re not historians. So many retailers worry about what they did and what they sold last year,” says Friedman. “We’re more interested in what we’re selling now, where that’s taking us and where we need to go. That’s what keeps us on trend — and ahead of trend.”