Keeping Ahead of the Crucial Six Seconds in Retailing

June 25, 2012
The expansive snack and convenience section at the Northern Virginia Community College Annandale Campus Bookstore.


The hallmark of any successful retailer is the ability to understand what customers want and what they’ll want next. It’s a discipline Barnes & Noble College has applied to its food and convenience sector with great success. “The objective with our consumable business is to create an everyday destination for our students and faculty,” explains Director of Cafe and Convenience, Lisa Shapiro. “Whether it’s the convenience to drop in and grab something on the run or stop for lunch or a snack, we want them to come in and we want them to understand we can offer a wide variety of product options,” she adds. Determining just how those product options are selected in relation to the latest trends in consumer tastes is something Barnes & Noble College understands very well.

Decoding Trends and Buying Habits

The ‘that’s so six seconds ago’ mentality powering much of youth culture applies equally to retailing and catering. To an enviable demographic of 18-24 year olds, Shapiro and her team are constantly mapping new emerging trends. “It’s important for us to step outside of our own stores to see what’s trending online, in the media, at trade shows and to keep on top of those trends,” she says. Understanding those opportunities and how they relate to student buying behavior is also crucial, as Shapiro explains.

“Our customers are very influenced by fashion, yet retro candies sell well because they represent an old favorite they may have grown up with,” she says adding, “dietary trends such as vegan and gluten free items enjoy niche success in the stores, yet they need to exist alongside mainstream items such as candy bars and chips.”

Fresh grab-and-go selections for hungry students on the run.

What’s New, What’s Different

The kinds of trends Shapiro currently sees developing in her stores include natural and organic products, and ethnic influences such as Asian and Indian foods. “You’ll also see specific categories like energy – in beverages and in other formats – and items that support a socially responsible message continuing to grow,” she adds.  Exactly what is trending varies not only from region to region but from store to store. A dormitory campus, for example, might see stronger demand for grocery items that wouldn’t sell in a community college setting. How new products are introduced into the stores may also differ.

“Students are all about trends and all about new, so it’s important to keep our offerings fresh and judge the right time to introduce them and when to exit out,” Shapiro adds.

For many students living away from home, the campus may be the first time they’re making their own product choices. “As adults, we start making our own purchasing decisions during school and college,” Shapiro points out. “And as those buying habits develop, it’s crucial for us to continue to understand them to keep meeting our customers’ expectations.”

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