For Students, Mobile Bridges Online and In-Store Experiences

November 20, 2017




Mobile represents an increasingly influential channel for all retailers — but for those who serve college students, it’s crucial. As digital natives, today’s students expect that they’ll be able to connect with brands whenever and wherever they want, but simply having a mobile presence is not enough. Brands must deliver a seamless, personalized experience across all channels, otherwise, savvy students will take their loyalty — and their spending power — elsewhere. Backed by new research on student shopping behaviors, Barnes & Noble College recently added fresh features to its mobile app to engage customers and customize content — online and in person.


Mobile and the Path to Purchase

Shoppers expect that they’ll be able to connect with brands and retailers via mobile, whether shopping on an ecommerce site or enjoying a more custom experience on a mobile app. Such expectations are heightened with Gen Z, which represents an increasing number of current and future college students. This age group views 62 percent more pages during a browsing session than other demographics, according to a recent Content Square study. They also convert about twice as much on mobile.


However, the value of mobile is still deeply interconnected with other channels. Forrester reports that in 2016, sales from mobile phones alone topped $60 billion, but they also influenced more than $1.05 trillion in offline sales. These findings complement insights from “Path to Purchase,” part of Barnes & Noble College’s Future of Retail study series, which examines college student shopping behaviors. While mobile orders continue to increase each year, the physical store still matters to college students: 89 percent prefer in-store shopping for the ability to see and touch the products they’re buying. It’s not surprising, then, that one of every two students uses an omni-channel approach to shopping. The time they spend browsing may lead to an online purchase, or it might serve as research — 35 percent stated they browse online and buy in store. Retailers need to offer a consistent cross-channel experience to ensure they have the broadest reach.


Mobile App that Bridge the Marketing Gaps

Mobile apps offer retailers a space to foster a stronger connection between their online presence and brick-and-mortar locations. Barnes & Noble College’s mobile app is highly customized, not just to each school, but to each customer. Students can track all of their orders within the app and receive personal reminders for their rented course materials. However, the most popular feature remains the first thing customers see when they open the app: the promotional feed with exclusive offers tailored to their personal interests and history. These offers are designed to raise awareness and drive in-store traffic, which they do very successfully — more than 80 percent of offers redeemed are redeemed in store.


“Mobile really bridges that gap between the digital experience and the in-store experience,” says Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Consumer Marketing, Tamara Vostok. “Through mobile, we can engage them, communicate with them in a very personal way and incentivize them to come and enjoy the in-store experience.”


What’s New?

The latest updates to Barnes & Noble College’s app build on this approach, offering even more personalization and merging aspects of the digital and in-store experiences.


Geotargeting. Users will receive relevant, exclusive offers based on their location, driving traffic to the bookstore. This feature is already in the test phase, but will be rolling out to more locations throughout the year.
In-app loyalty program. Bookstores with cafés have been offering loyalty programs to customers, using a printed card to track purchases. After nine coffee purchases, the tenth is complimentary. Starting this month, the loyalty program will be managed in the app. This program lays the foundation for tracking other types of purchases in store — and future loyalty programs.
Improved ordering functionality. If a book is out of stock, students can scan the barcode on the shelf and complete their purchase in the app, with no forms and no waiting in line. They can choose to ship or free pick up in-store.


As the holiday shopping season kicks off, it’s more important than ever for retailers to deliver a consistent, customized omni-channel experience. Black Friday 2016 was the first retail holiday to top $1 billion in revenue specifically from mobile devices. Optimizing the mobile experience to encourage online and in-app purchases, as well as drive in-store traffic, will help retailers boost sales across all channels.



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