When Barnes & Noble College launched Project 770 at the beginning of this year, the initiative was designed to be more than just a research opportunity. While providing vital information about the impact of the bookstore at each of the company’s over 770 stores, the data would be used as a conversation starter and method of developing stronger relationships on campus, providing more effective support for both students and schools.
At the front line of student interactions, campus store managers anticipated some of the study’s top-level findings: students consistently ranked discounts, free promotions and more store events at the top of their bookstore wish lists. “Its value to us was confirmation of some of the things on campus that we were already aware of,” says Jessica Miller, Manager at the Muskingum University Bookstore. A key finding at her campus was the influence of the school’s faculty and the belief that their bookstore wasn’t competitive on pricing. “It was an opportunity for us to address one of the more troubling statistics we found from our Project 770 report: 65 percent of our students just don’t get their textbooks, period,” she says.
Miller believes that faculty disintermediation and insufficient sourcing information contributed to students being less prepared for class and led her to present the survey findings to the Dean of Faculty. “It was an opportunity for me to inform him about what was happening on our campus and make it easier for faculty to recommend us, their campus bookstore, as their best resource,” she explains. As a result of that conversation, the school now shares its faculty’s syllabi with the bookstore, enabling Miller and her team to offer approved course materials sooner and identify departments or professors who have not yet submitted their textbook adoptions.
At Sam Houston State University, store manager Holly Tickner found a similar situation on her campus. Presenting her Project 770 findings at her school’s year-in-review meeting, she helped develop greater awareness of the bookstore’s many programs to a wider population of campus stakeholders. Lynn Clopton, Director of Student Services, Finance and Budget at Sam Houston State University, was surprised that knowledge of cost-saving initiatives such as Price Match weren’t more widespread on her campus. “We have that Bearcat spirit here — an engaging culture from the top down — and as I work closely with our store, I know the fantastic job they do of making course materials as affordable as possible, so I was surprised that our students weren’t more aware of cost-saving opportunities such as Price Match,” Clopton says. “It’s something I’m now mentioning in every meeting I go to and every presentation I give. We have a one-stop resource in our bookstore that can really help our students’ efforts to find affordable course materials.”
Another priority for Clopton is spreading awareness to the school’s population of first-generation students, who account for half of the school’s student body. “We have so many first-generation students, and typically there is going to be a greater level of parental involvement, so it’s even more important to build awareness of all the pricing options we provide,” she explains.
At the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Bookstore Manager Cheryl Griffith-Kline faced similar awareness challenges. “What startled me about our report was the number of professors who didn’t know about our Price Match program,” she says. UNC Charlotte’s Project 770 report also revealed that 62 percent of students approached professors first before purchasing their textbooks, highlighting the influence faculty have on the sourcing of course materials. “We’re reaching out to faculty over a wide range of channels,” says Griffith-Kline, “and anytime there’s a question about pricing a book, we’re now making sure they understand all of our cost-savings options — everything from price matching to textbook rentals.”
Together with increased signage and merchandising in the bookstore, that outreach is seeing results. Griffith-Kline reports more students used the bookstore’s cost-saving programs for this year’s back-to-school.
At Muskingum University, Miller sees the potential for expanding Project 770 surveys. “To have the information presented in this way, with detailed analytics, has been incredibly valuable,” she says. “We do smaller surveys all the time at the store, but I’d love to see it expand to more of our campus — and be even more reflective of the student body.”
Sam Houston State’s Tickner agrees. “Our report gave me an opportunity to have conversations with campus departments and individuals I wouldn’t see on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “Not everyone knows the breadth of services the bookstore provides — everything from DeStress Fest events to Price Matching — and Project 770 is providing another opportunity to spread awareness for those kinds of services to more people on campus.”
Clopton also supports the expansion of Project 770 and sees the potential for using campus-specific analytics to drive student success. “As we roll out our new First Day initiative, for example, if we can see collaboration of a store survey with the analytics that we gather here, that can really help us better understand our students’ retention and graduation rates — and more ways we can help support their success.”