“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born,” quipped visionary computer scientist Alan Kay. Yet the college cohort might argue that technology helped define Generation Z, with home computers already mainstreamed when they were born and smart phones becoming de rigueur during their middle and high school years.
But while today’s college students may be as familiar with high-tech gear as take-out pizza, even they need some guidance on what’s available to best fit their needs. That’s where Barnes & Noble College campus bookstores come in, supporting students as they navigate the complex world of tech offerings, both to be used for academics and to help grow school social connections. For many students, this is the first time they’ve purchased such equipment on their own. “Even if students have used a device before, they may not have been the ones making the purchase decisions,” explains Erin Lenihan, Consumer Marketing Project Manager for Barnes & Noble College. “They may not know the ins and outs of technological differences. That’s where we can help.”
While products vary from store to store, college bookstores offer a range of laptops, tablets and accessories, from extension cords with built-in USB outlets and surge protectors to wireless keyboards and Bluetooth speakers. “We know that students want information at their fingertips,” Lenihan says. “In this day and age, they’re used to having an answer to things quickly.”
While they may need support in understanding the details, Gen Zs know what they want when it comes to technology. In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in tablets, which are convenient to carry to class. “And now that you can add a keyboard, even more so,” Lenihan says.
That growth in tablets is reflected in the estimated $8.5 billion in sales of the popular piece of hardware, and nowhere is that trend more prominent than in the nation’s colleges and universities. That kind of demand is being met with a wide range of manufacturers, from HP, Asus, and Samsung, being offered at Barnes & Noble College campus bookstores.
In addition to Bluetooth audio and two-in-one computers — convertible tablets/laptops — managers find students asking more and more for external hard drives. “Students want to save all of their content to one place,” explains Lisa Mazzio, Director of General Merchandise, Hard Goods. “All of these have been incorporated in our stores for this fall,” she adds.
Some bookstores have gone one step further and created bundles for students, selling computers, tablets, and printers as a package. “It helps the store move the product, but also helps students purchase everything they need at once,” Lenihan explains. “We’re hearing some really great success stories from our store managers.”
This is all part of Barnes & Noble College’s educational approach, helping students understand their own distinct needs, which can vary by major or interest. “If you’re constantly checking in on social media or if you multi-task frequently, you’ll likely want more RAM, but if you’re a video editor and have huge files, you may require a faster processor,” Lenihan explains. “We break this all down with informative marketing materials for our students.”
Signage has been developed to explain concepts such as speed processing, helping clarify key aspects of the products offered in stores. For example, with portable chargers — a big draw for students — a bookstore initiative called ‘Power and Connect’ helps students understand their own phone-charging needs.
“Our booksellers and students aren’t so familiar with capacity (mAH), so we created a special sign package that was sent to stores for Fall Rush,” says Mazzio, who saw portable power chargers in a variety of colors and mAh capacities at this year’s International Consumer Electronics (CES) Show and brought them into stores for fall. “We’re also spelling out more elements about our hardware devices, such as MFi, which is a new term for our booksellers,” she says. MFi, which stands for ‘Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad,’ denotes that a product is 100 percent compatible with iDevices. Found on the boxes of Lightning Charge and Sync cables, headphones, speakers, and other products, the MFi logo is certified by Apple. “It’s reassurance that the end user can expect quality, performance and reliability,” Mazzio adds.
The push for information also extends to the company’s student blog, The College Juice, which recently ran an article about school supplies with an upgrade, from slim graphing calculators with high-res, full-color screens to a Livescribe pen that uses Bluetooth technology to transfer handwritten notes directly to an app on a phone or tablet. “The article has generated a lot of traffic,” reports Barnes & Noble College Social Media Specialist Sandra Webb. “We’ve found that our students really crave information. It’s no longer good enough to simply offer products in the store. It’s also important to offer information about what it is they are buying and what works best for them.”
In addition to social media sites and its blog, a new bookstore mobile app is also gaining traction. With more than three-quarters of college students owning a smartphone, the app plays into Barnes & Noble College’s digital and high-tech focus. “This generation wants information on their phones,” Lenihan says. “This is how they grew up — and now they’re coming to college. They want everything at their fingertips, so we found a way to give them what they want — and the guidance to buy exactly what they need.”