Colleges and universities routinely seek out new ways to improve their campus stores, creating greater value for students and generating more revenue for the school. However, not every school wants or is ready to undertake a larger-scale initiative that can spur change — such as a major facility renovation.
Fortunately, while expensive overhauls can represent exciting opportunities, they are far from the only way to transform your campus store. Other aspects of your operations can significantly impact the experiences you can deliver and revenue you can generate. Here are three vital areas to consider:
Gen Z still wants the brick-and-mortar shopping experience — in fact, 89% of college students prefer to shop in store. The challenge for many stores is delivering the modern retail experience these savvy consumers seek — which doesn’t always mean starting from scratch with the facility. It does mean saying goodbye to outdated store design, such as the crowded racks and overflowing tables that only inspire students to keep walking. Instead, stores need to take a lifestyle approach, creating engaging displays that showcase how merchandise from across the store works together and fits within customers’ daily lives.
Barnes & Noble College began rolling out its All Things College lifestyle initiative in 2019, featuring vibrant display pods that highlight key trends, timely events or in-demand brands. Customized to each campus, the eye-catching displays are designed to invite discovery and further exploration in the store. They also help campus stores stand out from the competition. Tori Sage, the campus store manager at Texas Tech University, described the retail environment as particularly competitive for general merchandise (GM); four competitors do business right across the street. “All Things College helps set us apart,” Sage said. “With these lifestyle displays, we’re able to create an experience for customers that other retailers just aren’t trying.” Customers are showing their support at the register: in the program’s first year, stores participating in All Things College have been trending an average of 3.6% higher in sales above stores that are not participating.
Another way Barnes & Noble College drives store success is with targeted, insights-driven marketing. A dedicated marketing team works hand in hand with campus partners to promote everything from sales promotions to events tailored to the campus community. These efforts are driven by Barnes & Noble College’s proprietary Insights Platform of over 300,000 student voices. Research conducted nationally helps shape a broad market perspective, identifying and contextualizing the national trends that drive a better retail experience – and increased revenue. Barnes & Noble College also conducts research at the local level, supplementing the deep understanding of the campus community each store team develops. These insights ensure a level of customization that creates a sense of customer loyalty and ownership of their campus store.
Campus stores also need to align with the expectations of today’s customer and deliver better, more seamless experiences that are responsive in real time. Stores should be empowered to handle customer requests, issues and questions without getting caught up in unnecessary administrative hurdles, whether the store is self-operated or works with an external partner. Attending to these service details supports the campus store’s role as a helpful resource – and builds customer loyalty. It also reduces the store-related workload for administrators, freeing up time to focus on other priorities.
The Lenoir Community College campus store draws upon the centralized support offered by Barnes & Noble College, but it’s also empowered at the local level to serve customers and deliver a customized retail experience. This approach positively impacts customers and campus partners alike. “Barnes & Noble College has significantly limited the amount of time that I need to be actively involved in the operations of the bookstore,” said Deborah Sutton, Senior Vice President of Administrative Services and Chief Operating Officer. “Our store manager has the flexibility to make decisions regarding issues and questions…[BNC] provides excellent customer service.”
While many schools recognize the revenue-generating potential represented by GM, convenience and other retail categories, they may not be focused on ways to expand academic offerings beyond textbooks and standard course materials. However, multiple programs and departments within a school typically require students to purchase supplies, equipment and uniforms. It often falls to faculty and staff to facilitate the order process — or students are left to their own devices. The campus store has an opportunity to identify and work with these programs and departments to create custom packages available through the store, streamlining the process, saving hassle and generating sales.
Uncovering new opportunities requires continuous outreach and communication to learn what different constituents need. After transitioning operations to Barnes & Noble College, the campus store at Austin Peay State University began building new relationships across the school. The result: a number of new partnerships, including one with the School of Nursing. The store collaborated with faculty to offer a tailored assortment of scrubs, lab coats and nursing supplies to students. Other partnerships, ranging from the culinary arts and veterinary programs to visual arts and chemistry, also are underway or in the works.
Austin Peay’s campus store — which also took a lifestyle approach to store design and merchandising after the transition — garnered significant results. After several years of 4% to 7% year-over-year declines, sales were up year over year in the first two years with Barnes & Noble College. And, it achieved these numbers with the same store staff and without any major renovations.
Campus stores have a wide range of options for revitalizing their retail experience and sales, from smaller, more incremental ways to renovations and other large-scale updates. Barnes & Noble College empowers schools to uncover new options and to implement a refreshed approach toward merchandising, customer service and campus outreach.