Utilizing an online bookstore expands service, capacity and capabilities

As students desire more options, buying textbooks and materials on the web affords more convenience and savings potential

Bill Dampier, President & Chief Operating Officer at MBS Direct

When does an online bookstore make sense?
Most bookstores that are on campus are threatened by external competition. Students are already shopping around for the best value when acquiring their course materials. It has become more difficult to meet their expectations. Many want lower-cost alternatives to new and used, such as rental, digital and marketplace options. If textbook sales are steadily declining at the physical bookstore, institution leaders may want to look at replacing the location with an online bookstore. Or maybe it makes sense to expand spiritwear and convenience items in the physical store, and for the sake of space, margin and overhead, to move textbooks online. 

When it comes to choosing an online bookstore provider, what questions should administrators ask?
There are a lot of places to shop online today. Students are very savvy shoppers and look for the best price and value for the dollar, so providers should offer texts at multiple price points. Administrators should ask if it is possible for books to be available throughout the semester, not just at the beginning. Because students typically need books soon after they place an order, service at the provider should be robust and shipping processes as efficient as possible. 
Customer service is also a big piece. When students walk into a physical bookstore, it is easy for them to navigate where to go for help. Similarly, online bookstore providers should make it easy to get in touch if there are questions. Other specific inquiries could include: 

  • How do you handle the responsibility of providing course materials to our school’s students?
  • Can the online bookstore assist with HEOA reporting requirements?
  • What is your customer service philosophy? Is it 24/7? Is it multi-channel (voice, email, chat)? 
  • Do you offer buyback and/or guaranteed buyback? 
  • How do you intend to promote the online bookstore to faculty and students?

Is a campus less of a college or university without a physical bookstore?
This thought comes up for many administrators because for most campuses, the bookstore has always been central to the course material process. It is key to communicate that you will still be offering the same services of your bookstore and textbook department. In fact, the online bookstore has even greater capacity and capabilities.

How is the change from a physical to online bookstore optimally managed?
Communication with all campus stakeholders is critical to ensure the success of the online bookstore and the people who will be using it. Students will need to be informed about where to order, and everyone at the school, including the administration, will have a role in the success of the initial rollout. 

What are the unique benefits to having an online bookstore for the institution and students?

  1. Breadth of options: An online bookstore is able to offer more options at a variety of price points than a physical store. 
  2. Availability: With an online store, when a student needs something, they have access to purchasing it at any time throughout the length of the course.
  3. Resources and expertise: Online bookstore platform providers work with many institutions. They observe best practices and can serve in a consultative role for institution leaders. They can offer insight on course material technology options or ideas for curriculum.

For more information, please visit www.mbsdirect.net.

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