November 15, 2016

The Future of the Campus Bookstore & How To Reinvent Your Store Now

Traditionally the campus bookstore has had stacks of books everywhere and was a bit drab or institutional. It’s really a place students visit a couple times a year to pick up the books they need, and for the most part, they don’t stick around.

The future of the campus bookstore is not in this institutional place that’s about getting the basics and getting out quickly.

The bookstore model itself is undergoing a dramatic shift and the campus bookstore is no exception. With giants such as Borders closing their doors, the rise of e-readers and Amazon dominating the industry, for bookstores to succeed, the model has to evolve.

While the campus bookstore is a slightly different scenario, the same concepts apply. It’s time for colleges and universities to reinvent their stores to stay relevant in order to appeal to a new generation of shoppers.

The latest generation of students has grown up in the digital age with devices of all kind, and they are completely open to different retail models.

To stay relevant, campus bookstores need to evolve so that this new generation will not only shop there, but actually treat the store as a destination. The alternative is losing customers to online and other, more modern and competitive, retailers.

Here are three ways to help you re-invent your campus bookstore and use it as an opportunity to build a strong revenue stream and customer base:

Become the Third Place

Coffee shops like Starbucks have coined the term “third place”, meaning the social surroundings other than the two usual environments of home (first place) and work (second place).

The idea behind the third place is that you need to entrench your place in the lives of your customers so you can stay competitive with not only retail that competes for their attention – but anything that claims their time and/or money. The rise of the third place has been driven by public wifi and is based on the idea of turning your retail location into a public and welcoming space.

Your campus store has the opportunity to become the third place by offering products outside the usual books and campus gear. This could by adding additional merchandise, creating a communal workspace or including a coffee bar.

The goal should be to create a space that draws students in and then encourages them to stay, hang out and spend regularly. A third place that they want to go to and consider part of their day-to-day routine.

Branding Your Bookstore Beyond Books

The days of being the campus “bookstore” are gone, and your students have higher expectations. A big part of that ability to connect with your students comes down to branding.

Branding for your campus bookstore starts with the name, look and feel of the space. A dull, institutional place isn’t going to capture anyone’s attention, while a bright, modern space with a fun name and memorable decor is going to better align with the needs of students.

Beyond the space itself, your store needs to look beyond the book at other products. This may be adding items that students need (especially if they live on campus) or items that fall more under “want” or that they simply find cool such as giftware, specialty food items or even curated collections of items that change seasonally.

At the heart of branding your bookstore is looking beyond books to create an experience for visitors.

Integrating Technology

The next generation of students has grown up with technology, so they are always looking for the latest and greatest device or tool to help them.

This means that your bookstore needs to do more than offer wifi and seek out ways to integrate technology into the store. This can be done in countless ways from making the store a destination for the hottest new device or gaming console, or providing a place for students to try out the latest tech for themselves.

Technology can also be leveraged by understanding how your students actually shop. For example, textbook sales have dropped on most campuses with more students turning to Amazon. As a store, you have the choice to try to fight this, or you can find ways to work with the habits of your students and treat it as a way to generate further revenue.

Many universities across the U.S. have actively partnered with Amazon to leverage the digital channel instead of fearing it. If your students are going to head to Amazon, why not make it work for you?

When thinking about technology for your campus store, you may want to look at ways to build your digital presence so that you can serve your students in-person, online or in some type of hybrid model.

The way the campus bookstore has traditionally been run is becoming less and less viable with a new generation of students on the way to our universities and colleges. To build revenue streams and a stable customer base, campuses need to embrace the future of retail and the needs of their students.

LHR Consultants has considerable experience working with institutions to modernize their campus retail. To discuss your specific needs, contact us for a free consultation at: [email protected].


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