The fate of the on-campus bookstore
Learn how developing a hybrid bookstore model addresses changing market dynamics
The on-campus bookstore has long been a centerpiece of the institution for students, parents, faculty, and alumni. Not only a place to purchase things like course materials and school-branded memorabilia, the campus bookstore also serves as a social hub and community resource.
Yet changing market dynamics and shifting education models are causing schools to rethink their store’s overall role. More students are shopping online for textbooks and other course materials, and as a result, some campus stores are experiencing declining course materials revenue, despite overhead and operational costs remaining constant.
While it’s extremely challenging for on-campus bookstores to compete with online pricing given the store’s operational costs, schools are questioning if, in fact, course materials need to be part of their on-campus inventory. Many schools are reimagining what the bookstore can be and finding that they can repurpose their stores for other student services so it still remains a social hub.
For price-conscious students, who are likely a significant piece of the student population, affordability is high on their list. In fact, of the students who don’t purchase at least one of their assigned materials, 57 percent say it is due to price, according to the 2020 Student Watch™: Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials report. Numerous students are bypassing campus bookstores and shopping online to save money.
Matters also have become more complicated given the increasing number of students who are learning online. For some of these students, more online courses have meant more digital course materials. It is estimated that one in every five paid materials was a digital unit in 2020, compared to one in seven paid materials in 2019.
Being ever mindful of both their students’ need for affordability and the revenue stream brought in by the campus bookstore, a lot of schools are turning to a hybrid bookstore model. This approach takes course materials out of the on-campus bookstore equation and merges the best of what online bookstores and on-campus bookstores offer.
In a hybrid bookstore model, online and on-campus stores work hand-in-hand. Through the school’s dedicated online bookstore, students have the opportunity to purchase course materials in their preferred format and they can browse and purchase spirit wear and accessories that are available in the on-campus store. At the on-campus store, students can purchase more tangible and selective merchandise, including school logo apparel and grab ‘n’ go items. Many on-campus stores also set up kiosks where students can shop for and purchase their course materials from the online store.
The school-branded online bookstore eliminates a significant amount of overhead, giving the school options for where it can apply those savings. For example, the school can offset operational costs, pass the savings on to the student, or a combination of both. With the hybrid bookstore model, course materials inventory isn’t limited to what is on hand or what fits within the confines of the physical store, giving students more choices. Plus, students are not dealing with risky online marketplaces, which are known to have unpredictable quantities and shipping costs. Through the school’s dedicated online bookstore, students can purchase course materials 24×7 and opt for at-home delivery or in-store pickup–yet another traffic driver to the on-campus store where students can browse additional merchandise.
Under a hybrid bookstore model, the campus bookstore doesn’t take on the burden of paying for and stocking course materials inventory, which minimizes the school’s financial risk and assists with cash outlay. The store maintains a revenue stream from a higher-margin inventory mix of ancillary items, including spirit wear, accessories, gifts, food, drink, and more. The majority of students responding to a NACS survey said that they purchase most of their school-branded garments at the campus store.
The hybrid bookstore model introduces a new kind of blended shopping experience, not unlike the trends we’ve seen where general retailers of all types and sizes have been merging eCommerce with in-store offerings. They Hybrid Bookstore is built upon flexibility and convenience, not to mention affordability and accessibility.
While the campus bookstore may no longer be the go-to for course materials at every school, this campus hub isn’t going away. Rather, it’s adapting to a changing marketplace and it’s finding new life.