There was a good piece in the MACS 2011 newsletter on the "truth about course materials" and how stores can remain a part of the distribution chain written by Allyson Manet from Cengage. As stores see shifts away from traditional media and channels to new products and approaches, Allyson suggests some strategies to move stores towards competing better with online competition.
While she does not say it directly, part of the implied message is that booksellers must look above the day-to-day activities of store operations to think strategically about their present and their future. I once heard this referred to as the "tyranny of the tactical," but thinking strategically is critically important for the survival of an organization in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Among Allyson's more direct suggestions to stores are:
1. Be comprehensive -- serving as a reliable aggregator of course materials information is one of the core advantages for most stores. If students require something to be successful in the classroom, you should be able to provide it.
2. Be Reliable -- ensure that what students get from your store is what they really need to be successful in the classroom. Allyson points to a recent NACS study that shows confidence that they are buying the right product ranks almost as high to students as price as they decide where to buy their course materials. Reliability is also a traditioanl core strength of campus stores.
3. Be Flexible -- students will search. You capture more sales when you make more options available. Rental and e-books are no longer an option. At the same time, using price comparison is essential, because students will do that anyway and lack of transparency on the part of the store both erodes trust and pushes customers to look elsewhere before they make their buying decision. At that point you must work to get them back. Flexibility is a core strength that stores need to embed within their DNA.
4. Be Noticeable -- many students are not aware of the options stores provide. One NACS study found that nearly half of students did not know if the campus store provided e-books or not. Stores cannot assume awareness on the part of students or faculty in terms of the services they provide or the benefits they return to the student and institutional community. Stores must be increasingly proactive in their marketing communications and conduct awareness campaigns.