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NEXT: New Mobile App Functionality Removes the Friction

Submitted by BNCAdmin on Thu,04/28/2016-14:25

Being a retail customer used to require patience: A passion for standing in line, resilience when told the item you wanted was out of stock, and the kind of determination to hunt the aisles to find the thing you wanted because no one else in the store would. But times have changed in retail, particularly in its technology, which is now providing greater expectations of choice, flexibility and service to put the customer firmly back in the driver’s seat. Today’s consumers want their interactions with retailers to be effortless — and their experience from store to website to mobile device — to be seamless.

 

This desire for a ‘frictionless’ customer experience has persuaded retailers to become less interested in the workings of the transaction and more interested in the needs of the customer. Technology also allows Barnes & Noble College to understand its customers’ preferences and how exactly they want to shop, says Lisa Malat, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Barnes & Noble College. “By constantly having conversations with our students, we can help tailor exactly how our students like to shop with how we deliver that seamless, frictionless experience to them,” she says. The latest example of the way Barnes & Noble College is trying to do just that was recently front and center at one of the campus bookstores’ busiest times of the year, Spring Rush.

 

ENTER TECHNOLOGY, EXIT FRICTION

At Chicago’s DePaul University Bookstore, students shopped using a variety of methods this spring. “Our students are tech savvy and will use the College Bookstore app, the bookstore website, or access us through the Campus Connect college system,” explains Store Manager, Carl Grath. For a new generation of consumers, the ability to purchase anytime and anywhere is what drives return customers. “We want to make the entire shopping process as easy as possible for our students,” Grath explains. “By removing all of the obstacles, we can help to make the process as seamless as possible — and if we can give our customers a great experience, they’ll return again and again.” he says.

 

Automating that whole process would not only make the transaction easier to track, but more importantly, it would provide a quicker and more convenient experience for students. To help with that task, Barnes & Noble College enlisted the help of Chicago-based Rocket Wagon, a digital strategy, engineering and design company. “How we were able to improve on that experience was an example of how we can use technology in a very human way,” explains Rocket Wagon’s Chief Digital Officer, Skylar Roebuck. “We were able to talk to the [store] managers and get an understanding of where some of those pain points existed, particularly at Rush, which gave us an understanding and a perspective of what we needed to build, and why we needed to build it,” he adds.

 

The solution the Rocket Wagon team developed, in partnership with Barnes & Noble College, provided additional functionality to the College Bookstore app, enabling students to simply point their smartphone at the shelf marker, scan the bar code and automatically order the book online. While quick and convenient, Grath points out the kind of mobile functionality, like that piloted over Spring Rush, only enhances the bookstore. “Providing a positive experience like that actually brings the customer back to us, plus we can capture and communicate to them throughout the year about more than just textbook availability,” he says.

 

CUSTOMER FIRST

After the initial mobile pilots at DePaul’s downtown Loop and Lincoln Park campuses, the pilot of the new app functionality spread to 25 other stores, and the results of the Spring Rush pilot program were positive. Although Roebuck is already thinking about next steps, he points out that creating meaningful digital customer experiences requires thought. “An important aspect of the app to take note of going forward is always understanding more about the close relationship mobile creates, and how the student’s experience with the application, and within the store, can better inform store processes and the features of the application itself,” he says.

 

Grath agrees that though the technology can be dazzling, the new mobile functionality speaks more to Barnes & Noble College’s customer commitment. “As a company, we’re always thinking about what’s next, and here we’re looking at just one specific process in the store and what we can do to improve that experience from our customer’s point of view in a pretty sophisticated way.” On a human level, he adds that the app has provided another reason to engage with customers, with an opportunity to be face-to-face at freshman orientations, and day-to-day interactions with parents and students to talk about the new capability. “Merging the latest technology with great customer service is what customers really want — especially college students,” Grath says, “and a great way of taking the friction out of the customer’s bookstore experience.”

 

Article reposted from Barnes and Noble College NEXT.

Click here to read original article.

NEXT: More Choice, Different Experience

Submitted by BNCAdmin on Tue,04/19/2016-10:40

While building its reputation as a leader in campus retailing, Barnes & Noble College has been examining the broader issue of how its 748 nationwide stores can further enhance its in-store offerings to benefit its campus partners. Key to that process has been an understanding of how the stores fit into the life of the campuses they serve, as Karen Sweeney, Vice President, Store Operations for Barnes & Noble College, explains. “If you think about the life cycle of that student, we’re there for freshmen orientation, we’re there for their first Rush, and we’re there to help them celebrate all the milestones through to graduation — and we’re still going to be part of the campus when they come back as alumni for homecoming and football games,” she says. That enviable position is hardly something Barnes & Noble College takes for granted, but rather fuels a determination to create in their bookstores a destination where the campus community visits often — and where it loves to shop.

 

FROM BOOKSELLER TO CAMPUS HUB

Understanding students’ needs, from the perspective of their shopping and social expectations, has been key to Barnes & Noble Colleges’ development as a campus hub. In fact, the company’s ongoing research panel has revealed that even the highly digitally-connected Millennial generation maintains a preference for the in-store shopping experience. Giving students more reasons to visit their campus bookstore — and more often — has instilled in managers a desire to constantly change things up at their stores, presenting an environment that is always relevant and constantly evolving. As a result, stores are continually testing new products and innovative merchandising ideas to bring new retail experiences to the college campus.

 

In the past, the company has successfully introduced cafés and convenience food items, technology and apparel, and a product category that particularly intrigued Lisa Mazzio, Director of Merchandise for Barnes & Noble College — health and beauty. “We’ve introduced brands like Clinique and Burt’s Bees in a number of our stores and those brands have performed well, but we’ve always believed there was a greater opportunity to grow the cosmetics sector,” she explains.

 

That curiosity has led to testing a new beauty-store-within-a-bookstore concept dubbed The Glossary. Designed to be an accessible and unique setting within the college store, The Glossary offers an invitation for customers to stop, try and test new products in a casual way rather than the more curated setting of the department store cosmetics counter. “The level of research Barnes & Noble College has put into this, and their understanding of how the college audience might respond to the category is impressive,” remarks Mark Scott, President & CEO of S. Mark Scott, a prestige health and beauty brands distributor who was instrumental in helping develop the concept.

 

Offering a range of high-fashion and on-trend brands such as Smashbox, Philosophy skincare, Bliss Spa products, Lipstick Queen and Butter London, the concept has been introduced in a limited number of stores as a test market to put another key product category within the reach of the college campus. “As we go forward, we want to be able to add, evolve and change the product mix in our Glossary stores to keep the destination fresh and exciting,” Mazzio says.

 

It’s an example of how the retailer, while still deeply-rooted in its academic mission to the campus, is also realizing a broader view of its role on campus. “We’re always listening to our customer,” says Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Consumer Marketing, Tamara Vostok, “and we’re always aiming to deliver exactly what they want.”

 

What students want is also a place of belonging on the campus, which is where the bookstore also plays an increasingly vital social function. With a string of successful in-store events such as VIP Nights and DeStress Fest events that tie the store firmly into the collective fabric of the university campus, the bookstore is emerging as a social hub in addition to its more traditional retail role. “We don’t want the store to be a place you visit to rent your textbooks and then return them at the end of the year,” Vostok explains. “What we’re creating is the idea of the store as a year-round destination with new and authentic reasons to come through our doors,” she says.

 

Just as important as what’s happening in-store is an understanding of the changing ways students like to pay for their purchases. In an acknowledgement of student preferences for more convenient check-outs for example, Barnes & Noble College now accepts all mobile wallet platforms such as Visa Checkout, Apple Pay and MasterCard Express for online purchases. Last year, Barnes & Noble College launched their Bookstore App, providing customers with even more ways to shop the store remotely.

 

CUSTOMER REACTION

Designing a store around the customer is a concept that Barnes & Noble College shoppers seem to appreciate. Recent research illustrates that 80 percent of students maintain that their bookstore has a good sense of what their needs are, while another 80 percent agree th ...continue »

NEXT: Five Minutes with Jay Chakrapani

Submitted by BNCAdmin on Mon,04/11/2016-09:39

How can technology impact some of higher education’s most pressing challenges? Self-confessed puzzle solver and Barnes & Noble Education’s new Chief Digital Officer, Jay Chakrapani provides some clues through the technological maze, along with thoughts on student debt, Uber and what he’d do for a Pete Sampras tennis racket.

 

What was your first job?

I was a house painter in junior high school. The driver behind that was that I wanted a Pete Sampras tennis racket, which I’m sure then cost around $300. My Dad owned a couple of duplexes and that’s how it started. When you’re working on a roof with an open can of paint, things don’t always go as you plan.

 

How do you describe your current role at Barnes & Noble Education?

My role is about finding opportunities based on who we are as a company; who we want to partner with, and where we can use technology in more interesting and beneficial ways to help meet some of the challenges our campus partners have.

 

What are you working on right now?

A lot of the things we’re looking at now have to do with academic support. Currently, an instructor might use a one-size-fits-all textbook, yet technology is now enabling us to offer them support for their syllabus, customized to their individual teaching methods. We have an opportunity to be a service provider here, providing instructors with the materials for what they want to teach, in the way they want to teach it, and personalizing it down to the individual student.

 

For all the diversity in our campus partners, do you find any similarities in the kinds of technological solutions they’re all looking for, and how might solving them provide an opportunity for Barnes & Noble Education?

There are the underlying challenges in higher education that everyone is facing — attracting and enrolling students and keeping those students in school and helping them transition into the job market. But technology isn’t about one size fitting all. What it enables is very viable and scalable mass customization where we can treat every person as an individual, and provide them with a very individualized experience — without a massive cost outlay.

 

From your perspective, do you have a view on what might be one of the biggest challenges facing higher education today?

Student debt. When you realize it’s higher than credit card debt at over a trillion dollars, it suggests the current model just isn’t going to work for a lot of students and a lot of colleges. We’re in a unique position to offer meaningful help to make college more affordable, accessible and gainful, using technology.

 

As a company, what do you think is the most significant thing we’re learning about the ways technology can help with the learning process?

I think we’re learning how to remove a lot of the friction in the learning experience. Currently, an instructor in a large classroom environment isn’t going to have the time to have an individual relationship with his/her pupils. If you help that instructor by taking away some of the obligatory work, by auto grading papers and aggregating performance data, they’ll be more able to intervene in areas where their students really need the help. We can also use data to identify an at-risk student or someone who needs more help choosing their degree. In the same way a company like Uber is relieving the friction between a driver and a passenger, we want to remove all of the low-value friction to ensure that students and teachers can utilize their relationship in the best way possible.

 

Is there some distinct or notable characteristic you’ve noticed working with Barnes & Noble College people?

Family. From the top to the bottom, it feels like family at Barnes & Noble College, where everyone cares about you, and cares about your success. Wherever you go, if there’s a problem, the prevalent attitude is always ‘okay, let’s figure out how to fix it.’ That also translates to our interactions with customers. Whenever I visit a campus, it’s hard not to be impressed by how passionate our bookstore staff are in wanting to support ...continue »