Business is booming at the Rice Campus Store, as more textbooks are being sold and rented this year.
As of Sept. 30, the Campus Store saw a 76 percent increase in used textbook sales since last year, as well as an 86 percent increase in textbook rentals and a 157 percent increase in digital textbook sales, according to store manager Matthew Erskin. The only department to decrease in sales was new textbooks, by 20 percent. Altogether, this represents an overall increase in combined textbook unit sales and rentals by 6 percent.
According to Erskin, who can release only percentages by company policy, the vast increase in non-new textbook sales this year is due in part to the store’s earlier communication with faculty, allowing the store to source more used books.
“We spent the summer asking [faculty members] if they’re using the same books that they used last year,” Erskin said. “Then we made a purpose of trying to find those books and bringing the price down.”
The decrease in sales of new textbooks is due to fewer edition changes this semester as well as the Campus Store’s improved ability to source used books following a July 2016 transition in bookstore operation from Barnes & Noble to Folett, which provides more used and rental books, Erskin said.
“Used books for us are what help us keep the textbook department going,” Erskin said. “We know that sales go up as used book levels and rental book levels go up.”
Following the 2016 company transition, the store implemented price match, which Erskin said has also contributed to the increase. Price match is a program that compensates students for price differences between books sold at the Campus Store and books shipped from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
By showing the store cashier lower prices of identical books sold on these competitive markets, students can receive gift cards to use for future transactions.The average price match transaction saves students around $24 per book, and the Campus Store has price matched approximately 200 transactions this semester, Erskin said.
According to Erskin, price match allows the Campus Store to be more competitive and fosters customer loyalty, which is an important feature of the store’s mission.
“We believe that if, as a company, we focus on customers, everything else falls into place,” he said.
Erskin said most student feedback about price match has been positive.
McMurtry College freshman Arija Forsyth, who saved $15 price matching two books this semester, said she plans to continue using price match in the future.
“It’s super convenient,” Forsyth said. “The only thing that I care about is price when it comes to buying textbooks.”
Hanszen College senior Brianna Singh, however, said she had never heard of price match. Singh, a chemical engineering major, said she and her friends purchase their books outside of the Campus Store because it’s cheaper.
“We usually get our books online or from Amazon,” Singh said. “A lot of us buy books from older chemical engineering students.”
Along with implementing price match, the Campus Store launched its book delivery program last summer. The program is a free service that ships books to residential colleges within a business day of purchase.
“It’s not always talked about,” Erskin said. “[But] every semester since we’ve launched it, it’s grown.”
Looking ahead, Erskin expects the price match system and book delivery program to remain in place for the foreseeable future, as long as Follett maintains its relationship with Rice. He also hopes for a 5 to 10 percent growth in sales each semester until a 50 to 60 percent market share is achieved, where market share refers to the total number of customers willing to purchase products from the Campus Store.
“It’s a pretty lofty goal,” Erskin said. “The goal is to get the percentage up so that students know that [the Campus Store] is an option.”