Do you know your student buying habits?

By: Mark Palmore

SVP of Sales, Nebraska Book Company

Collegiate retailers have always been interested in the buying trends of the average college student. In the early days, the only data we had was the buying history on each individual campus. However, as years passed and student’s access to course materials grew well beyond the campus store there developed a necessity for stores to learn more about national student buying trends. This allowed stores the ability to better serve the students on their campus.

Twelve years ago, Nebraska Book Company determined that we needed primary research to gather solid data on student course material buying trends. That decision started our long-standing relationship with Crux Research. Together we developed customized questions designed with the intention of listening to the needs of today’s college students. The NBC/CRUX survey coincides with the end of the key store buying seasons twice a year, once in the Fall and again in the Winter/Spring. Over 26,000 students have participated in the survey since its inception.

At our recent Spectrum conference, I had the privilege of presenting with John Geraci of Crux Research. Together we discussed the most recent data and offered suggestions on how stores can use the research to enhance the value of their store and store website. Overall, the enrollment numbers and the average price for books both continue to rise. We would assume this creates a great opportunity for stores to continue to drive revenue. However, the average amount of money spent on a textbook is declining in recent years.

Students are obtaining an average of 4.2 books per semester ranging from digital, rental, used and new books. In addition, rentals continue to be on the rise, from 21% in Fall 2013 to 34% in Fall 2016. This is a great opportunity for your campus store to meet the needs of your students.

We are also seeing a consistent trend of students buying more and more books online. In fact, 45% of students obtain their textbook exclusively online. This is a great opportunity for all campus stores to get their online store to the same caliber as the brick and mortar. The internet is here to stay, and we have to embrace it to stay relevant. In addition, Amazon is the biggest competitor in the online retail space, accounting for 55% of online textbook sales. The stores however, only account for 19%.

You may be asking yourself, why are we losing the online sale and what can we do to regain market share? Sixty percent of students shop online with other retailers because they are searching for the best price and a quick and easy shopping experience. However, the students who prefer a bookstore experience do so because it is easy to return rental books. They can be sure to get the correct book needed for their classes and they do not have to hassle with shipping back their rental books. We challenge you to be price competitive and create a seamless online shopping experience.

Seventy-two percent of students visit a college bookstore website prior to purchasing textbooks. This is the greatest opportunity for your store to keep them on your site and win the sale. If your site is not digitally enhanced with a modern design, easy shopping capability and simple textbook delivery, you will lose sales to an online retailer.

We see the lack of education on book returns continuing to hold strong. Only 40% of students understand that regardless of where they purchased the books, they can sell them back to your store. This is clearly a marketing opportunity; students need to be informed. They can sell their books to your store regardless of where they made the purchase. Make sure they know you will give them cash on the spot even if you purchased from Amazon, a friend or a stranger off the street.

One thing is for sure, campus administrators love data and this research proves that there is great opportunity for your campus store to grow through your website, rentals, and even buyback.

To learn more about how Nebraska Book Company can assist you with solutions to help your store succeed please visit

One Comment

  1. Bill Hockensmith-Reply
    May 9, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Great article. Good information backed up with great data. I particularly liked the positive approach of bringing out positive possibilities (like marketing on the website and letting students know we buy books from wherever). Thank you Mark.

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