Campus community invited to consider bookstore of the future

With the college bookstore marketplace evolving nationwide, campus administrators and Stanford Bookstore managers are asking campus community members to share their vision of the bookstore of tomorrow.

College bookstores today are far more diversified than their counterparts of even a generation ago. Today, they are just as likely to feature licensed apparel, best-selling novels, computers, convenience items and a café as they are textbooks and other course materials.

With increases in online book sales suggesting that even more changes are to come, campus administrators and Follett, which operates the Stanford Bookstore and some 1,200 other campus stores nationwide, are asking campus community members to share their vision for the bookstore of tomorrow in a survey that is available at  Those who complete the survey and provide a email address will be entered into a drawing for 10 $500 cash prizes.

Survey results will be combined with responses already gathered from in-depth faculty, staff, student and alumni interviews and focus groups to rethink and redesign the iconic bookstore that has been located in White Plaza since 1960. Additional feedback will come from the Stanford Bookstore Advisory Committee, which includes students, faculty and staff.

Fortuitous timing

Bookstore located on White Plaza

The iconic bookstore that has been located in White Plaza since 1960 will be getting a redesign after having heard feedback from the community. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The planned remodel is partly in response to the evolving bookstore marketplace nationally. It also was triggered by the upcoming conversion of a slice of the bookstore’s first floor for use by Land, Buildings and Real Estate.

The combination of these two changes makes this the perfect time for the Stanford campus community to think creatively about the bookstore experience, according to Susan Weinstein, assistant vice president for business development.

Results from the initial 12 individual interviews and eight focus groups indicate that community members have definite ideas about everything from what food is sold at the second-floor café to how the store is laid out. Many are looking for more engaging experiences that would lead them to linger longer. Among the specific suggestions were more comfy chairs for reading, book clubs, author events and faculty reading recommendations.

Stanford isn’t the only university where Follett is implementing changes. The company is applying lessons learned at institutions such as New York University and Texas Christian University to remodels at bookstores nationwide, according to Ken Pegram, group vice president for sales and operations at Follett.

Campus stores are beginning to innovate with amenities such as flexible gathering spaces, study areas and charging stations that allow the community to “experience the store in a less transactional way,” Pegram said.

Pegram noted that Stanford’s bookstore is different from those at other colleges and universities served by Follett. Over the past five years, revenues from the sale of course materials at Stanford have hovered around 12 percent of total revenues, while that number elsewhere tends to be closer to 75 percent.

Shifts in behavior

The difference is due in part to the popularity of Stanford-branded apparel and merchandise with athletic fans and tourists, as well as to the high volume of computer and technology sales. Also affecting the mix is the popularity of the store’s textbook rental program.

“Our rental program has caused the biggest shift in textbook buying behavior.  Since it was launched back in 2010, students have rented just shy of 100,000 units from the store,” Pegram said. “The majority of those units would have been traditional new or used book purchases in the past.”

The textbook rental program, combined with a 7 percent discount on course materials and a Follett price-match program with online sellers, positions the Stanford Bookstore to compete successfully with Amazon and other online booksellers, especially given its additional virtual presence, Pegram said.

However, there are no plans to turn the Stanford Bookstore into a completely virtual store.  Brick and mortar stores retain important advantages, Pegram said.

“One of the biggest competitive advantages that physical stores have is service,” he said. “Students who buy course materials at the Stanford Bookstore have instant access to the textbooks they need and easy returns if they drop a class. Equally important is the peace of mind we provide to students who can work directly with a store team member if they have a problem.”

The survey launched today and will be available through June 6.

“We are excited to see what the survey data tells us so we can redesign the store in a way that the Stanford community will find valuable,” said Weinstein.  “Our goal is to make the Stanford Bookstore more than a great place to shop. We also want it to be an inviting place where the community will gather and connect.”