Fort Hays State University debuts online bookstore for 2018-19 school year

By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. – In keeping with its mission of considering the needs of students first, Fort Hays State University is now offering a less expensive method of buying books.

FHSU this summer launched an online bookstore for the 2018-19 school year, rising to the forefront as the first Kansas Regents university to offer the purchase of books exclusively online.

“It’s exciting,” said Edie McCracken, director of the Memorial Union. “It’s innovation, which Fort Hays State is known for. An online store has a different business model.”

With the current contract for the University Bookstore set to expire this summer, a request for proposal (RFP) or selection committee was formed and chaired by McCracken. FHSU joined the National Association of College Stores (NACS) last fall in an effort to determine new trends and best practices for the sale of books to students.

McCracken said the committee was intrigued by a “hybrid model,” one that features online book purchasing but with the traditional campus store still serving a purpose.

The committee chose Akademos, a virtual course material store, as the online vendor for purchasing textbook material, and indiCo, a subsidiary of the NACS, as the vendor for the Tiger Spirit Shop. That shop, which occupies the main floor of the former University Bookstore, will carry merchandise such as FHSU clothing and gifts, school supplies, technology accessories, etc.

“We were really open to new things,” McCracken said. “We wanted to do what was the best fit for students. The affordability of text materials was the driving point, and an online store has a different business model. It focuses on affordability.”

The RFP committee found that Akademos and indiCo have partnered on other campuses so they already had a relationship.

“We’re so pleased to be partnering with Akademos and indiCo to launch such an innovative bookstore solution,” said Dr. Joey Linn, vice president for student affairs. “This decision contributes to our overall strategy to provide our students with all of the tools they need to succeed, by expanding our offering of course material formats, lowering the costs associated with them, and providing our students with general merchandise and fan shop items that contribute to a complete and successful college experience.”

During the research process, FHSU’s selection committee formed focus groups to learn buying preferences of students. The online purchasing model can provide up to 25 percent savings for students.

McCracken said they were impressed with how easily accessible the online model would be for faculty, staff and students.

“That was very important to us in terms of an online bookstore,” she said.

Students have been buying books online for several years, so the RFP committee thought it would be a fairly easy transition.

“We have found that the majority of students were already buying their books online except for last-minute purchases,” McCracken said. “The great thing now is that data will be available to us to see how and when they are purchasing books. We will know what the trends are and can do some assessment of our own.”

McCracken said she thinks the biggest change will be for students who have a tendency to wait until late in the game to purchase their books.

“If students wait until the last minute to get their books, this is going to be a little bit different for them,” McCracken said.

Training for staff began this summer – sessions for deans, department chairs and administrative assistants. Training sessions for faculty will be scheduled throughout the semester, beginning with the university’s Professional Development Day on Aug. 14.

Akademos will hire two students to provide training for students and parents. McCracken will be their main contact on campus to assist with their training and connect them to campus resources.

A users’ guide is online, as is information on how to contact the store for questions or if students want to clarify something before they purchase their books.

“The Memorial Union has always had a strong tie to the bookstore, and we want to continue that connection,” McCracken said. “We still want the union to be the place to go to get your questions answered.”

There are links all across the FHSU website on how to order, and the direct link is: Students can log in with their Tiger ID, and their Tiger Enroll account is linked to their courses in which they pre-enrolled for fall semester 2018 as well as the material those courses will require.

They have the option to have books shipped to their addresss or to the Tiger Spirit Shop, where they can be picked up.

The online bookstore opened in late June, and McCracken said that “so far, students are receiving their books rather quickly – have had a great response time.”

Faculty are able to log onto a portal and adopt a book for their classes after reading the analytics for their courses.

McCracken gave credit to Dr. Tim Crowley, associate provost for academic affairs, for helping make the changes go as smoothly as possible.

“He has been a great resource, helping with communicating to faculty about the new process,” she said. “Partnering with our staff has been a key part of this transition.”

Working with indiCo offers several advantages, McCracken said.

With larger corporate vendors, McCracken explained, those vendors do the buying for the university.

“With this model, our store staff works with their buyers and gets to make all the selections,” she said, “so if faculty and alumni want smaller quantities of a certain item, that can be ordered separately.”

The new hybrid model also holds optimism for the future.

“One of the perks is that in a few years, the union will be looking to reimagine,” McCracken said. “We will be able to get that storage space in the basement (of the bookstore) and open up more space for students.”

While McCracken said the union is not close to exploring that step yet, it’s something to look forward to.

“We’re trying to be a trailblazer,” she said. “If it’s what’s right for students, it’s what we’re going to do.”

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