College Students Want More From Their Campus Bookstores

By BNC Marketing

Learn how Barnes & Noble College is reimagining retail to fit Gen Z’s expectations

By: Lisa Malat, COO, Barnes & Noble College

Gen Z college students are deep in the fall semester, and with that comes the daily stress of lectures and term papers. But convenient retail experiences can help provide balance and ease the stressors of on-campus academic life. In fact, 84% of college students say they want to be able to shop for more than just textbooks and school supplies at their campus bookstore.

We recently surveyed 444 college students around the country to find out what Gen Z shoppers are seeking from their on-campus retail experiences. The survey was conducted via our Barnes & Noble College Insights Platform.

Students who want a variety of items at their campus bookstores are ready to show their school spirit. Nearly two-thirds (65%) say they want their bookstore to carry spirit gear, while 62% would shop for dorm/apartment decor and essentials. Also popular among Gen Z students are items they might otherwise buy at a grocery or drug store, including food and drink (59%) and health and hygiene products (58%).

While campus bookstores do face potential competition from shopping malls (67% of students live within accessible distance, and 64% of that group are within 15 minutes of it), malls aren’t a major threat. Nationwide, nearly half of students had a car on campus during the 2016-2017 academic year, but many won’t spent 30 minutes on round-trip travel to a mall if they can buy the same item right on campus.

Comfortable clothing has long been popular among college students, but the rest of the world caught up in recent years with the rise of athleisure. The global athleisure market was valued at $300 billion in 2018, and is only expected to continue growing.

On-campus stores looking to gain their share of the fashion-minded student market can start by stocking Gen Z’s favorite brands. Students cited tried-and true favorites Nike (38%), Adidas (15%) and Under Armour (11%) as the top athletic/athleisure brand they’d like to see on campus. Outdoor/adventuring brands also are a rising trend, represented by The North Face (9%) and Patagonia (8%).

College students also were asked to name the top general apparel brand they wanted available on campus:
1. American Eagle
2. Old Navy
3. H&M
4. Gap
5. Urban Outfitters

These findings are good news for college students with a Barnes & Noble College (BNC) store on their campus; 10 BNC stores currently offer Urban Outfitters campus shops featuring the latest apparel, beauty, and accessories trends.

Gen Z students also are excited by the idea of pop-up shops featuring a specific brand or theme. Nearly all (85%) say they would visit their on-campus bookstore more often if it featured pop-ups. BNC stores feature a rotating lineup of pop-up concepts, including team-themed “Spirit Shops,” Halloween and holiday shops and springtime wellness- and graduation-themed shops.

While Gen Z students certainly contribute to the U.S. ecommerce market, which topped $500 billion in 2018, our poll found that, overall, they prefer to shop in stores for everything except textbooks.

Gen Z's Shopping Preferences

These preferences are primarily driven by the desire to try on apparel and see items in person; 85% of Gen Z-ers cited these sensory experiences. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of students also enjoy the convenience of in-store shopping, including stores’ proximity, low prices and a lack of shipping time. That’s part of the reason Barnes & Noble College makes a concerted effort to personalize Gen Z’s shopping experience. Students find a sense of place in their dorms, their dining halls and their favorite corner of the quad — there’s no reason their campus bookstore shouldn’t be on that list.

Thanks to a renewed interest in in-store experiences, Barnes & Noble College is committed to providing a seamless omnichannel journey. So while Buy Online, Pick Up Store (BOPUS) has yet to gain a strong foothold among college students, it is gaining momentum. More than two-thirds of students don’t use BOPUS often or at all if offered by a retailer, though 7% are unsure about it and may not know if stores offer the service. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters (73%) of students want to be able to use BOPUS at their on-campus bookstore.

How Barnes & Noble College is catering to Gen Z’s retail preferences
These findings all underline the planning and execution behind Barnes & Noble College’s in-store approach. By frequently polling our panel of 15,000 students, we’re able to apply key Gen Z insights to our 777 brick-and-mortar stores and 714 e-commerce sites at colleges across the country. We quickly pivot to meet new trends and demands, like experiential in-store shopping, students’ favorite brands and pop-up shops, while always keeping Gen Z customers’ needs and lifestyles at the center of our omnichannel strategy.

To learn more about Gen Z college students and their on-campus shopping preferences, visit the Barnes & Noble College blog.

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