Collegiate campus stores boost online presence with Follett and Adobe Experience Cloud

University bookstores boost online presence with Follett and Adobe Experience Cloud

Laptop, drink and stationery on table in library.

By Loni Stark

Posted on 04-27-2021

Managing collegiate retail stores and their online presence for more than 900 Institutions across North America is no simple feat. Needs range from everything an incoming freshman might need to be successful in their classes, to delighting the most loyal collegiate sports fan years after they’ve graduated. Adding to the challenge: it’s vital to cater to the unique brands and nuances of each campus partner, a task made all the more complex with the onset of COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic.

Follett, the leader in North America for collegiate retail has clearly made the grade. The more than 145-year-old family run business made a significant, multi-year investment in the ecommerce platform. Leveraging a front-end technology stack built by Adobe — including Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and Adobe Analytics — Follett launched a cutting-edge digital eCommerce and content management framework (CMS) in the summer of 2019. The platform has helped Follett and its partner institutions achieve a state-of-the-art digital experience.

“We are deeply connected to our Institution’s brand and identity. Schools like Arizona State University, Baylor, Notre Dame, and Texas Christian University are phenomenal brands that have an enormous number of passionate students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans that shop their stores and websites.” says Lori Krzyzewski, senior vice president of eCommerce at Follett. But with an eCommerce platform supporting more than 1,100 campus store websites, providing a personalized, optimal and scalable experience to customers was challenging. “In many cases, we had to deliver the same general experience to everyone,” she adds.

The lack of a robust CMS and a technology framework to deliver personalized messaging created other difficulties and limitations. “We were struggling with a system where simply updating a label, error message, or critical instruction specific to one campus was either not possible, or we had to wait for a code deployment. We had to water everything down so that all the content was global and generic,” Krzyzewski explains.

In the summer of 2019, after doing their homework on vendors and technology to re-platform, Follett went live with AEM and a completely redesigned, mobile responsive website, plus hundreds of new features. The new design was not only modern and easy to use, but adopted the school’s brand elements across the entire experience. The design system leveraged modular UI components which enabled complete flexibility and customization on every page. Wrapping the AEM implementation into the upgrade was crucial as the business needed the ability to control and optimize everything the customer sees, from site imagery, merchandising zones, messages, labels, to building custom landing pages, with updates reflecting immediately. Follett took the new design on the road, presenting to Institutions across the US with phenomenal feedback and excitement. “Our Campus Partners have been requesting custom experiences to promote curated merchandise to specific audiences like alumni and athletics,” states Melissa Esquivel, director of Product Management, Ecommerce at Follett. “We now have a flexible and scalable way to build mobile responsive custom landing pages on the fly, we can select the UI components we want to use without the need for any coding.”

The technology framework paid enormous dividends when the pandemic struck and Institutions, along with the campus store retail locations closed in the middle of the term. Customer and employee health and safety were paramount. Fortunately, Follett had the capabilities to support a digital-first shopping experience, and the agility to offer curbside and limited contact pickup at over 400 locations, so customers could safely retrieve their online orders or return their textbook rentals. Follett also ran an unprecedented 28 sale events in 2020 — up from 4 sale events in 2019, which meant more content creation, frequent updates, more variations and complexity that would not have been scalable without AEM. The team continues to design new UI components to highlight new merchandise collections and product launches, promote payments accepted such as Financial Aid and Campus Cards, showcase popular brands, and Institution sponsored events.

The results have been staggering, landing Follett on the honor roll. This “headless CMS” model led to a larger order volume and a 40 percent increase in conversion rates year-over-year. During the pandemic, the company boosted online orders and revenue by 85 percent.

Today, the company’s technology platform supports more than 1 million students, over 100,000 active course sections and, at peak periods, 80,000 visits and 9,000 orders per hour, nearly double the order volume from the same timeframe in 2019.

“This past year we saw a historic shift to online, especially in the Fall and Spring back to school seasons. Frankly we wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t launched the new platform that can scale to our extreme volume. The new responsive design is setting new records in conversion rate, truly exceeding our expectations.” Krzyzewski says. “Our Institutional partners and customers expect their campus store website to be hyper personalized, hyper local, and reflective of the school they’re proud to be a part of. We now have a content delivery and eCommerce framework to deliver this expectation.”

Topics: Customer Stories, Insights & Inspiration, Adobe Summit, Retail, Enterprise Customers, Experience Cloud

Products: Experience Cloud, Analytics, Experience Manager,