Monday 27 October 2008

Creating Business Models

Edge Hill University and Blackwell entered into a unique and very interesting business agreement last September (2007).

The University had introduced a very innovative bursary scheme, which offers all full fee paying students a £200 return, to be spent only on learning support materials. (It won the 2006 Times Higher Award for Outstanding Financial Student Support Package)

During the first year of the scheme, Learning Services attempted to support the purchase of text books and stationery through the help desk, putting a significant amount of pressure on an already stretched service.

In January 2007, I started to look around for a solution that would ease the pressure on the service and offer a professional retail experience for our students. In thinking about this, and discussion with colleagues, we decided that we needed both a virtual/online presence, in addition to a physical/store presence.

At that point, there didn't seem to be an awful lot of choice of booksellers that offered a dual option. A chance conversation with Matt at Blackwell BBS led to a recommendation to speak to the retail and online arms of Blackwell, as they seemed more able to offer a solution.

A rapid succession of meetings followed, with the design of a unique business model taking place. Blackwell's Online and Retail divisions were at that stage very separate and it seemed at times to be a 3 way conversation rather than a 2 way supplier/customer relationship but it all worked out in the end.

From initial meeting to go live was a period of 6 pretty intense weeks, this involved designing the shop area (luckily we were refurbishing the foyer area at the time!) and designing a bespoke online bookshop area for Edge Hill students and staff.

Launched in September 2007 the shops were a roaring success, an evaluation in November led to very positive comments from students who enjoyed the flexibility of ordering from home, and having items delivered, or browsing the campus shop. Interestingly, there was a 50/50 split in online and shop sales, and quite some competition!

I've been meaning to put pen to paper for quite some time about our experience, and this does only just scrape the surface, but I've been thinking about it again recently as I'm involved in the inter-regional tender retail bookshop sub-group.(try saying that after a bevvy) The inter-regional tender brings together NOWAL (North West Academic Libraries), LUPC (London Universities Purchasing Consortium), SUPC (Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium), NEYAL (North East and Yorkshire Academic Libraries) and MUAL (Midlands Universities Academic Libraries). This group aims to use the purchasing power of all five consortia to gain better discounts and levels of service and deliver value for money.

The first meeting is tomorrow with representatives from Bournemouth, Bath, Newcastle and De Montford as well as Edge Hill. I'll post about progress (as much as I can).

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