Why Follett favors a different approach to apps
December 16, 2016 06:00 AM
Apps are a barrier to shopping, says Roe McFarlane, chief digital officer at Follett Higher Education Group.
“There’s not one app that does all the things you want,” McFarlane says.
Follett Corp., No. 70 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, sells educational materials, technology and services, plus university-branded apparel. Even though the retailer caters to a mobile-savvy audience of college students, launching its own shopping app was not the right strategy, McFarlane says. Instead, Follett recently announced it has integrated its products into 18 university apps.
“Our mobile strategy is to be a part of everyone else’s mobile strategy,” McFarlane says.
Follett works with mobile app developer DubLabs LLC, which builds comprehensive “lifestyle” school-branded mobile apps. Such a campus app includes information about the dining halls, tutoring opportunities and library hours. And now, it includes a way for students to look up course materials. When a student looks up a course in her campus app, such as biology 101, Follett will then show the appropriate materials she needs for this class within the campus app. If she wants to purchase the textbook, she taps on it and then lands on that product page on Follett’s e-commerce site so she can finish the purchase.
“Rather than going off to a book store app, we would rather be part of a broader lifestyle app. Students are accessing that app in conjunction with other things they do on a daily basis,” McFarlane says.
The feature is live in 18 campus apps, and Follett plans to increase that number. Follett piloted the program for a year starting in January 2015 before it determined this was a way students would shop and decided to roll it out to more institutions.
“We did see increased sales in the pilot,” McFarlane says without revealing specifics. Overall, 40% of Follett’s web sales stem from the retailer’s mobile site, he says.
If a consumer uses the campus app and makes a purchase on eFollett.com, Follett pays the institution a commission on that sale. The commission will varies by school according to its contract with Follett, McFarlane says.
The app feature also helps the schools that Follett works with generate more revenue, as schools get a cut of the sale, gives students easier access to purchase the materials they need and will give students another way to reach the Follett site, he says.
DubLabs has implemented the Follett connection into more of its campus apps where Follett has a relationship with the university to provide course materials. The app integration was “not a ton of work” for Follett’s e-commerce integration team of five employees, McFarlane says.