Barnes & Noble College goes to school on Gen Z
Barnes & Noble College (BNC) sees itself as more than a just a bookstore for the millions of students, educators and others it serves through its 777 campus locations, their respective e-commerce sites, as well as 714 virtual stores. The company has found that serving its core customers — students between the ages of 18 and 24 — requires different approaches than those that worked with the generation(s) that preceded them.
“We have found that what makes Gen Z uniquely different from previous generations is that they have a very strong sense of who they are as individuals, as well as their values and aspirations,” Lisa Malat, COO of BNC, told RetailWire. “As part of that, they feel a sense of responsibility to change the world and correct things they see that they don’t think are right. And this certainly translates to their behavior as a consumer. They want to associate with brands that reflect their own values and beliefs, and that allow them to express their individuality.”
BNC, which was spun off from Barnes & Noble in 2015, has used its own proprietary research platform to better understand the shopping expectations of younger consumers.
“The physical retail space is important to Gen Z, despite the fact that they’re a generation of digital natives,” said Ms. Malat. “While they do live online, social connection and the experience of going into a store and immersing themselves and engaging with a retailer in their own personal way is also critically important.”
BNC has made investments in curated merchandise, new brands and local events as it looks to create deeper connections with its customers. It has also developed concept shops within many of its stores that address different aspects of students’ lives, such as graduation, career success, mental health and wellness.
The shops, Ms. Malat said, address the needs of Gen Zers while providing the type of “experiential moments” they have come to expect from merchants.
“In our graduation concept shops, they can create Instagrammable moments of trying on their cap and gown and holding a diploma frame, saying, ‘Hey, Mom, look at me. This is four years from now,’” said Ms. Malat.
BNC is also informed about what works with Gen Z consumers through its own workforce. The company employs thousands of students as employees in its stores who make recommendations about relevant products based on local interest.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are Gen Z consumers harder to please than previous generations? What do you think are the keys to attracting and keeping Gen Z consumers as customers?