Exclusive Interview Analyzes New Online Bookstore Update

This past summer, Southern’s Campus Shop switched to an online platform with a partnership with MBS Direct. In the past, students could buy books directly on location at the campus store. MBS Direct offers textbooks printed and electronic, digital quizzes and homework options, such as Cengage and Pearson, called Inclusive Access. After nearly a semester of the new system, The Accent sat down with Russel Orrison, associated VP for retail and auxiliary operations, and Danita Payne, Campus Shop manager, to learn how the new system is going.

Recently you conducted a student survey about how students felt about the new system. Can you tell me a little about that?

Orrison: Yes, we conducted a student survey. It went out to all undergraduates, which is slightly more than 2,000 students, and we received just a little bit under 400 responses. So far what we’ve been able to see pretty much fits with what we already knew or highly suspected. The survey was broken down into three main parts: the ordering process, payment process, and what kind of value the students perceived from the new program. We also gave them the opportunity to write in comments. So out of these 700 comments, we can see some themes.

So, what were some of these themes?

O: There were some sticky points on the ordering and payment process in general. For example, students had some difficulty in creating their accounts correctly and charging their books to their student account.

But probably the overwhelming pattern had to do with issues regarding Inclusive Access, which is the digital platform where a lot of your content, such as your textbooks, online quizzes and homework, is available through an online portal.

We were the first school that attempted, with MBS Direct, a full integration for providing Inclusive Access content, and there were issues. There were access issues and connectivity issues. Students were registering for a class, and then they were getting paired incorrectly with their content.

Anything you learned after this first semester?

O: Hindsight being 20-20, we were probably a little aggressive in our timeline. We tried to do a little bit too much for fall, but we knew that if we didn’t do it, we were going to have other issues, so we tried to launch.

Also, the single biggest ‘fail per say’ were 50% of the orders were placed too late to arrive for the first week of school. I’m not blaming students necessarily, you know, because we didn’t do an adequate job of messaging which is why we’re really trying to do a much better job in communication this semester, but if you don’t order your book until the first week of class there’s no way you’re going to have it in time for the first day of class and so that’s kind of a big issue.

What are some of the plans for next year?

O: We’re hoping to do a better job at communicating things. I clearly want students to understand and learn that under this new program you really need to register for your class, finalize your class selections and then order your textbooks as soon as you can. This will alleviate a lot of problems. 

We’re also going to try and create a web page that has screenshots, navigation descriptions and FAQ kind of page that can help guide students in the process of ordering.  

Some students felt that the new program wasn’t providing them as much value what would you say?

O: This whole decision was made to provide better service to our students with more choices, options and seamless integration with Inclusive Access. There are so many positives that I think once we have this first semester behind us, it’s going to get better and better.

Anything else you want readers to know? 

O: I don’t want students to ever get the impression that administration doesn’t realize that there were issues with the initial rollout. I wish everything had gone perfectly with the program as complex as this, but it’s hard for that to occur. I am sorry that things didn’t go perfectly. Instead, we’re diligently working in partnership with MBS Direct to identify the issues and correct them. And I think we’ve made huge inroads already with more to come.

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