Help on the Run
Students continue to embrace mobility
while auxiliary services move to here,
there, and everywhere.
A junior at a large university returns to campus
after spending the summer at home. She has registered for classes, unpacked her
stuff in her new dorm room, and is set for the year to begin. Suddenly, her cell phone rings
to indicate that she's received a text message. No, the message isn't from her buddies,
asking her to join them for pizza; it's from the campus bookstore, informing her that for
the next 24 hours, she can receive 20 percent off all merchandise with the school's logo.
This scenario might have been a campus retailer's fantasy two years ago, but not anymore.
Nowadays, college and university auxiliary services departments are turning to
these types of technologies to move a host of programs and offerings into the mobile
environment. Bob Hassmiller, executive director of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services, says that this kind of mobility is the
wave of the future—for students and institutions
At New Mexico State University, the campus
bookstore, for instance, recently inked a deal with Mobile
Campus to send students special offers via text
message. The new program cost $4,000 for up to 40,000
messages spread over the course of the school year.
"The reality is that the students are
out there teaching us about the best way
to interact," he says. "If we're going to
reach out to these kids, we have to do it
through the medium they're all on."
As Hassmiller notes, these trends are
driven by students themselves. A July
2007 study by Youth Trends indicated that 95
percent of college freshmen come to
school with a cell phone or other handheld
device, and 78 percent of them
have sent a text message in the previous
week. As these technologies have
become increasingly prevalent, institutions
have responded accordingly.
Today, every school with an eye to the
future is investing in mobility.
But while the tragic shootings at
Virginia Tech last April prompted many
school administrators to rush to adopt
text-messaging services so that they
could communicate with students during
emergencies, auxiliary services departments
are embracing mobile technology
more slowly. At last check, only a handful
of departments were doing anything with
mobile technology. Still, Mark Nelson,
digital content strategist for the National
Association of College Stores, says the number should grow
in the months and years to come.
"Today, [auxiliary services in the
mobile environment] are bleeding-edge,"
he says. "Two or three years from
now, everyone will be doing it."
Special Offers via SMS
The future is right now at New Mexico
State University, where short message
service (SMS), also known as text messaging,
is all the rage. The campus
bookstore, for instance, recently inked a
deal with Mobile Campus to send students special
offers for sale or discounted items via
text message. According to bookstore
Director Carleen Cirillo, the new program
cost $4,000 for up to 40,000 messages
spread over the course of the
school year, and launched in September.
Cirillo says the bookstore deal is
linked to a larger contract the university
signed with Mobile Campus (see
"Enabling Mobility"). As part of
the broader arrangement, all incoming
freshmen are required to sign up for an
emergency messaging service controlled
by the school. But the newbies
also have the option to receive special
text-message offers from vendors in and
around Las Cruces, where the school is located. The bookstore's offers fall into
this latter category.
"Vendor messages are available to
everyone, but students must sign up to
receive them first," says Cirillo, who
expects anywhere from 40 to 60 percent
of newcomers to sign up. "This way,
we're not sending anybody anything
they don't want to get."
The messages themselves will contain
fantastic offers. Cirillo says that when
the bookstore wants to get rid of surplus
hats or T-shirts, store managers can send
a text message to enrolled students offering
a one-time discount of 20 to 30 percent.
Other promotions might include an
additional percentage off book purchases
with proof of SMS offer, or a special free
item for those students who purchase $50
worth of merchandise and show the
cashier a particular text message.
Perhaps the only downside to the service
is that it doesn't automatically track
redemption. In order to see how many
students are taking advantage of text-message
discounts, Cirillo must reprogram
the bookstore's point-of-sale
(POS) terminals with a special key so
that cashiers can record when customers
are using SMS deals. Online orders with
SMS discounts present additional challenges;
Cirillo is considering assigning
each message a one-time discount code
so students can't share discounts with
"This technology is so new that I
think there'll be a bit of a learning curve
in terms of what works, what doesn't,
and where our customers might be able
to take advantage of us," she says, noting
that she expects to see modest profit
increases from the service over the
course of the year. "By this time next
year, I think we'll have the whole thing
pretty much figured out."
AS HIGHER EDUCATION institutions become more interested in communicating with students
in the mobile environment, the number of vendors offering services to facilitate
these broadcasts has grown exponentially. Campus Technology profiled mobile marketing
company TeamUp Mobile in the September issue (see "Gaining
Acceptance"). Another company making
waves in the marketplace is Mobile Campus.
The company's core product is MC Notify. Institutions require users to sign up for the service
and receive campus notifications from school administrators about everything from
computer shutdowns to street closures. Users may then choose to opt in to separate messaging
for campus groups and special offers from campus vendors and the college store.
Dave Liniado, the company's VP of university relations, enrollment, and
merchant development, says the basic service is completely free to students,
though standard text-messaging rates apply. He notes that the service
also is free to colleges and universities, and is underwritten by
sponsors, vendors, and other merchants who pay to send their blasts.
"Considering that students stay informed and schools get a powerful
SMS platform, I'd say everybody wins," Liniado says. "The best part is that it
costs both parties absolutely nothing."
Since Mobile Campus launched earlier this year, the company has attracted 14 higher
education customers, including the University of Florida and The University of Texas at
Austin. At both schools, Liniado says that roughly 30 percent of eligible users have
agreed to opt in for offers from merchants. Company officials say they expect this
number— and the number of customers overall— to increase in the months ahead. If it does,
Maritz Research may expect to see higher opt-in indicators in its
Improving Grocery Delivery
Officials at the campus store at Duke
University (NC) already have figured
out how to incorporate handhelds to
process on-site delivery transactions for
the institution's Uncle Harry's General
Store delivery service. The service, which
began four years ago, enables students
to shop online for food items from Uncle
Harry's central campus store, and
arrange for store employees to deliver
those items; students pay upon delivery
of the items.
Until recently, however, the service
did not accept credit cards. The problem
had to do with internet protocol (IP)
addresses. Because Duke's campus is so
big, the campus had a number of different
wireless zones, and the old handhelds
the school was using were
incapable of registering new IP addresses
when they went from one zone to the
next. Brian Buttram, associate director
of Duke University Stores, says that
since the old devices couldn't maintain
an internet connection, deliverers were
not able to process credit card transactions
in the field.
"We were forced to accept cash, check,
or payment via DukeCard," he says. "I
think the fact that [deliverers] were incapable
of handling credit card transactions
actually turned a lot of people off."
This summer, Duke invested in 10
new MC70 handhelds from Symbol
Technologies (now owned by Motorola), which maintain a
persistent connection to the internet—
making it possible for the delivery service
to process credit card transactions
anywhere on campus. Employees were
expected to roll out the new toys in September.
With the tools, Uncle Harry's
employees ring up a student's online
order back at the store, but suspend it
before they head out with deliveries.
Once they deliver the food, they recall
the transaction online, have the student
approve the final credit card charge, and
complete the transaction on site.
Buttram says this approach makes it
easy for delivery personnel to recalculate
a bill if customers decide at the last
moment they don't want something
they've ordered (under the old system,
these changes required a new transaction
entirely). Still, he notes, the improvement
is more a move to enhance convenience
than an attempt to drive sales.
The MC70 devices cost $2,500 apiece,
and Uncle Harry's delivery service only
does $10,000 in revenue each year.
"Do I think more students will try out
the service? Yes," he says. "Do I think
we're going to rake in the profits? Not
for a while."
Tracking Campus Shuttles
Considering that the three campuses at
Arizona State University are anywhere
from 30 to 60 minutes apart, shuttle bus
service is a pretty key part of life for
those students who need to travel from
one campus to another. The schedule
dictates that buses run between the
school's main campus in Tempe and its
east and west campuses every hour on
the hour. For years, though, if a bus got
stuck in traffic or was late, waiting passengers
were stuck at the bus stop, wondering
if their ride ever would arrive.
This past summer, the school's Parking
and Transit Services department set
out to change the system once and for all.
Piggybacking on existing wireless service
on buses (provided by Verizon Wireless),
auxiliary services officials added global
positioning system (GPS) technology to
the vehicles, enabling passengers to see
where each bus is and when it will arrive.
Program Manager Juliet Nelson says the
initiative was a way for the school to
keep passengers in the know.
"Most of the phone calls I get during
the school year are ‘Where's the bus?'
or ‘Where is it now?'" she gripes, noting
that on particularly bad days, she'll
log as many as 100 of these calls. But
now, she says, "People don't have to call
me to find out where it is—they can see
Under the new system, passengers
will be able to use their web-enabled
phones and laptop computers to look
up exactly where campus shuttles are
located at any given moment. In most
cases, the buses appear as blips on a
campus map that is updated once or
twice a minute. While the system does
not estimate travel times, it does provide
an accurate picture of which bus is
where. With this information, Nelson
says users can determine how much
longer they'll have to wait.
Down the road, the system may
become more sophisticated, too. Nelson
says ASU technologists are working
with Verizon to develop technology that
utilizes the GPS data to estimate travel
times. Once this component is constructed,
ASU technologists anticipate
a voice-oriented system that passengers
can call to hear the estimated arrival
time read to them over the phone. Nelson
says a text-messaging component to
the service may not be far behind.
"Once we get this up and running,
we'll look at ways to make it even more
user-friendly," says Nelson. "Ultimately,
our goal is to develop something that
makes everyone's life a little easier."
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Nearly two-thirds
of 1,062 college-aged consumers polled in 2006 said
they likely would not subscribe to offers sent to
their mobile phones or PDAs. And only 5 percent of
respondents subscribed to texted offers of any kind.
Down the Road
Despite innovations like these, the push
to move auxiliary services into the
mobile environment isn't without naysayers.
Most critics assail the effort as inherently
divisive, since there are some
students on every campus who don't have
cell phones, PDAs, or other technologies
necessary to take advantage of these programs.
Others are concerned that their
institutions will spend thousands of dollars
to embrace mobility, and then students
simply won't subscribe.
A number of these concerns are
based in fact. According to an August
2006 study by Maritz Research, nearly two-thirds
of 1,062 college-aged consumers said
they likely would not subscribe to offers
sent to their mobile phones or PDAs.
The study also indicated that only 5 percent
of respondents said they currently
subscribe to texted offers of any kind—
a surprisingly low number considering
how many members of Generation Y
text each other regularly.
"Text messaging seems to be popular
for personal matters, but not as an
advertising or promotion tool," says
Gloria Park Bartolone, division vice
president at Maritz. "While there is
growing retailer interest in mobile marketing,
this tells us retailers need to be
relevant to this audience to make it an
effective channel to communicate."
If anyone understands the reasons for
student apathy toward SMS subscriptions,
it's Tony Ellis. Ellis, director of
education for NACS, keeps a blog titled
"The Retail Muse", on which he opines about
everything from sales to advertising in
stores of all kinds. Ellis explains that students
are skeptical about subscribing to
text-messaging services because of so
many negative experiences being bombarded
with junk mail and spam.
He adds that in order for higher education
institutions to move auxiliary
services into the mobile environment
and make good use of technologies such
as SMS, school officials must understand
that no user will tolerate redundant
and harassing messaging. His
advice for others considering a move
into this arena is to formulate a textmessaging
strategy that revolves around
concise messages, infrequent blasts,
and an open invitation to opt out if a service
becomes too much.
Notes Ellis, "It's important that promotional
or less-than-personal text
messages be requested by the recipient,
offer real value, and be few and far
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