Retailers Head To College For The Latest Commerce Innovation

Robots Future Of College Food Delivery?

It’s summer — finally — and that means most college students are back home on break, thinking of beach time and extra cash, and gearing up for the next set of classes. Retailers, too, have higher education on their minds. Freshly graduated high school seniors, meanwhile, are preparing for that next big step.

After all, college is not only a place where many young men and women learn who they really are, but where operators of commerce, big and small, often find their next lucrative ideas.

Take one of the most recent examples, from Amazon. It has long been a significant presence in the lives of many college students, and that trend is sure to grow even more in the coming months and years. The eCommerce operator recently announced that it is launching its Off-to-College store, geared toward college students and all of their shopping needs — be it furnishing a dorm room or purchasing class supplies.

The store is available on both desktop and the Amazon app, and Amazon teamed up with Ava Phillippe, daughter of actress Reese Witherspoon, to share some of her dorm room favorites. Users can shop directly from Ava’s list or from “college influencer-curated style guides, including earthy artsy, casual throwback, modern minimal and eclectic chic,” Amazon said. What’s more, Amazon Prime Student members will get special perks when they use the store.

Mobile Innovation

College is also a notable location for the rise of other retail innovation — including technology that is changing the QSR word, mobile order-ahead. As PYMNTS research has demonstrated, mobile order-ahead offerings are increasing, showing up on college campuses like a cool new student that everyone wants to know — and where dining operators compete to win the business of busy students and visiting families.

That can present a relatively tricky challenge for both retail and payments, given the meal plans college students are on, and their often limited funds and payment options.  Providing that mobile order-ahead means providing an app that can easily handle meal plans and credit card payments and keep it all secure, according to John Diaz, vice president of retail solutions product management for education technology Blackboard. The effort to get that right on college campuses involves tokening credit card payments and providing seamless sign-in services.

Subscription Rising

Another hot retail trend that is also being honed on campuses is subscription retail.

After all, the search for inexpensive college textbooks can overwhelm students juggling tuition, food and housing costs. The prices that students must often pay at college bookstores for their required, limited-circulation reading materials often force them to obtain the books through questionable means — if they bother to get them at all.

That leaves an opening for subscription commerce.

Subscriptions could eliminate some of these price frustrations, as they have in other areas of the education space with online platforms like Coursera and That’s what Cengage is attempting with its new subscription service, Cengage Unlimited. The service, available per semester or for the year, gives students access to a digital textbook archive at a much lower price than paying for physical books at the college bookstore.

Todd Markson, chief strategy officer for Cengage, told PYMNTS that a focus on “affordability and access” prompted the launch of Unlimited in August. The company also wanted to fill a void for students who avoided buying expensive course material by appealing to those who used sources such as online torrents. “Students have had to make tough choices when presented with their course material,” Markson said. “We’ve been really focused on affordability.”

College is among the most memorable times in a person’s life. It can also provide memorable experiences and lessons for retailers of all types and sizes.