Just one click: online retailers are taking over college campuses with convenience and speedy delivery

Where can a college student find a bar of soap shaped like a unicorn, a Hilary Duff concert shirt from 2004, pink metallic Birkenstocks, film equipment, and toothpaste? Online, of course.

Millennial consumers, aged 18 to 34, spend more money online each year than any other generation, according to a Business Insider report. What started for most pre-teen millennials as a way to make online Christmas wish lists for mom and dad is now a lifeline for all their shopping needs.

“The first time I shopped online I must have been super young, I’d say sixth grade. I mostly window-shopped and created carts with clothes I wanted for Christmas,” said Makena Costlow, a senior film production major. “Now any online shopping I do is for things like books, film and audio equipment, stickers, phone cases, and bags. All of it on Amazon.”

Amazon, the largest retailer in the world, surpassing Wal-Mart in 2015, according to the LA Times, is taking over college campuses with its convenience and variety. Its free six-month Prime trial, Amazon Student, hooks freshman on their way to college, and keeps them subscribed for years.

Now, many Chapman students live by Amazon Prime, the subscription that provides free two-day shipping, free video and music streaming, and photo storage. However, the real draw is the quick delivery. Said Cristina Geo, a sophomore business major:

“I order everything with Prime because of the free two-day shipping. That’s what makes it better than any other site. If I need something, all I have to do is click a button, and it’s in my hands in two days. Sometimes by the next day, if I qualify for same-day shipping. It’s really worth it since I don’t have a car at school to drive to the store.”

Students involved in several clubs, internships, and Greek life also enjoy the quick delivery, which eliminates time wasted at the store. Becca Batkin, a senior strategic and corporate communications major and president of the Be Positive cancer fighting chapter at Chapman, relies on Amazon Prime for her organization’s events.

“I order everything online. It’s just so easy to find what I need at a cheap price on Amazon. While I was planning our Chapman University Dance Marathon these past months, I ordered so many things from the site. The convenience really makes it the best option for me, because I’m always so busy,” said Batkin.

Although Batkin lives off campus, where packages can easily be delivered to her doorstep, many Chapman students live in the residence halls, where their two-day deliveries may become four-day holds in the package room. Ellie Lee, a sophomore business major, lives on campus, but prefers to ship things to her home in La Palma, California to avoid the delay.

“I prefer not to ship to the residence life package center. I can have my Amazon package ship in two days, but it’ll be at least three or more days before I can get it because of the processing time at the package center,” she said. “That nullifies the purpose of Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping in my opinion, and I’d much rather ship things to home.”

Since the rise of online shopping in the last decade, the residence life package room has faced extra demand. According to Amanda Zamora, the residence life mail and package coordinator, the package room received nearly 1,000 more packages during the fall 2015 semester than it did in the fall 2014 semester. However, between the fall 2015 semester and the following spring 2016 semester, the package rooms received nearly 900 less packages—a result of the increased use of the Amazon lockers on campus.

“During the busiest times of the year, the beginning of each semester, we can sometimes receive around 600 packages in one day,” she said. “I don’t think students realize that we have to process each package individually, and that amount takes extra volunteers to handle and can take about three hours for each package room to process each item and shelve it by mailbox number. It can be really overwhelming.”

In order to support the flood of packages, the residence life and student engagement team brought the concept of Amazon lockers to campus. Michael Keyser, assistant director of the student union and fitness center, attributes nearly 70 percent of the package room overflow to Amazon shipments.

“We were reacting to a high amount of use at the residence hall package room, and we needed to do something because the hours are inconvenient, we were getting way too many packages, and we can’t handle the demand during certain times of the year,” he said. “So we started looking into the Amazon lockers.”

These shiny yellow compartments, located in the Argyros Forum Student Union, allow students to select the locker as their delivery location and pick up their packages at their leisure. Upon the package’s arrival, students receive a code to punch into the touch screen, which opens the locker that it is placed in.

This system bypasses the package room, where packages must be sorted, labeled, and picked up during the room’s hours of operation. With the Amazon lockers, students can pick up their packages around the clock, as long as they have access to the student union.

Since their installation in December, the Amazon lockers have received over 1,600 packages, with an average of 80 packages per week, according to Keyser. Another set of Amazon lockers was installed at the Davis Community Center last spring, and relieved some of the traffic from the Argyros Forum lockers, while also saving on-campus residents the trip to main campus.

The ease of online shopping, evident in Amazon’s structure, sometimes leads to impulse purchases and buyer’s remorse. Natalie Welch, a senior creative producing major, frequently purchases clothes online, largely due to the flash sales and apparent discounts. She returns at least a quarter of her purchases.

“I probably shop online a couple times a month. When I order one thing, I order many things. Then I’ll take a break, and then splurge again. I buy shoes that I think I want, like a pair of new Birkenstocks, which turned out to be tacky looking,” she said. “The good thing is, most things can be returned. I definitely find myself making unnecessary purchases at times because of the convenience factor.”

Online shopping can also be misleading at times, since the product that arrives is not always the product pictured on the site. This year, several news outlets covered prom dress shopping, which is one of the trickiest forms of online shopping. Those who find gorgeous dresses that are under $100 on obscure websites often receive sacks of discolored fabric, maybe with a faded sequin or two. Even ordering the wrong size can cause a hassle, with difficult return policies and shipping.

In order to avoid this issue, savvy online shoppers like Gao and Batkin make sure that they knows their sizes before ordering, and only purchase from trusted online retailers, like Nordstrom and Hollister Co.

Besides being able to order clothes, party supplies, toilet paper, or cereal online, students often search the web for affordable textbook sales. On Amazon, students can purchase or rent discounted textbooks, or even download them directly to their laptops. Other online textbook retailers like Chegg, TextbookRush, Campus Book Rentals, and Bookbyte also boast discounted textbook prices, comparable to the usually full-price stickers at the Chapman Bookstore.

Brian Lacey, the Chapman Bookstore manager, shared how the bookstore competes with online retailers.

“We work hard to keep textbook prices competitive by offering choices like rental, digital, the largest selection of used books in the industry, and our price match program,” he said. “Unlike online retailers, the campus store allows the use of financial aid, easy returns or exchanges, and ensuring students have the right materials through our direct relationship with faculty.”

Despite these efforts, students like Costlow still prefer the ease of browsing online, where they can quickly compare the lowest textbook prices.

“I always buy books online. I feel very strongly that the cheapest place you can find a book is online. There, people are often just trying to get rid of things, so the prices are much lower,” she said. “If you go to the bookstore, you need to buy full price. That’s BS. You only read the textbook once.”

Amazon continues to create more convenient options for college students, with its brick-and-mortar bookstores slowly popping up near colleges across the nation, the most recent one opening in San Diego, California.

Advancements in online shopping, like Amazon lockers and online textbook price-matching tools, encourage the steady rise of e-commerce amongst college students.

“In a small way, the Amazon lockers have been a positive motivator for the students. It shows that we are making some progress here. It’s nice to see something that is relatively cutting-edge and self-service convenient here that makes the students really feel like things are being done to make progress,” said Keyser.

These efforts also allow students to feel good about their online shopping, which often saves them time and money.

“Shopping online used to make me feel lazy,” said Lee. “But the craziness of college taught me that it’s a blessing to be able to ship something in with just the click of a button.”

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