Student experience

SFU Bookstore and Spirit Shop innovate to prioritize student choice

February 02, 2021

Simon Fraser University's Bookstore and Spirit Shop instituted drastic, innovative changes to accommodate physical distancing following the suspension of in-person classes last March, at the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. Each of these essential campus resources restructured to provide versatile online support for students and faculty, without compromising their trademark quality or accessibility.

With in-person shopping halted, SFU's bookstore needed to ensure that students and faculty could make informed purchasing decisions in a virtual setting. Their solution is the Virtual Bookstore, an online marketplace with enhanced accessibility features, made available in April 2020. The Virtual Bookstore offers innovative new choices for students in regards to their courseware: they can adjust font sizes, enable text-to-speech and even comparison-shop for physical textbooks through Amazon and AbeBooks. Faculty members are likewise supported through enhanced, digital table-copies of their course texts.

The Virtual Bookstore was up and running within six weeks of lock-down thanks to help from SFU's Privacy Officer, IT Services and the bookstore's system provider, Sequoia. Bookstore and Spirit Shop Manager Susan Chew was quick to highlight how efficiently her staff adapted to the new online setting:

"The bookstore management team including myself, Anna Jun and Course Materials Supervisor Albert Lam worked diligently to overcome the unique challenges of bringing the Virtual Bookstore online. Led by Chief Commercial Services Officer Mark McLaughlin and Senior Director of Ancillary Services Sid Mehta, we went from 80 per cent physical texts to a full 70 per cent digital in just a month and a half."

Chew also noted that the physical bookstore reconfigured their retail space into a warehouse-style fulfillment centre to accommodate their new online focus. Their neighbor the Spirit Shop underwent a major overhaul as well, with a virtual storefront that was online within two weeks of the pandemic's onset last March.

Spirit Shop Supervisor Peter Lisiecki explains:

"As our physical stores closed, we had to adapt quickly to give our customers the ability to access  spirit materials with minimal disruption. As our existing online platform was limited in what it could offer, we went with Shopify to host our new Spirit Shop website. We immediately went to work building a website with a fresh and up-to-date look that captures the SFU spirit!"

In transitioning to online marketplaces, the Bookstore and Spirit Shop offered students and faculty a much wider variety of choices, while supporting their decisions with enhanced virtual infrastructure. Nearly a year later, the Virtual Bookstore and Spirit Shop clearly represent lasting and meaningful innovation for Simon Fraser University's community.