Case Study: Auburn University Expands Access and Boosts Affordability with Marketplace Sourcing

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PARTNERSHIP IN PROFILE: Auburn University and Follett

Marketplace sourcing expands access and boosts affordability for textbook inventory


With more than 1,840 acres in Auburn, Alabama, and a robust student body of nearly 25,000, Auburn University is one of the largest universities in the South. Through instructional, research and outreach programs, the University prepares students to respond successfully to the challenges of a global economy.

Defined by its land-grant traditions of “service” and “access”, the University continually seeks new and innovative ways to reach out to the people it serves. Auburn’s full-service college store -- where all revenue is returned to the University – is no exception.

Russell Weldon, Assistant Director of the Auburn University Bookstore, had a mission: to find a better way to source large volumes of used books that could be offered to students at more affordable prices. But as a single buyer, he found it difficult to identify sourcing tools, and when he succeeded, often the quality was not up to Auburn standards. It was time to turn the traditional textbook sourcing process on its head and identify an online marketplace sourcing partner.


Imagine a simple and hassle-free way to run a Want List in multiple places concurrently, buying directly from millions of students, thousands of sellers and hundreds of bookstores nationwide. Follett Marketplace Source offers just that -- a marketplace community fueled by its users. By securing books from sellers using proprietary programs and other marketplaces such as Amazon, Alibris and AbeBooks, Follett provides additional access to inventory at a much more efficient rate.

For the Auburn University Bookstore, tapping into this type of marketplace sourcing partnership is the ideal way to identify affordable copies of books and solidify the store’s commitment to students and its role as a one-stop shop for academic needs.

Using a “just-in-time” bidding approach, Weldon uses analytics, data and guidance from the Follett Marketplace team as well as his own store and buyback history to optimize both pricing and timing. His strategies include:

  • Be aggressive/deep from the outset. Jump in early, with the goal of obtaining about 45 percent of used books from marketplace sourcing. Allow a few weeks to a month for the marketplace to do its magic on the want list. Then make strategic tweaks based on demand, buybacks, etc.
  • Use the sandwich technique. After this strong initial push into the marketplace, supplement with wholesale options (traditional wholesale partners) and then go back out to marketplace to find remaining books.
  • Source strategically. Leverage the invaluable data/analytics the Follett Marketplace team offers, and then look back at store history to determine what was found in the marketplace previously (including quantities and pricing history to get an idea of the value of that book), and at buyback, especially if titles need to be priced more aggressively for the next go around.
  • Anticipate – and direct – demand. Consider offering a 10% discount to students for early purchases of books, typically over a promoted weekend two to three weeks before term begins. The result? More time for the store to complete sourcing and pricing, and greater access to used books and beneficial pricing for students.

“Whether you are an on campus bookstore, independent textbook retailer or an enterprise seller, Follett Marketplace Source makes your job easier. We are proud that our Marketplace Source program supports our customers’ affordability goals.” - Woody Hunt, Vice President of Marketplace at Follett


Thanks to Follett’s Marketplace Source program, universities like Auburn can enjoy the following competitive advantages:

  • Streamlined Want Lists – Simply transfer a Want List to Follett, and Follett will handle the interface with the marketplace
  • Expanded Reach -- Access proprietary sourcing channels and millions of used books that cannot be found anywhere else -- including “long tail” titles -- all at lower costs.
  • Reduced Time and Effort -- Follett sources inventory, checks book conditions, provides status alerts and ships when needed, at a preferred frequency. 
  • Consolidated Billing -- Receive a single invoice from Follett for all Marketplace Source transactions (no credit card required).

An unexpected benefit of marketplace sourcing? Weldon discovered that if duplication occurs when he runs his Want List in multiple places concurrently, the value of having extra copies far exceeds the extra costs incurred. With fewer copies in the marketplace ecosystem, students are more likely to go to the bookstore for their course materials since they know stock is guaranteed -- resulting in sales growth often exceeding expectations.

“Marketplace sourcing is a win-win for Auburn students and the University alike. The ability to jump in early to secure vetted quality used books from marketplace sourcing enables us to offer great value to our Auburn students – key to our mission and essential for student success. Growing over time, our strategic partnership with Follett has empowered us to find the right mix of used inventory at the right time.” - Russell Weldon,Assistant Director of the Auburn University Bookstore