UMass' Amazon bookstore example could provide solution for UConn

In this photo, racks of textbooks are seen on the second floor of the UConn Co-op in Storrs, Connecticut. UConn students have begun to search for alternatives to the Co-op in recent years, often turning to Amazon for more competitive prices. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut students are ordering books for classes online more than ever. As a result, mailrooms are backed up, lines of students waiting for textbooks are routine and Co-op profits have fallen.

This is a known problem. What isn’t common knowledge is a possible solution. 

One example UConn could follow is that of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which has instituted an online Amazon bookstore on campus. This means students can order textbooks online and have them waiting in an on-campus site the next day.

Amazon promised a nearly 30 percent student savings rate for books during the contract and logistical negotiations with UMass. The company guarenteed free, one-day shipping to a location on-campus and students off-campus. The estimated savings of $380 per student was attractive to James Sheehan, UMass Amherst’s vice chancellor of administration and finance.

“We know students struggle with the high cost of textbooks and other course materials, and they have been moving to online purchasing,” Sheehan said. “We are delighted to help them get the most competitive prices and first-rate service. By seamlessly linking our online campus information system to Amazon, we will make it convenient as well as economical for students to get the items they need for their classes, delivered in one day with no shipping charge to campus and nearby addresses.”

This bookstore is the third of its kind nationwide, with other Amazon-run locations in Indiana at Purdue University and California at the University of California, Davis.

Amazon bid for the UMass bookstore contract against other online retailers. UMass Amherst gets a cut of Amazon’s sales – a 2.5 percent commission – and in the first three years the company will pay the university a higher amount annually - $375,000, then $465,000, then $610,000.

Amazon vied heavily for the UMass contract due to the university’s location nearby other Amazon distribution centers, low market competition and the institution’s sizable student body.

Gabriella Fishkind, a 5th-semester behavioral marketing and communication double major, applauded UMass' efforts in obtaining Amazon’s online-on-campus hybrid bookstore. 

“I found the experience easily accessible and reasonably priced, ordering my books the first day of classes and receiving them in a specialized room with individualized lockers in Campus Center by the next morning,” Fishkind said. “The process is beneficial to both students and professors, ensuring students are able to receive the necessary materials to keep up with classes from the get-go.”

The bookstore, in its first year, is running relatively smoothly. Fishkind recounts what buying books was like before the Amazon-controlled bookstore, during her freshman and sophomore years. Her experience sounds all too familiar to that of UConn students of late. 

“In past years, I’ve found myself waiting for more than two weeks for textbooks to arrive, delaying my ability to keep up with class material,” Fishkind said. “The new arrangement with Amazon is efficient and effective, offering numerous choices for a variety of books such as paperback, hardcover, rentals, or even online text subscriptions. The variety of options, along with the free shipping also allows students to spend less money on textbooks than in past years when students have bought directly from a publisher or a local bookstore.” 

UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said student benefit was the driving force behind the move.

“We really recognize that textbooks and course materials are a major expense for students, and those have continued to go up over time,” Blaguszewski said. “This is about convenience and saving money for students.”

With four times as many packages in UConn’s mailrooms this year compared to last year, it may seem like the university already has a lesser version of UMass’s Amazon bookstore.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.