U. of California-Davis Teams Up With Amazon to Create Online Storefront

The University of California at Davis is testing a new Davis-oriented storefront that funnels a portion of its revenue to the university. About 2 percent of the value of each sale goes to the university on most transactions started through the storefront, which features campus-themed clothing, organic snacks, and popular films in addition to books, textbooks, video games, and such dorm-room necessities as laundry hampers and storage bins.

The one-year pilot started in September and had already generated $82,000 for the university as of December 31, said Jason Lorgan, director of UC Davis Stores. About half of that income is going toward a book-scholarship fund, and the rest will support the operating costs of the student-union building.

Mr. Lorgan said that what other college bookstores often miss is that they don’t offer 99 percent of what Amazon sells. “Everyone tends to focus on the 1 percent of products that overlap, primarily textbooks,” he said. But students are buying many other items that most bookstores don’t offer, such as clothing and apartment accessories. The only sales through the storefront that don’t earn money for the university are those of computer hardware.

During the spring of 2010, Mr. Lorgan said, UC Davis Stores was one of the first university bookstores to offer a textbook-price-comparison tool on its website. The tool listed the price of each textbook at the UC-Davis bookstore and at 15 other vendors, including Amazon. Today about 350 universities around the country offer similar services, he said.

“It shows that we have the students’ interest as our No. 1 goal,” said Mr. Lorgan. He added that the bookstore’s mission is to provide students with tools for education at the best available price, even if that price is not available from the store itself. He also said the bookstore was looking to enhance the services it provides to students face to face, not replace them.

Amazon said it had chosen UC Davis Stores for the pilot program because of the success of the price-comparison tool. Amazon also said Davis was a top earner among Amazon Associates, a program in which website owners create links to Amazon products and earn referral fees for sales. The new collaboration is meant to complement the on-campus retail offerings for students while allowing them to support their university.

“Our goal is to better serve our university student customers,” wrote Brittany Turner, an Amazon public-relations officer, in an email. She described the partnership as “a win-win.”

Ms. Turner said that the pilot would become permanent if the two parties determined that their goals had been met. Amazon also plans to expand the new program to other colleges over time, but  the company declined to give details.

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