Shopping for Ideas: High Street to Higher Education

       

          

Shopping for Ideas: High Street to Higher Education

                            

 

My colleague, Alan Preece, has written an insightful article about the challenges in higher education today and how higher education administrators could learn from other sectors’ disruptions.

Alan is an education marketing and enrollment specialist based in San Diego. He has a track record of success in devising and implementing strategies leading to sector-leading recruitment growth for universities. He has worked at a senior level in the higher education, retail, and utility sectors as well as being COO and CEO for private pathways providers. Further information is available from his blog site: viewfromabridge.org

Guest Blog

Higher education could do worse than look to the disruption in the retail sector as a roadmap to the future. The heyday of the high street and shopping mall, from the mid to late 1900s, coincided with the ‘massification’ of higher education as developed economies grew consistently and the population expanded. But the era of major government investment in public higher education is long gone in both the US and the UK, and the sector shows similarities to retailing in its vulnerability to market forces.

Cutting to the present day, 2017 saw a record number of retail closures across US high streets and shopping malls with department stores among the biggest victims. Clay Christensen’s prediction that “50% of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U. S. will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years”, may be wide of the mark. But the parallel with retail department stores offer food for thought.

Department stores and most universities run businesses on large sites with high fixed costs and ranges of largely undifferentiated products. Premium prices are charged for quality, service, and a unique customer “experience”. Discounting is a common tool in attempting to lure the volume of customers they need to survive.

Disruptive technology has been a significant factor in undermining traditional retail and higher education. It has created a generation that has global reach in its fingertips. They can shop, learn, experience and compare value without leaving the sofa.

Globalisation is another factor where emerging nations in the Asia Pacific region are making their mark. World rankings, improved quality and rapid growth are among the products of economic power and government support.

The most powerful and best-known universities probably have the financial and brand strength to surf the tides of change. Only total neglect, stupidity or deliberate vandalism would damage their position but even they should be aware of complacency. For the rest there is an urgent need to refine, realign, and reinforce what they offer to students.

As in the retail sector, customer responsiveness, demonstrable value, differentiation, and flexibility will be the basis for survival. But a headlong rush into online delivery is unlikely to provide an answer. It seems unlikely that every university will be able to make it a major, let alone profitable, component of the offer.

Universities might consider some ideas that have proved relevant to retail survival.

  1. Develop unique and compelling “product lines” (degrees and other courses) that are both market sensitive and differentiable from the competition. Be disciplined in managing the range of options available. Learn from experience-driven destinations what it takes to have a must-visit physical or virtual campus.
  2. The power of customer choice means online programmes will have to be the best in class and as good as anything offered anywhere in the world. Half-hearted investment, lackluster delivery, and poor service will not thrive.
  3. Immediacy, performance and personalization have become expectations rather than luxuries. Those are the standards education will need to meet with service excellence from first point of contact to extended options for alumni and added value for repeat shoppers.
  4. Department stores have suffered but stores offering value, convenience, and specialization have grown. These may suggest options for universities actively seeking points of differentiation as they focus on understanding the market and developing their niche.

Towns and cities around the world have been irrevocably changed as what were once considered economic and cultural fixtures – coal, steel, car production, and department stores all have been challenged by globalisation, technology, and new value propositions. In that context it seems unlikely that universities, in their current form, are exempt from the same pressures. There is an urgent need to experiment with new thoughts including building usage, services for users, market relevance, and the economies of delivery.

The challenges will not recede and the future will belong to the bold and the nimble. Inquisitive, smart, and action-oriented universities will embrace the new challenges and respond effectively. Borrowing experiences and solutions from retailing and other sectors may help their thinking.

 

My colleague, Alan Preece, has written an insightful article about the challenges in higher education today and how higher education administrators could learn from other sectors’ disruptions.

Alan is an education marketing and enrollment specialist based in San Diego. He has a track record of success in devising and implementing strategies leading to sector-leading recruitment growth for universities. He has worked at a senior level in the higher education, retail, and utility sectors as well as being COO and CEO for private pathways providers. Further information is available from his blog site: viewfromabridge.org

Guest Blog

Higher education could do worse than look to the disruption in the retail sector as a roadmap to the future. The heyday of the high street and shopping mall, from the mid to late 1900s, coincided with the ‘massification’ of higher education as developed economies grew consistently and the population expanded. But the era of major government investment in public higher education is long gone in both the US and the UK, and the sector shows similarities to retailing in its vulnerability to market forces.

Cutting to the present day, 2017 saw a record number of retail closures across US high streets and shopping malls with department stores among the biggest victims. Clay Christensen’s prediction that “50% of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U. S. will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years”, may be wide of the mark. But the parallel with retail department stores offer food for thought.

Department stores and most universities run businesses on large sites with high fixed costs and ranges of largely undifferentiated products. Premium prices are charged for quality, service, and a unique customer “experience”. Discounting is a common tool in attempting to lure the volume of customers they need to survive.

Disruptive technology has been a significant factor in undermining traditional retail and higher education. It has created a generation that has global reach in its fingertips. They can shop, learn, experience and compare value without leaving the sofa.

Globalisation is another factor where emerging nations in the Asia Pacific region are making their mark. World rankings, improved quality and rapid growth are among the products of economic power and government support.

The most powerful and best-known universities probably have the financial and brand strength to surf the tides of change. Only total neglect, stupidity or deliberate vandalism would damage their position but even they should be aware of complacency. For the rest there is an urgent need to refine, realign, and reinforce what they offer to students.

As in the retail sector, customer responsiveness, demonstrable value, differentiation, and flexibility will be the basis for survival. But a headlong rush into online delivery is unlikely to provide an answer. It seems unlikely that every university will be able to make it a major, let alone profitable, component of the offer.

Universities might consider some ideas that have proved relevant to retail survival.

  1. Develop unique and compelling “product lines” (degrees and other courses) that are both market sensitive and differentiable from the competition. Be disciplined in managing the range of options available. Learn from experience-driven destinations what it takes to have a must-visit physical or virtual campus.
  2. The power of customer choice means online programmes will have to be the best in class and as good as anything offered anywhere in the world. Half-hearted investment, lackluster delivery, and poor service will not thrive.
  3. Immediacy, performance and personalization have become expectations rather than luxuries. Those are the standards education will need to meet with service excellence from first point of contact to extended options for alumni and added value for repeat shoppers.
  4. Department stores have suffered but stores offering value, convenience, and specialization have grown. These may suggest options for universities actively seeking points of differentiation as they focus on understanding the market and developing their niche.

Towns and cities around the world have been irrevocably changed as what were once considered economic and cultural fixtures – coal, steel, car production, and department stores all have been challenged by globalisation, technology, and new value propositions. In that context it seems unlikely that universities, in their current form, are exempt from the same pressures. There is an urgent need to experiment with new thoughts including building usage, services for users, market relevance, and the economies of delivery.

The challenges will not recede and the future will belong to the bold and the nimble. Inquisitive, smart, and action-oriented universities will embrace the new challenges and respond effectively. Borrowing experiences and solutions from retailing and other sectors may help their thinking.

 

This entry was posted in Colleges, Foreign Students, International Education, International students, Universities by Marguerite Dennis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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