LE JAMES bookstore gears up for the fall semester

In response to the challenges presented by COVID-19, the team at Le James bookstore has completely overhauled its ordering and delivery procedures as it prepares to serve customers in Montreal and around the world

LE JAMES, the McGill bookstore forced to shutter on March 13 as part of the COVID-19 lockdown, is resuming activities in a measured, carefully-planned ramp-up in time for the fall semester.

In mid-April, the store took preliminary steps to restart online-only sales of course material for students taking summer classes.

The retail outlet is now bracing for the tsunami expected when McGill’s full student corps starts placing orders for textbooks, course materials and general merchandise purchases.

“We could see upwards of 2,000 orders a day come the fall back-to-school semester,” said Alison Brown, Marketing and Merchandising Manager for LE JAMES, at 680 Sherbrooke St. West.

This year, LE JAMES will be overseeing operations of the Macdonald Campus bookstore, as well. “Macdonald Campus has its own unique culture and identity,” acknowledges Brown. “We want to leverage our expertise and existing infrastructure to ensure that Mac students get everything they need for the upcoming semester.”

As things stand now the physical store downtown may reopen on August 26, and course material will be available online as of August 10.

Bookstore basement like “a mini Amazon”

“We’ve been used to upheavals and kind of going with the flow (before the bookstore opened at its current location nearly four years ago),” Brown said, “but this is entirely different.”

Brown and the bookstore team of nearly 30 staffers have been working long days for many weeks preparing for the restart of classes and courses. The process is an intricate one, respecting strict University protocols, which are in turn derived from Quebec health authorities’ directives.

For textbooks and course material the entire ordering process will be online only.

Brown likened the bookstore’s lower level to “a mini Amazon,” a large space where only staff will pick, pack and ship orders, or assemble orders for pick-up. If the order is for pick-up, there will be a virtual queueing system in which students will order their books online and select an available time slot for pick-up.

At the appointed time, the customer will arrive at the lower-level door and present their virtual ticket. Following directional arrows, they’ll collect their order, exiting through the door near the pick-up area’s cash register.

Processing thousands of books a day

A word of caution: given the expected volume of orders do NOT expect your order to be ready the same day you place it, as was the case before COVID-19, customers will be advised when their orders are ready.

The store is ready to ship material all over the world, wherever McGillians may be.

“But it’s very hard to determine right now how many students will be on campus and how many students will be ordering, or how many will be learning virtually from somewhere else,” Brown said.

A “fulfillment grid” was created that anticipates the likely number of orders based on previous sales.

“But that’s very hard to do. We’re looking at more than 1,000 orders a day, each order consisting of maybe five or six books.” The waiting time is hard to determine at this point, but will be heavily dependent as to when the orders are placed, the sooner the better or could be “upward of five days” during peak period. The work behind the scenes and the paperwork involved are both colossal, noted Brown, who has filled four notebooks from meetings since the pandemic hit. “We’ve all needed to wear a lot of hats and to do a lot of plate-spinning.”

For those not ordering online, the main level will also be open to shop McGill swag and stationery.

Once at the door, customers can scan the QR (quick response) code outside the store’s door, they will be notified on their phone as to when they can enter the store. The point, Brown said, is to avoid forming long queues outside the store, line-ups that in normal times have reached hundreds of people. The system will allow a few people gathering at the door to keep physically distant – and all University and health directives will apply in the store, of course, including wearing a mask.

For more information, consult the LE JAMES website.