For higher-education students, expensive textbooks that you only use for a semester have long been a sore point. Enter Zookal – an online textbook rental service that’s shaking up the status quo.
Students in Australia are able to rent and pay for textbooks online, thanks to Zookal, an innovative local start-up that is challenging the traditional textbook market.
“Zookal was launched in February 2012,” says COO and co-founder, Vicky Lay. “[CEO] Ahmed Haider was a university student, who experienced the pain of expensive textbooks. He researched what was happening in other global markets and discovered that students could rent textbooks in the US. He decided to bring the online rental model to Australia.”
As you might expect, Zookal’s customers are predominantly higher education students (university, college and TAFE), aged 18 to 25, mostly based on the eastern seaboard, “although we do have some international customers”, adds Lay.
Students can rent the textbooks they need for the time they need them – from a semester to just a few weeks. They also have the option to buy new or second-hand textbooks, if they wish.
“We’re saving students a fair bit of money and they don’t have to go to the bookstore or library, which makes their lives easier,” says Lay. “Sometimes you only need a textbook for two or three weeks and there may be a library waiting list of five or six people during those times. We can get students the books they need fast and we offer a discount for these short-term rentals.”
An online textbook solution
Zookal’s online rental and retail model works well for its digitally savvy audience. Says Lay: “Our customers are very used to e-commerce and most have a credit card. Maybe one or two per cent prefer to pay by direct transfer or in store, and we cater for that.”
When Zookal launched, the business was with another payment gateway. “Australia Postrecommended SecurePay, so we trialled it and preferred it to our previous provider,” says Lay. “As an API, SecurePay is quite easy to use and it has better security.”
Zookal’s marketing plan is based on activity around the tertiary academic year, most commonly divided into two semesters. Word of mouth is a powerful promotional tool for the brand, along with email, social media marketing and displays at student events. “Our mascot is a monkey, so someone dresses up and interacts with the students on campus … we always get loads of photos on Facebook!” adds Lay.
“Australia Post recommended SecurePay, so we trialled it and preferred it to our previous provider. As an API, SecurePay is quite easy to use and it has better security.”
Vicky Lay, Zookal COO and co-founder
Online rentals business model
Since its launch in 2012, Zookal has seen 10x growth, year on year. In the first six months of 2014, 120,000 people visited the Zookal platform.
Clearly, Zookal is fulfilling a need for the student community. However, competitors have been slow to challenge the brand, in part, perhaps, because online rentals are a more complex business model than straightforward online retail.
“There are a few factors we had to take into consideration with Zookal,” says Lay. “First, we had to build the logistics and costs into the business plan. With textbook rentals, you don’t just have products going out, they’re coming back too, so you’ve got to have the systems in place for that. Then, we had to price the service correctly to make it viable. This includes working obsolescence into the plan, as new editions come out and the prescribed textbooks change all the time.
Zookal’s future plans
Lay says the highlights for the business so far have been the positive customer feedback, the sales spikes and growth. “We’re all focused on expanding our reach,” she says. “One of the benefits of an online platform is that we can expand internationally.”
E-commerce opportunities in education
Education is a major, and growing, industry in Australia. The country is the third most popular destination in the world for international students, attracting seven per cent of the world’s international students. This makes education Australia’s fourth largest export, after iron ore, coal and gold. Online systems and e-commerce offers schools, universities and other educational organisations a convenient way for parents and students to make bookings and pay for fees, events, and activities.