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3 Best Practices for Planning Online Retail Events

Posted by Liz Schulte on 7/6/20 7:00 AM
Topics: college store marketing, benefits of online retail, Online retail events

The importance of eCommerce for college stores has grown exponentially over the past several months. While making sure your eCommerce website it up to date and offers students the same products they can get in your store is important, it is also necessary to actively promote your site and work to engage students online. With excellent planning, your campus store can host online events with a strong return on investment and increase student engagement.

3 Best Practices for Planning Online Retail EventsHere are three great examples of college stores that have planned fun, successful online events

  1. University of Utah Campus store hosted an online, pre-order sale event than brought in more than $1 million.

    The University of Utah Campus Store wasn’t able to hold its large Apple® sale in their store. Instead, they took an innovative approach and held an online preorder sale event. Customers were able to utilize curbside pickup and still get than personal touch from the campus store.

    Three weeks before the official sale event, the store began taking preorders. The result was impressive with more than $1 million in sales.

    “We did this event as a presale. So, people could place their order three weeks before the event. However, that also complicated things. We had to make sure customers really understood the process. There were no sale prices listed on the site before the event. We explained in the instructions that when customers checked out, they would not see the sale price because it could not be displayed until the day the sale was rang up. We had a specific time frame in which the event could be held, and the sale price could be given. So, a lot of orders were placed during the presale and then we started ringing orders on Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2. That’s when customers could see the sale price,” University of Utah Campus Store Associate Director Alex Parra said.

    “We found a lot of people still wanted the store experience. Even though they weren't coming inside the store, they liked that they were able to drive up to the store and talk to someone. It gave them a chance to ask questions like what adapter they needed. We were able to help them outside,” Parra said. “With the pickup, when customers first pulled into the parking lot, we had a tent where they were handed instructions on how to let us know they were here for their order and what spot to park in. Each spot was named after a different vacation destination. We had places like Bali, Honolulu and Maui. There was a sign in each spot with a QR code. Customers would scan the QR code and answer a few questions like, “What's your name, what location are you parked in, and if they had their order number.” The order number wasn't required.”

    Read more about the University of Utah Campus Store event.
  1. UMBC Bookstore uses social media to boost student engagement and sale events.

    UMBC Bookstore Director Erin McGonigle isn’t without a lot of really great ideas for how to strengthen the store’s online marketing efforts. Even amid the pandemic, the UMBC Bookstore’s creative and fun ideas have helped keep the campus community active and connected.

    “Campus has a couple hashtags (#UMBCTogether and  #UMBCMemory) to help keep everyone connected even though we are apart. We are taking part in this messaging. We have highlighted the #UMBCTogether message on our social media. We also kicked off a #UMBCMemory promotion. The first 50 people to post a memory and tag us will receive $10 off their next online order with a promo code. We started that May 1 and will promote it throughout the month. We have different staff members, including the student staff, who will share a picture memory throughout the month, so we’re not just asking the community to do it, we’re doing it, too!” McGonigle said.

    “We also have been working with other departments on campus to send out different things to students. Typically, in April we have New Student Day. This year, we still had it, but it was virtual, which means students missed out on getting the swag that they would normally get. Everyone who participated in the virtual New Student Day signed in and filled out a form, and then we mailed them a piece of UMBC swag. Basically, our price point was $10 and under. I think we ended up mailing 730 items. Stickers, decals, notebooks, bandanas and stuff like that. We also included a coupon they can use online,” McGonigle said. “Right now, I am collecting the various pieces from all over campus for the graduation package: the commencement book, the alumni pin, a beautiful poster with a quote from the university president. The university president is writing a letter that will go in there, too. Some students will get an honors cord or the first-generation graduate cord. We are collecting all of the different pieces and will ship them to each of the students. It’s quite a task, but in the box, we will also include a bookstore coupon for 20% off. We are hoping once those go out, we will see another boost in sales.

    “The coolest thing through all of this is when we mailed out the packages in the morning and then that afternoon someone placed an order using that coupon code. They had to have lived in the area. We have a great UPS guy. He’s amazing and has really been doing a great job,” McGonigle said. “We also received a thank you note from a parent. It said how happy she was that we were filling online orders because her student had left all of her stuff in the dorm room and really wanted to be able to wear her UMBC gear.”

    Read more about UMBC Bookstore’s savvy college store marketing.
  1. Morehead State University Store boosts online sales by adding a personal touch.

    One thing that sets college stores apart from other retail is person-to-person interaction they have with students each day. As part of the campus community, stores offer students a personal touch that shows how much they care about the student’s success. Just because sale events move online, it doesn’t mean that connection has to be lost.

    Morehead State University Store Assistant General Manager Julie Ferguson works hard to ensure that she continues to make that connection with customers who place orders and even uses social media to create opportunities.

    “We’ve done some online promotions using promo codes. We had one that was 40 percent off for a week during an Adopt-a-Senior event. I went on Facebook as the bookstore and found a bunch of local Adopt-a-Senior groups in our service region. I introduced myself and the store and offered them the promo code. I let them know we would include a handwritten note in their order and drop ship to the senior. It was a great deal for those with seniors coming here in the fall. People could send merchandise or gift cards to them — something to help make this year’s graduation special,” Ferguson said. “We did a lot of sales during the event. I see it as elevating our service a little bit. It's a little more work, but that’s something they aren’t getting from large online companies. We can still offer that extra personal step.”

    The store also includes free gifts with qualifying orders, reminding customers how the college store stands apart from other retailers.

    “You know when you buy a new fragrance or something and they include a free gift if you spend over a certain amount? We are also doing that because it is a fun bonus for customers. We’ve been going through our merchandise and pulling out things that weren’t quite right or just didn’t sell very well and turning them into free gifts. Like a hat that didn’t turn out how we wanted it or a sticker that wasn’t exactly right. We use those as giveaways for online orders along with a handwritten note,” Ferguson said. “In May, we did a ‘May the fourth be with you’ event. Every $25-or-more purchase got a free Star Wars themed gift. For whatever reason, we had several Star Wars power banks that just didn’t sell. The flash drives sold, but not the power banks. So instead, they became a really nice free gift. Our hope is that customers will remember the extra effort and personal touch we put on every order and want to continue to shop with us.”

    Read more about how Morehead State University Store personalizes online orders

Thinking of ways to help your store stand apart while promoting your online store is vital this fall. What has your store done to drive sales? Let us know in the comments.


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