The ninth-seeded Shockers kept the country on the edge of their seats this season as they advanced to the Final Four with four wins, one over top-seeded Gonzaga and one over second-seeded Ohio State. And in their first Final Four since 1965, they had the Cardinals fighting hard for a win.
“It has been a tremendous experience for all of us as a staff, and we couldn’t be more proud of the team,” explained Andrea Stipp, assistant director. “We were busier than we’ve ever been, and a week later, I think we’re all still recovering.”
To keep fans supplied with merchandise for each stage of the tournament, the store has been working around the clock for weeks. And, their customers have certainly taken notice. Sales have spiked both online and in-store with orders for merchandise still pouring in, despite the fact that the team is no longer competing.
The initiative kicked into high gear when the Shockers reached the Sweet Sixteen, according to Stipp.
“We utilized local vendors for the majority of our t-shirts so we could take advantage of a quick turnaround time,” she said. “Many early mornings were spent making the three hour drive to Kansas City or Lawrence to pick up t-shirt orders. It worked out great though because we could have our merchandise available in-store within two hours of opening on the day after a win.”
Social media played an essential role in promoting each new t-shirt design as the team advanced through the tournament. By updating the estimated time of arrival for new merchandise on the bookstore Facebook and Twitter accounts, they created hype and had a line of fans waiting to make a purchase each time the new shirts arrived.
“We also teamed up with the Rhatigan Student Center Marketing Department who helped us cross-promote our new products and generate a buzz,” she added.
Their real secret weapon, however, was the ability to sell merchandise online. With the help of MBS Systems inSite, their web store was easily updated and able to handle a large amount of traffic.
“A lot of the sports memorabilia stores in Wichita don’t have an online presence, so it really gave us an advantage,” Stipp explained. “We saw a 1000% increase in online orders compared to our average monthly web sales and we’re still receiving quite a bit, even now.”
inSite’s easy management allowed the store to add merchandise to their website ahead of time and simply ‘unhide’ it once their team had progressed through another round. In fact, during the Final Four, there was a point in time when shirts were selling out just as fast as the merchandise was revealed.
“We shipped packages to Asia, the Middle East, South Africa; literally all over the world. It was phenomenal,” she described. “inSite was critical in helping us gain sales. If we didn’t have an online presence, we really would have been behind the eight ball.”
Beyond sales, the store was also able to extend superior customer service to their students throughout the process, establishing loyalty that will last long after the tournament. For instance, several fans who had headed down to Atlanta for the Final Four game called the store with last minute requests for flags that had been forgotten at home or sweatshirts that they just had to have.
“inSite was instrumental in allowing us to fulfill last minute orders to our fans who were across the country,” she said. “We were able to overnight merchandise to them in time for the game and they were just ecstatic.”
Online orders also cut down on in-store traffic, offering an improved shopping experience.
“No one likes waiting in a line, so we utilized inSite to offer store pickup to our students,” she explained. “They simply ordered and paid for their merchandise online and picked it up in store. Everyone enjoyed the convenience and the fact that they avoided the hassle of dealing with a crowd.”
The store also delivered shirts to their satellite campus locations, to ensure all students had a chance to show their Shocker pride.
“We know the majority of those students are working adults, and that they may not have time to drive to our store for an order, so we wanted to make sure they didn’t miss out,” Stipp added. “We saw a huge increase in sales at these locations and they were very appreciative.”
In fact, the store even welcomed their rivals with open arms through a T-shirt trade in promotion. Because many Wichita residents sport Kansas University and Kansas State University apparel on a daily basis, the campus’ Student Center partnered with the store to increase Shocker pride on campus. So, anyone who brought in KU or K-State apparel was offered $3 off their WSU Final Four shirt.
“It became a one of a kind experience for many,” Stipp said. “We had several students tell us how excited they were to shop for their first ever Shocker shirt; it was great!”
Throughout the tournament, the store spread the word about their in-store offerings and their website to thousands and thousands of people. Although the excitement brought with it long hours and extra labor, Wichita State University Bookstore thrived under pressure and scored big points with fans from around the world.
“I think it will impact our business for a long time to come,” Stipp said. “It’s sad to see it come to an end, but it was an incredible ride!”
And there’s always next season…