Foreword Online

Ideas, information and industry news for collegiate retailers

Cal Poly University Store Has a Learning Experience

Posted by Joe Clarkin on 4/26/15 11:00 PM
Topics: college store stories

Here at Foreword Online, we traditionally choose to focus on the successes of our partner stores. That said, the near 100 percent success rate within our store stories is not necessarily an accurate representation of college store promotions as a whole. Those of you in the collegiate retail industry likely don’t need to be told this, but the reality is that there are a wide variety of outcomes for any promotion. Some are wildly successful, some are just okay and others fail to gain hardly any interest whatsoever. This week’s story is going to be different than usual in that it will focus on a promotion that falls into that final category; both how and why it happened, and, most importantly, what the people behind the promotion were able to learn from a disappointing situation.

Like anyone in their position would, the employees at the Cal Poly University felt that their #iShopGreen Instagram contest was going to be a big success. The store had certainly done its homework and planned things well. They’d done this before and ran successful Instagram contests. They were helping the environment, as the contest asked students to take photos of environmentally friendly bookstore purchases. They were using social media and cross promoting the contest on a number of different platforms. They were offering an incentive to participate, in the form of a $50 University Store gift card. So what prevented #iShopGreen from becoming a success?

Lack of Engagement

A few things, as it turns out. First was the lack of engagement opportunities for the students. “In the end, any contest you run needs to be really engaging for the students and the [#iShopGreen] stuff was not engaging,” said Director of Marketing and Communication Ellen Curtis. Though the idea behind the contest was well-intentioned, having students take photos of their “green” purchases at the University Store turned out to be something that the majority of Cal Poly students just weren't interested in, and that was reflected in the fact that the contest only attracted four participants.

Short Attention Spans

Another thing the #iShopGreen contest had going against it was a lack of quick gratification for its participants. Since the contest ran from April 3 to April 22, the prospect of winning the $50 gift card was a distant proposition, especially early in the process. Curtis felt that this delay was a large deterrent in getting participation. “Our previous Instagram contests always had success,” she said. “We’d usually be in a booth running a contest, and have something for the student to do right then and there, so we got much more engagement.”

The silver lining in the whole situation is that Curtis and her co-workers were able to learn a great deal from what happened. “I wish we had super high engagement, but it was a cheap lesson to learn,” Curtis said. “We were just out 50 bucks. It was a lot of learning for just a little bit of money.”

So despite it being a less than ideal situation overall, Curtis and her co-workers were still able to take away some positives from what happened. Though she wouldn't run another Instagram contest for this particular promotion if given the opportunity to do things over, the Cal Poly University Store still plans to still put together Instagram contests in future. But next time, they’ll be armed with the knowledge of what can go wrong, and the ability to apply that information towards making their next contest a huge success.

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