Every year the University of Utah Campus Store holds a large Apple® sale in their store. This year, unable to open the store to customers, they decided to do the next best thing: take the event online. The official order pickup event was held from May 4-8. However, the store began taking preorders three weeks before the official event. The end result: more than $1 million in sales.
We recently spoke with the University of Utah Campus Store Associate Director Alex Parra about the event to find out how it was set up and what advice he has for creating a great curbside customer experience.
Tell me about your store’s curbside Apple event.
Well, as you know, most stores are closed to foot traffic. We still wanted to do our annual Apple event, but in order to do that, it had to be through online order pickup, or we could ship orders directly to customers’ homes.
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.
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.
Once they typed in their information, it immediately rang through to all of our cell phones. We could see who was out there and what location to bring the order to. If customers didn’t want to use the QR code, we also provided a number for them to call. Some people aren’t very tech savvy, so it is good to give them the option.
What kind of planning went into the event?
There was a lot of planning that went into the event at the very beginning. On the actual day of the pickup, it was pretty easy. It can be very labor intensive to do a big online order pickup event. We had to make sure we were very organized and ready for customers to arrive. We had all the products down by the door alphabetized by name because we knew most people wouldn’t know their order number.
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.
It took a lot of explaining to help customers understand how the process would work.
How did you market this event?
Because students aren’t on campus, we really marketed this event to faculty and staff. We let the university know about the sale and got permission to email everyone, which was a huge help. We also advertised in the university newsletter that goes out once a week. We reached out to our alumni.
What advice would you give other college stores setting up curbside events?
Make a plan and start small. An event like this is not something you want to just completely dive into without any experience. You need to dip your toe in the water first and start off small. You can always grow the event as you learn. The worst thing would be for customers to have a terrible experience and never want to shop with you again. So, keep the event manageable. Think through all the details like how will you know customers are outside? You can set up a phone number, but what happens if the line is busy or no one answers?
Also, it’s important to make sure it's fun. So, add in those fun extra touches like naming parking spots after different islands and stuff like that. It helps create a great, memorable experience for customers, so they leave the store thinking, “I'll do that again.” And hopefully they will tell their friends what a great experience they had with your store.
The other thing is to understand your customers right now. Give them options so they feel comfortable shopping with you. If customers want to, they can pick up orders in our store. A lot of people are craving that personal one-on-one shopping experience. So, we allow them to come in with masks, which we provide at the door, and we have the order ready for them. Or, they can choose curbside pickup if they would prefer that.
There are some customers that don't want to touch the product. They don't want anything to do with it. They're going to pop their trunk, and they want you to put their order in the trunk. And then there's other people who want to talk to you for an hour. What if someone is there for thirty minutes? Is there someone else helping other customers? So, you have to be prepared for all those situations.