Foreword Online

Ideas, information and industry news for collegiate retailers

Increase Online Engagement With a Strong Digital Presence

Posted by Liz Schulte on 7/8/20 6:15 AM
Topics: revenue generating ideas for college stores, college store ecommerce, benefits of online retail

Online customer communication is multifaceted. Emails and text messages, online ads, promo codes and social media all contribute to building a strong digital presence that strengthens your store brand and elevates service.

Increase Online Engagement With a Strong Digital PresenceKeep students informed and increase sales with digital marketing

  1. Email
    Email is still one of the most effective ways to get information out to students and customers. Whether it is an announcement about new store hours or a sale, email gives you the opportunity to communicate with a large group of customers. However, emailing customers too much could lead to people unsubscribing from receiving your emails or cause them to see your messages as SPAM.

    Make a plan for email messages by mapping out your email content a couple months at a time. Consider what standard store emails you already have planned, such as buyback or rental return notification. Spread the sale emails and informative emails out so students are not bombarded with communication from the campus store.

    The University of Utah Campus Store hosted a curbside Apple® sale event that brought in more than $1 million in sales. Unable to open the store to customers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the store decided to focus their marketing efforts on faculty and staff. Utilizing email, social media and an ad in the university newsletter, they were able to produce outstanding results.

    “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,” said Alex Parra, Associate Director, University of Utah Campus Store.

    Read more about the University of Utah Campus Store’s curbside event.

  2. Promo codes
    Offering online customers exclusive promotions and deals that drive website traffic is easy with promo codes. These online coupons give shoppers that extra incentive to visit your site and shop with you.

    By sending a promo code to new students or rewarding loyal customers, this easy-to-use tool can help encourage repeat customers, strengthening your online sales and bringing in more store revenue.

    When the UMBC Bookstore had to adjust to students leaving campus in March, its website was already in a good position for students to start shopping. Nearly the entire store inventory was already available on their website. So, the bookstore director set her sight on improving their digital marketing and reach. Her efforts paid off with increased web sales.

    One way they encouraged online sales from students and alumni was by sending out promo codes.

    “We use inSite for our website. Through inSite, you can do promo code tracking,” Erin McGonigle, Director, UMBC Bookstore “We are getting good results. If we send out a promo code, we see it used pretty quickly. We hadn’t tracked promo codes before because we didn’t use them that often, but we have had to switch gears and it seems to be working.”

    Read more about how UMBC Bookstore increased online sales.

  3. Social media
    Social media is a great way to build a sense of community and pass along information in a way that is easy for students to share. However, getting direct engagement that leads to sales on social media can be difficult to track, even with social media advertising.

    As Facebook and Instagram implement redesigns that will help businesses directly sell to customers from those platforms, many college retail locations have come up with alternative ways to encourage sales on social media.

    When the SUNY Potsdam College Store was making plans for an online buyback, they were concerned about how the store would get rental returns. They decided to use social media to their benefit.

    “Each class has a Facebook group. We work with faculty and they've allowed us to join those groups. As long as we keep posts minimal, we can post in those groups to let students know what to do with their textbooks and rentals,” Lyndon Lake, Director, the College Store, SUNY Potsdam 

    This simple interaction helped the store get word out to students and build faculty relationships. Read more about how SUNY Potsdam College Store strengthens the campus community.

    The Morehead State University Store takes a similar approach to driving social media engagement. Seeing an opportunity to reach out to the families of recent graduates, the store’s assistant general manager reached out to specific Facebook groups, offering a generous promo code that encourages sales and strengthens the store’s brand.

    “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. 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,” Julie Ferguson,  Assistant General Manager, Morehead State University Store said.

    Read how Morehead State University Store personalizes the online shopping experience.

  4. Enlist help from your school
    One method of increasing online engagement is to reach out to your on-campus resources for help. Ask the person who runs your campus social media or website to help share important bookstore information.

    Dixie State University Campus Store textbook manager asked if they could put a message about the event in a campus email that goes out to faculty and staff, and they were offered something even better.

    “I asked if we could put a message in Dixie Announce, an email that goes out to all faculty and staff. I wanted them to be aware of what we were doing. A man from IT asked if we would like to try this. He said to just create a banner for the event, and they would post it. So, we asked Catherine to create a banner announcing the buyback which we put on Canvas. Canvas is accessible to all students now that all courses are online. The students have to get into Canvas to do their homework. The minute a student logged into Canvas and, right across the top was an image telling them about the curbside buyback. It was amazing how many students were notified that way. The banner was up on Canvas for a week,” Claudia West, Textbook Manager, Dixie State University Campus Store

    Read more about how the Dixie State University Campus Store had 81 percent of rentals returned.

Increasing online communication doesn’t have to take a lot of time or resources. Many times, all you have to do is look at the resources you already have available and use them in a different way.


Find out how MBS can help you reduce overhead, save students money and  streamline operations with a tailored retail management system. Learn More


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