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UMBC Bookstore Increases Online Sales With Savvy Marketing

Posted by Liz Schulte on 5/11/20 6:00 AM
Topics: bookstore events, marketing for college bookstores, college bookstore marketing

The University of Maryland Baltimore County Bookstore is working hard to adapt and adjust to current conditions. We recently spoke with UMBC Bookstore Director Erin McGonigle to find out how they engage students, increase eCommerce sales, improve their omnichannel presence and promote the UMBC community.

UMBC Bookstore Increases Online Sales With Savvy Marketing

When students left campus, the bookstore’s eCommerce website became the best way to reach students, alumni and the community. Fortunately, the store had a strong, up-to-date site with the majority of their inventory already online. 

“We have almost our entire store’s inventory online. All of our clothing and textbooks are available on our site. The only items we don’t have online are tech items and school supplies, such as pens and pencils. So when this happened, I felt really confident because our merchandise was already online and ready to go,” McGonigle said. “We started to see a slight increase in online orders right away. And then over the weekend, we tripled our orders. Students are getting ready for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and May 1 was our College Signing Day — it all plays a part. Our online sales have definitely started to increase. Parents want to get UMBC stuff for their students who will be coming to school here. It was exciting to come into the office and see so many orders.” 

Ms. McGonigle works hard to continue to engage students and the community online. She has developed three different ways to promote the store virtually and continue to serve her college community. 

“I am trying really hard to balance our social media. Yes, we want people to know we are still open and can fulfill online orders, but I don’t want to just say buy this or buy that. We are trying to think of creative ways to engage our followers and show our products. We want to engage students and show the products we have to offer without saying buy our stuff.”

3 ways the UMBC Bookstore increases eCommerce sales

  1. Working with the campus
    UMBC social media post

    UMBC social media post

    McGonigle's memory share

    McGonigle's picture memory share

    “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.”

  2. Maintaining Traditions
    “We’re still doing Black and Gold Friday sales because the university asked us to continue to do that,” McGonigle said. “We ask people to post pictures of themselves wearing their UMBC merchandise and tag us. Then we send them a 20 percent off coupon for online orders. That deal is the last Friday of the month, but we are thinking of expanding it to every Friday.”

  3. Creating creative social engagement
    UMBC mannequins

    UMBC mannequins

    “I think the mannequins are the most fun we are having with marketing right now. We have two mannequins that we pose around the store wearing different merchandise. It’s really fun to figure out different things we can have them do and wear that is relevant to students’ lives right now,” McGonigle said. “We are also working on tagging merchandise on Instagram and Facebook. Both sites have a shopping feature that allows you to tag products in a picture and link them to your site, which is something we haven’t done yet. We are currently working on setting that up. Once that is set up, we will go through all of our old social media posts and tag those items, too. I didn’t know that was an option. I was looking at another bookstore site and I was like ‘Wait, we can tag our items? We have to do this.’ Following other bookstores on social media really helps. Either you can get new ideas or when you see another store doing the same promotion as you, it validates that you are on the right track.” 

How to track the success of online marketing

Tracking promotions helps the UMBC Bookstore hone their efforts and identify the areas that provide the most return. They use their store system to track all the different event promo codes. It gives them detailed information about what customers are buying, when they purchase and how the promo codes are being used. 

“MBS is our system provider. We use inSite for our website. Through inSite, you can do promo code tracking. We set up a pretty detailed spreadsheet that tells us who is using the codes, what they are buying, how much they are buying, how many promo codes are being used, how quickly they are used and things like that. 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,” McGonigle said.  

Another way the store directly engages customers is by reminding them of items left in their online shopping cart.  

“We also send out an email to people who abandon their online shopping cart. I don’t want to hassle people, but it is good to send the reminder. I know I have been looking for something online, put it in a cart and then my kids come in to ask me a question. I put my phone down and completely forget about it. Later I see it sitting in my card and I am like ‘Oh yeah, I meant to buy that.’ The email is automatic. We don’t have to do anything. It is set to send after one week. Just a single email reminder that says ‘Hey, you put this in your cart and never came back.’”

Even as campus life returns to normal, the UMBC Bookstore plans to keep some of the new marketing techniques in place. 

“I’m really excited about the online shop and social media merchandise tagging. I think that will definitely continue to use that feature,” McGonigle said. “I also really like how we are doing promo codes. We used them in the past, but never really tracked them with much detail or utilized them that often. I think promo codes are the best way to reach our alumni base and reach outside of the campus. Right now, we have a lot of in-store only sales, but moving forward, I think we will add more online-only promotions, too. I really like how easy it is to track the results. With in-store coupons, the student cashiers have to enter the coupon correctly and that doesn’t always happen. I ask them to save the coupon and attach the receipt, so I can see what people are buying, but again, that doesn’t always happen. So, I’m not getting the full information. However, online I am capturing all of the information that I need. It is definitely a useful analytics tool.”

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