Georgia Southern University Store knows the importance of a user-friendly website that piques student interest. The college store site must appeal to students, alumni and parents alike. In the current state of the retail and education industries, providing easily accessible ways to purchase merchandise, technology and course materials is more important than ever before.
We recently spoke with Carlita Slatky, Director, Retail Services, Georgia Southern University, about the adjustments the store has made, how she makes sure the eCommerce site stays up to date and how they continue to encourage web sales.
How has COVID has changed your approach to your website?
We have really been working on our website all along. It’s important during textbook sales time because our students like the convenience of not having to go to the shelves to pick out books. They like the ease of just walking up and having everything waiting for them.
And, it’s always important for general merchandise sales, especially with reaching our alumni. We are in South Georgia, but the majority of our students come from the Atlanta area which is three to four hours away from here. Most of our alumni live in that area as well. When they can’t make it down for football games, in a normal year, or other events, then the site is the next best way they can show their support.
Over the summer, we were online only. Every book order had to be fill through the website. We offered free shipping for everything. We also offered a curbside pickup option. Where they could pull up into a space, call the number posted and we would walk the box out to their car. That proved to be a good warm up to the fall term.
Curbside wasn’t as popular as we thought it would be, but it was an important service for students who had to self-quarantine or self-isolate due to exposure. We just asked that anyone who wasn’t supposed to be around other people let us know so we could put their order beside their car and step away before they opened the door.
We also worked with housing to deliver online orders for students who had to self-quarantine on campus. We have done our best to be flexible and work with situations as they came up. So, if someone had a roommate willing to come pick up books and deliver them to that person, we’d do that as well. It’s an unusual time. You have to come up with unusual solutions.
This fall we certainly had a big drop in our GM sales because football was not normal — there were a lot of things that weren’t normal. But I think as people sit at home longer and longer, they decide maybe they need something new. They go online and start surfing. We want to encourage those people to visit our site by offering online incentives.
What kind of online incentives have you offered?
We have done 15 percent off of clearance merchandise. We always do free shipping on general merchandise web orders over $50 total purchase. At the beginning of the term, we offer free shipping on textbooks for a period of time. The goal is to get students to order early and give us a chance not to be overwhelmed. For Black Friday, we ran an online-only special with 25 percent off of insignia merchandise from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.
Do you have any new offerings on your website?
Tech Corner is a licensed Apple Store and they offer computer repair services as well. They are part of Retail Services. That store went live on the MBS system in early August. We are just finishing getting the website polished up and all of its products listed on the site. They had a lot issues with their previous point-of-sale provider’s website and didn’t realize how much in technology sales it was missing. The old site just wasn’t conducive to driving a lot of web traffic. They are now on the MBS point of sale and have the website.
Unfortunately, we missed getting it going before the really sweet spot in the term when new students are getting their acceptance letter, but we are about to enter that time again. When students are first admitted into the university, Tech Corner reaches out to the students and parents. A lot of parents like to give their graduating student a new computer or laptop, so we always try to do some marketing in advance of that to let them know the really good educational pricing we can offer at Tech Corner. Also, there is the benefit of having access to the service center. They can get extended warranties that covers issues that might come up. It’s just gives parents a little peace of mind that their student has someone that can help them when they are far away from home.
What has been the most effective method for communicating with students?
We are not able to email students about promotions through the school, so we use social media and our email list through inSite to email customers information about upcoming sales. Students tend to be really into Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is really more for the alumni, parents and grandparents of our students. We consider what we are promoting on each, but we tend to make similar posts across all platforms. Even though we can generalize who uses the different networks, it’s not always the rule. We would rather widen our reach.
One thing we do is make sure we use students when we are taking photos of clothes for social media and any of the ads. It’s amazing how many students want to model. They really enjoy the experience. Since we are now on the Savannah campus as well, we make sure that we also get photos of students on that campus and in that store. Students can tell if the picture wasn’t taken on their campus. It’s fun for them to see the places they hang out with their friends. I think they are better able to say “Oh, I like that shirt,” and they can picture themselves wearing it while they are sitting on Sweetheart Circle in Statesboro or on the quad at the Armstrong campus.
Is there any advice that you can give stores that are looking to update their site?
We always start with finding sites that we like. We look for sites that we like the look of, the feel of, and then we look at the more technical aspects of the sites like the white margin, the layout, how much you can see without scrolling, how much you can fit on that first welcoming screen, etc. Then we have discussions about what we like and don’t like at the places we shop and how that affects our experience with the store. We look at how we can translate that into what we want to do on our site. That’s what we really focus on.
We have a newly created position that is our Customer Retention and Outreach Coordinator. Steve Bartels is wearing a lot of different hats at the moment. He is working on the overall customer experience whether it is in-store, online or on social media. He will help us focus on keeping the site as fresh as we can, staying on trend and listening to customer feedback. It’s important to listen to customer feedback. Like if something is hard to find, you need to know that. You might not even realize it until you actually get into the website and try to find the piece of merchandise you know is on the site, but you can’t. The buyer knows the keywords that they use, but not necessarily what you would use. So, we are very aware of the tags and names we use as well as what customers are looking for. We’ve got to make sure that everything is up to date with the description and the shopping experience, so our customers don’t have any barriers between them and all the great stuff they want to buy from us.
We use MBS for our site. I know MBS is always working to continue to make it more friendly and easy-to-use. That’s something that has worked well with us and MBS. We worked hard to design our website when we first went on the system, and we have done at least one complete overhaul since then. We are constantly making little tweaks to the layout, the colors, the mix, things like that. We might want to move around the different blocks that we can drop different information into. There is always something we can improve.
Anyone who tells you, “Okay, I’ve got the perfect website. It’s done,” is lying to you. Websites are constantly evolving. They are constantly changing and what is considered really in for a year or so, will soon make your website look really dated. Your site should invite people in to enjoy all the merchandise you have to offer. MBS has been very good with that.
MBS continues to evolve and listens to their stores, trying to figure out what’s important to their customers. They will say, “Take a look at this thing we have been working on. Is it helpful for you? Do you see value in it? Do you see something that would make it better?” That interaction is important. MBS is pretty good about making sure they are consistently going in the right direction while adding and enhancing.