For Wichita State University, the Shocker Store is more than a collegiate retail hub. It’s a place that fans, alumni and students associate with a sense of belonging. Director Andi Stipp fosters this reputation with a college store loyalty program called Shocker Rewards. We sat down with Ms. Stipp to talk about marketing a campus bookstore with loyalty rewards and why delighted customers are the best measure of a program’s success.
Why did you start the Shocker Rewards Program?
We started Shocker Rewards in November, 2015, as a way to stay relevant. It seemed like everywhere you went, retailers had a rewards program. We wanted to show loyalty to our guests and reward faithful customers.
How do you enroll loyalty program members?
We sign students up at the point of sale or online via our website. We also have some print materials around the store marketing our program. We do social media promotions, too. We allow students to earn points on nearly everything in the store, including buyback. But the number of points earned is different for different kinds of merchandise.
How has Shocker Rewards performed for your store?
We have over 42,000 members as of right now. Can you believe that? We have three loyalty tiers to incentivize spending. Our Basic Membership is the biggest by far. It has 29,015 members. After that, we have 10,992 Gold Members and 2,714 Ultimate Fans. You have to spend over $2500 with the store to become an Ultimate Fan.
How does a loyalty program further collegiate retail success?
The biggest thing is that it gives customers an enhanced experience. We see that every year when we have popular flash sales. For example, we offer crew sweatshirts with a Wichita State University logo for $12.99 each. There’s a limit of three per customer. The line goes out the door and around the corner. We always sell out completely, generally in four to six hours. The students get so excited when we tell them that they can use their Shocker Rewards to take another $5 off or so (based upon points earned) on the sweatshirt. They say, ‘That’s an amazing deal.’ A small amount of money can make an enormous difference to a college student.
How does the loyalty program affect campus relevance?
It changes the customer’s relationship with the store. So, shopping here is more about relationships than transactions. For instance, we have a lot of international students on our campus. One day, a student from India came in. The microphone on her headphones broke, and she needed to call her family. She didn’t want to have a private conversation without the headphones — out there in front of the world. Her family would worry if she didn’t call at the expected time. But she didn’t have enough money for the headphones. We checked her Shocker Rewards and found out she had enough points to get the headphones for free. She was so relieved. She was in tears.
What advice would you give another college store about launching a loyalty program?
It’s important to scale the program appropriately. Look at your margins. Adjust the program so that customers earn more points on items with a greater margin. For most stores, that means students earn fewer points for textbooks and technology purchases. But you can offer a lot of points on things like apparel, where the margin might be as high as 50 percent.
Also, check your state tax codes. Some states require retailers to pay sales tax on items redeemed with points. Others don’t. It’s never a huge amount of money, but you want to factor that into the budget.
Do you have advice about the best way to customize the program?
When you set up the program, use numbers that are easy for customers to remember. We use phone numbers. Our students have an ID we can swipe at the POS for confirmation. But if we have a member without ID, they can just give us other information such as a phone number and we can find them that way.
How do you integrate a loyalty program into campus store marketing?
We send customers emails when their points are expiring. We also offer a birthday gift. Anyone in the program can come in on their birthday and get a free t-shirt worth up to $10.99. We send an email reminder on their birthday. That brings in a lot of students. It’s probably the most popular part of the program.
To make the most of a loyalty program, you need to find creative ways to get it out in front of your customers. We talk about Shocker Rewards during orientation season to help establish trust right away. You don’t want to promote the program only when the store is slow. Promoting it when it’s busy is also a great time to toss your net and capture new members. That’s when learning about rewards has the biggest impact on a customer’s perception of the store. If you mention the rewards program during rush, new customers feel more welcome. It turns a transactional experience into a relational experience. You show the customer you care just by saying, “Hey, you did you know you can earn 29 points for that $29 sweatshirt?” They leave with a feeling of trust for the bookstore.