Besides buyback and rush, the holidays are one of the busiest seasons for college stores. Many market to current students with unique gift items and logoed apparel but, two years ago, The College Store at Hobart and William Smith Colleges decided to reach beyond the campus population by advertising to alumni, parents and other non-student demographics, too.
Working with their Communications department, the store created an e-catalog of popular holiday items, featuring an equitable distribution of merchandise aimed at both of the colleges they serve. The one page digital flyer was distributed to over 14,000 emails and, according to director Lucille Smart, business skyrocketed.
“In the first year of the promotion, we nearly doubled our inSite sales for the month of December,” she explained. “Most of the orders were for multiple units, too, so it was great. The strategy really grabbed the recipients’ attention, and was especially effective with alumni.”
Plus, this year, sales grew an additional 10 percent with the addition of a new strategy to the e-catalog promotion. Working with her inSite Client Representative, Smart was able to extract a list of email addresses for current customers who had opted-in to store communications and send them the digital flyer, as well.
“The response was just tremendous,” she said. “We had tons of orders coming in for at least three days after the e-catalog was sent.”
With orders pouring in through the store’s inSite page, the staff that fulfilled mail orders quickly became overwhelmed with work. Because buyback was also going on, they had several other duties to fulfill and space was limited.
To resolve the issue, Smart set to work creating a new process for web order fulfillment. With the help of her staff, she restructured the bottom level of the sales floor to make room for a second table where orders could be sorted and packed. Then, she made the executive decision to bring in her entire staff an hour before opening each day for the sole purpose of processing web orders.
“Each individual was assigned a task and also had a backup in case they were unable to come in or needed additional help,” she said. “By breaking the process into steps, we were able to streamline fulfillment and create a type of assembly line.”
The different tasks included printing the order, pulling the merchandise, approving the order, ringing the transaction, packing the order and, finally, shipping it. By following these stages, staff members were able to fulfill 25-30 orders before the store even opened.
“We would keep working until all of the orders were filled or the store opened,” she said. “It definitely relieved a lot of tensions; everyone was contributing to the process and working as a team. The feedback from staff members was very positive.”
To ensure that employees' time was well spent, Smart adjusted her holiday hours based off sales the previous year, so that staff were only required to report early on days that were typically high traffic for web orders.
To make it more fun, she even brought in breakfast pizza and orange juice for everyone one morning.
“They really loved that!” she added.
Overall, the web fulfillment strategy worked so well that The College Store will continue to implement it in the future.
“It was a strategy born of necessity, as many things are, but it was so successful,” Smart said. “We absolutely plan to do it again next season.”