Nowadays, competition in the textbook industry is steep. That’s why University Store at Murray State University wanted to find a way to both increase their textbook purchases and reward those who were shopping with them. So, in the fall of 2011, the store decided to offer an incentive to those students who took advantage of their prepackage program.
“We hosted a VIP party that took place after-hours and invited only those students who had reserved their textbooks with us,” explained Karol Hardison, director. “Our prepackage program allows us to guarantee that we have a student’s book order, so the more participation we can get, the better!”
Because it was the first time they had implemented the event, the store didn’t have much time to advertise. Instead, they simply placed an invitation in each student's prepackage box, asking them to stop by.
Unsure of what attendance would be like, Hardison and her staff were thrilled to find a crowd of students waiting with their invitations in hand when the party began.
To add to the exclusive atmosphere, staff blacked out the windows of the store, leaving only small holes where passersby could gain a glimpse of the fun
“Students walking by would peer in and see all the activities going on; it was definitely a good way to spread the word,” Hardison added.
Once inside, staff handed attendees a raffle ticket which would be their key to much of the fun throughout the evening.
“We called random raffle numbers every 15 minutes for door prizes,” Hardison said. “We had several vendors donate items, so it wasn’t a huge expense for us.”
Students also had the chance to win prizes by completing a variety of activities at different stations set up throughout the store.
“Each department had their own unique minute-to-win-it game that was lead by a full-time staff member,” she said. ‘It was great because it gave students a chance to not only see what all we had to offer, but also to get acquainted with the actual employees that work in each department.”
One of the most popular games was called ‘Junk in the Trunk’ and involved students tying a tissue box full of ping pong balls around their waist, then trying to dislodge each of the balls from the box.
“They just loved it; there was definitely a lot of laughter coming from that department!” Hardison described.
Then, near the end of the night, the store called off 10 raffle numbers and invited the lucky winners to compete in backpack races!
Each of the ten participants was given the chance to try and fill a backpack with store merchandise in a designated period of time while their classmates watched and cheered them on. The only catch was that the students had to grab at least one item from each department and not exceed the $150 price limit.
“We had to practice ahead of time with our employees to determine a time limit that would allow the students to fill their backpack, while still making it challenging,” she explained. “It ended up working perfectly and the students had a blast! They were all asking when they would get a chance to compete, too!”
The store awarded each participant a vendor-donated backpack just for participating and the person who came closest to the $150 limit was then awarded all the contents of their backpack.
There were special deals for students during the event, too! The store offered discounts on merchandise from the vendors who sponsored the event, marking each promotional rack with balloons for easy identification.
“We didn’t expect to sell a lot, but we ended up having long lines at the register!” she described. “So, that’s something we definitely plan to increase in the future.”
With so many incentives, it’s easy to understand why the store received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“We were very happy with the response we got from students,” Hardison said. “The event was extremely well attended, for not having been advertised very heavily, and we had a steady stream of students come in and out throughout the evening. They were all excited and having a good time, so it was a success!”
By interacting with the store’s staff, students also gained a new perspective on the store.
“It gave us a chance to get to know them on a personal basis and show them that we’re not the big bad bookstore that they hear about,” she described. “In fact, after the event, we had several attendees start stopping in every week just to say hi to the staff members that they’d met and see what’s new!”
Beyond the good times, the store saw a significant increase in their sales the following semester, even though the event is only held in the fall.
“Our prepackage numbers doubled, which resulted in an 11% increase in textbook sales!” she explained. “Because we had such a strong response, we’re already promoting next year’s event, especially to our incoming freshmen class during orientation events this summer. The real test will be this coming fall, when we see if those students decide to prepackage with us because of the party.”
To gain extra excitement from those who have already attended the prepackage party, the store is offering current students 5% off their textbooks and a free t-shirt, in addition to their invitation, if they reserve their textbooks by the end of finals.
“These promotions are just another way for us to have fun with our students and show them that they’re special; because they are!” Hardison said. “We’re definitely looking forward to continually growing our initiatives in the future!”
Does your store offer a textbook reservation program? How do you promote it? Share your ideas in the comments section below!