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Campus Store Conversations: West Chester University Shops Share eCommerce Best Practices

Posted by Liz Schulte on 10/12/20 6:00 AM
Topics: college bookstore industry trends, campus retail, future of bookstores

Recently, MBS Store Technology Solutions Manager Chris Bovi sat down with West Chester University Web Store Specialist Ryan McCormick to discuss the bookstore’s efforts to update its eCommerce site and improve web sales. During the informative conversation, Mr. McCormick shares the specifics about how the store uses social media and creates sales where customers can get the same great prices online or in-store.

West Chester University Shops Share eCommerce Best Practices

Listen to the Campus Store Conversations podcast. Or, if you prefer, the transcription is available below.

Campus Store Conversations Episode Two – West Chester University Shops

To read the entire transcript, scroll within the box below.

Chris Bovi:

Good afternoon. My name is Chris Bovi with MBS Systems. I am the Manager of Store Technology Solutions. Joining me today is Ryan McCormick who is the web store specialist joining me from Student Services Inc., which operates the retail operations at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

Ryan, thanks for joining us today.

 

Ryan McCormick:

It’s my pleasure, my pleasure. Very happy to be able to participate.

 

Chris Bovi:

Well thanks. We appreciate your time in doing that. So, first question I have for you is West Chester was very early on in announcing that students would not be returning this term and they would be operating virtually. What did that mean for SSI in your preparation for the upcoming semester?

 

Ryan McCormick:

We really ramped up the online presence. We brought a lot of products and offerings online that weren’t already online. We literally scanned the floor and looked for items that weren’t on the website so we could beef up the offerings as much as possible. We enhanced our campaigns, our email campaigns, and we ran social media promotions and added product slots to the front page of our site. That was new for us to drive those traffic points. Now when people land on our site, they can easily find those products we promoted.

We set up Facebook and Instagram shopping, which was new for us. You can purchase directly through Instagram or Facebook and use their shopping cart linked with our shopping cart. That was new for us and really exciting. We brought back back-to-school kits and a discounted t-shirt at $7.99. We had never dropped a t-shirt price that low before. We created an online orientation link for new students so they could get access to all the WCU campus store advantages, like the loyalty program and all the things we have to offer. We brought a lot online, as much as possible. That was our overall approach. We just brought it all online.

 

Chris Bovi:

That’s a lot of change: changing the front look of the website, doing these integrations with third parties, getting a whole bunch of new products on the site — that in and of itself is quite the undertaking on your part. You mentioned the loyalty program. You’ve been one of our longest running customers with a loyalty program. At this point, how many customers do you have that are active in the program and what are some of the things that you find effective for utilizing the loyalty program and how that transition turns to sales for your store?

 

Ryan McCormick:

Sure. We have about 5,000 active members and we say that would be on the low side. During orientation or daily cash sales we promote it. We ask the customer if they are part of our loyalty program. Are you taking advantage of earning points? You catch people right there at the register who are not aware of it and we help people sign up. There is a little sign up sheet up front that they can take a picture of that gives them easy instructions.

So, we promote it during orientation, I have it on the front page of the website, but we also promote it on a daily basis. Customers are very happy to find out they have points that they aren’t even aware of. Just today, I had a young lady in here and I checked her points. She had enough for a $50 gift card. So I made the gift card for her and she walked out of here with a gift card today — she probably used it. But they are always happy to find out that information. You have to bring it to them. You have to make them aware that they have points sitting there.

As far as generating sales, at the end of each semester we will run a check your loyalty points campaign, like an email blast and social media. The last time we did that pre-pandemic, we had 60+ gift card orders in 24 hours. So we saw massive response to reminding people that they could have a gift card. We saw a big push on that afterward. That will turn into business for us as people bring in those gift cards to shop or use them online. It’s one of the best ways to generate sales for us.

 

Chris Bovi:

I love that idea. Kids have so much going on at the end of the semester, returning books, finals, packing up and all of that. So that additional, being intentional and proactive on your part like “oh hey, don’t forget before you leave campus you might be able to go spend some money at the store and buy yourself or someone in your family a gift.” I think that’s a really neat idea. I also noted that when anyone comes in to make a purchase you are looking them up on the register at the start of the transaction to know whether they are part of the loyalty program or not. If they are not, then you are enrolling them in the program. That, too, is another thing. Very proactive. I like that.

 

Ryan McCormick:

Yeah. You got to get to them and let them know. Like you said, everyone is so busy. You have to let them know if they have points or could get points. So yes. For sure.

 

Chris Bovi:

We talked a few minutes ago about all of the things that you did to the store’s website in preparation for this fall and virtual instruction. I noted that you added new categories. I would be interested to know what specific categories you added to the website. How challenging or easy was that? Now that you are bringing in a lot of new product for those categories, how challenging was it from a workload perspective to add all those new categories, to add all that new product, and be ready for fall?

 

Ryan McCormick:

I would say that was a big challenge. It was a big undertaking. When I look at a website and it hasn’t changed, it’s not good. I felt like the front pages hadn’t changed it some time. I felt like it was important to give it a fresh look, especially with what’s going on in the world. Everything is online. There are going to be so many eyes on our website. We added the tech department. That was new. And as far as the other categories, we didn’t add anything new, we restructured them. We made them make more sense and redefine where we wanted to place items when they landed on the site. We regrouped and organized some things to make it a little sleeker and easier to find things.

I would say adding everything and adding the categories, it’s realistic. It wasn’t that hard. I didn’t require any help from support. I was able to do all of that on my own. It’s a big undertaking, but once you sink your teeth in and know what you want to do, it’s possible in a timely manner.

 

Chris Bovi:

Was there anything specifically about inSite that made it easier for you guys to get all of those products in or make some of those frontend changes that you did with inSite?

 

Ryan McCormick:

Yeah. The way inSite is set up makes it easy. You can remove, remake or rename so to speak. That is one of the reasons we made the tech category. We could easily create a new section and add that in. inSite makes it nice and smooth for all of that.

 

Chris Bovi:

Awesome. You guys have an awesome social media game. I try to follow all of my stores whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I continually see communications from SSI which is awesome. What do you guys find works best in terms of posts? What seems to drive sales to the physical or the web store? What of all the social media platforms that you are on has the best bang for the buck?

 

Ryan McCormick:

Alright. Thank you for the compliment. It’s greatly appreciated. Twitter, I feel like, has the least performance, but I have always been a Twitter fan so I keep plugging away at it. One more view, one more like is one more. It doesn’t have to be thousands of likes on Twitter. It’s just one more outlet I like to use, even though I feel like it is on the tail end. Facebook seems like it is more parent dominated and more informative. I would try to make my posts there be more about hours or changes or new items that hit the sale section. I try to gear it to be more informative type posts. Instagram is where we get the most interaction with the student. And it has to be a picture. It can’t be text or a sale promotion. It has to be an image and it has to be engaging. And the more I do that through Instagram the more results I see.

For example, I walked around campus just a couple days ago and I posted 10 or 11 pictures of what campus looks like without them here. And that post got more likes that any previous post on my Instagram. It’s not always selling them an item or promoting a hoodie. It’s about forming a relationship and showing them the content they are looking to see. And then in between, “Oh by the way, we have a hat on sale.” So I use Instagram by far the most to talk to the student and Facebook to talk to the parent.

 

Chris Bovi:

And I think you hit on a real key thing, at least from my experience on social media. It’s about a relationship and a dialogue that you have with people. And it is different depending on which one of those segments you are communicating in with Facebook being very different from Twitter being very different from Instagram. And I’m the same as you. I think Twitter is probably the least effective, but for some reason I like it a lot. I don’t know what it is about it, but it kind of sucks you in and keeps you plugging away at it despite what is probably the weakest social media platform in terms of transitioning into other things.

Of course, I work for MBS and inSite is our product. I have to ask, what is your favorite feature of inSite?

 

Ryan McCormick:

The GM promo code was not something I knew a lot about, quite frankly. After I went to training out there, I feel like the GM promo code is my best friend in inSite. That’s how we run all of our in-store and online promotions. Before we struggled with doing something online, but it wouldn’t correlate to in-store or vice versa. We struggled with that. If you promote something online, people don’t understand that it is just online. Or, if it is in-store, it’s not online. I don’t like the confusion with that. If something is on sale, I want it to be on sale in-store or online. The GM promo code is basically the answer to that for me. That’s how I have found to use it. So I stay away from promotional codes and we go with the GM promo code so we can say 20 percent off of this item in-store and online. There is no confusion at all. It’s been such a great tool to use.

 

Chris Bovi:

It is a great tool and it allows you to easily harmonize and manage your sales activity across entire the retail operation instead of segmenting it to the in-store or online separately from one another.

 

Ryan McCormick:

And if I could throw one more in there.

 

Chris Bovi:

Sure. You can have more than one favorite.

 

Ryan McCormick:

The low inventory hide. That has become a favorite around here. The low inventory hide manually removes inventory if you are low on stock. When I first started here, they were not using that tool and we had a backorder list for merchandise that was long. Now we don’t. We don’t have any backorder list and things are really great with the low inventory hide. That’s a must use.

 

Chris Bovi:

Awesome. That also means you are selling stuff which is good.

 

Ryan McCormick:

For sure.

 

Chris Bovi:

Any other tips for folks that are maybe new to inSite? Or maybe have gotten in a rut with how they use it. One thing you would definitely recommend that they use.

 

Ryan McCormick:

Sure. One thing that I throw out there is to create a sale section. Get aggressive with — it’s one thing to something on sale, but it’s another to have a sale section. People will come back to look at a sale section to see what’s new or if anything has been added. When we first started our sale section, it had maybe a couple items in it. Now it is something that’s really beefed up and has a good inventory in there and it’s a known thing now. It’s like when you come into the store and go for the clearance section. Well, online you should be looking for the sale section as well. A sale section is huge. It’s easy. It’s just a new category, a new section. And I feel like that’s a good tip.

Also, products on the front page of the website. When I was doing all of this social media stuff. You find them saying “Well, I can’t find it.” No matter how easy you make it for someone they say they can’t find it. You just smack it on the front page. If you are doing a promotion on hats, I do a social media post and put the hats on the front page, it’s a call to action. They aren’t going to say they can’t find it. That’s what started me doing that. I really like having products on the front page. I feel like that’s a big plus.

So, GM promo codes, low inventory hide and my last tip is no promo codes. Those were bad news for us. They always just created confusion. It’s one more thing a customer has to do. Enter in a code or remember a code, so I stay away from that.

 

Chris Bovi:

That’s a really good point. And I also like the notation about clearance areas and sale areas. I do that. When I go onto websites, I go look for the sale section. Folks sometimes forget within inSite, I can have a product within as many categories as I wish to have. It doesn’t have to reside in a single silo of sweatshirts or hats or whatever it is. You can put that in multiple categories so folks can more easily find it.

 

Ryan McCormick:

Right. I will even go one step further and HTML the title to turn it red. It will say on sale and it’s bright red. So, if you are looking at all the hats, it stands out because it is red.

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