Expert Barrett Jelvik shares his keys to building a successful eComm strategy

Barrett Jelvik, Central Washington University Wildcat Shop’s eCommerce and online ordering supervisor, oversees the store’s website and manages the order fulfillment team. Before joining the team five years ago, he worked in both corporate and startup environments doing web design and digital advertising. His breadth of experience has enabled him to strengthen and grow the Wildcat Shop’s eCommerce efforts and spread web responsibilities across multiple team members. The Wildcat Shop is a PrismRBS system user.

One thing he knows well is how resource-strapped college bookstores are. But, that doesn’t mean an eCommerce strategy has to feel overwhelming. He has outlined his four top eCommerce best practices that are truly easy-to-implement and produce almost immediate results.

1. Master the basics

Jelvik notes that many stores haven’t had the time or resources to put much effort into their eComm strategy. Since that’s the case, he says the first step is to “nail the basics.”

“Get the product imagery looking presentable and write effective product descriptions. Make sure customers can get from the homepage to checkout with relative ease. That is the biggest difference-maker for conversions,” Jelvik says.

Another important and simple step to take is reviewing customer support calls. If customers routinely call in with web issues, you know where the pain points are. Use support calls as a litmus test to determine how easy your website is to use.

2. Pay attention to Google

“Google has so many tools – business, search, analytics – and is also much more popular than your website,” explains Jelvik.

Master the search results around your store by making sure you’ve claimed your business online and updated store hours and map directions. Jelvik has noticed several stores haven’t claimed their business, and advises not underselling the massive impact Google can have.

3. Work with your vendors

“Many vendors do not have a college presence of their own, so they rely on users’ observations and customer feedback,” says Jelvik.

His advice to seeing product or service improvements or optimizations from vendors is to pass along constructive customer feedback. If vendors don’t know what you’re struggling with, they can’t fix it, he explains. Stores are a vendor’s eyes and ears.

“That’s worked out really well for us, and we have a great relationship with PrismRBS and Ratex,” he adds.

4. Stay in front of customers

Customers don’t know what they don’t know, so stay in front of them, Jelvik says.

“Email marketing, social media and Google business posts are good ways to connect with customers about what’s new and what’s on sale,” he says.

The Wildcat Shop has seen great success with their email campaigns. Their list includes close to 30,000 contacts, and they send weekly email blasts featuring new sale items. Recently, 10 minutes after sending an email, Jelvik noticed they already had four sales for a t-shirt including multiple shirts per order. According to Jelvik, Email is a “massively valuable channel” not to overlook.

Jelvik’s other tips

Make sure your site is well designed. “I look at good design as a way to get customers from A-to-B, but also to stave off payroll expenses from having to handle customer service calls. Good design greases the wheels of everything,” he says. If your website is difficult to navigate, it’s to easy for customers to abandon their cart.

Get as much product online as possible. “More product online means more opportunity for search hits,” he explains.

Take advantage of your differences from other major retailers. “We have a better opportunity than a normal store in that we don’t have to compete with each other,” he says. One of Jelvik’s favorite aspects of the collegiate bookstore industry is that he can learn from other stores through user groups and conferences. “We can all use our collective information to prop each other up, which is super refreshing. I can call someone from another store, and they’ll happily share.”

Seek feedback from student employees. “Basically you have a bunch of customers working for you. Students are eyes and ears from across the university,” explains Jelvik. Re-frame high student turnover. Instead seek students’ fresh perspectives and think of them as a marketing channel. Students can both relay information to the campus community and bring feedback back to the store.

Immerse yourself in the world of eCommerce. Jelvik recommends learning as much as possible about what you’re trying to do. Seek out resources for eComm and web design. He likes YouTube, the Shopify blog, Twitter and Reddit.

Put some responsibility on your buyers. Jelvik has tasked his buyers for getting products online and writing better product descriptions. “If they are writing descriptions on the website, they need to have an understanding of search best practices,” he says. “Instead of writing ‘black t-shirt’ it needs to be ‘black CWU t-shirt.”

Use your website for current important messages. The Wildcat Shop has been diligent about messaging on their site, especially during COVID-19, to set expectations about timing and how processes may be handled differently.