COVID-19 accelerated the need for a strong eComm strategy. Here’s how CWU’s Wildcat Shop rose to the challenge.

For the past five years, Barrett Jelvik has served as Central Washington University’s eCommerce and online ordering supervisor, overseeing the Wildcat Shop’s website and managing the order fulfillment team. As the end-to-end supervisor of the fulfillment team, he watches products from the point they go online to the point they get shipped out the door to students, alumni and patrons.

Pre-Coronavirus, Jelvik’s job was already integral to the Wildcat Shop’s success, but with the arrival of COVID-19 and rapid changes to the way society studies, works and remains socially connected, his responsibilities have become key business priorities.

Making all products available online

Before the pandemic, the bookstore didn’t make it a practice to put every product online. Now, that’s all changed.

“There’s a serious difference between pre-Coronavirus and post. We’ve always put the full textbook catalog online. We also put the full technology catalog online, because it’s limited and easier to manage, and inventory is more predictable and guaranteed,” explains Jelvik.

General merchandise, he says, is a lot different. “For example, with emblematic apparel, our buyer didn’t want to put certain things online, because we would easily sell out in store.” As a result, Jelvik has spent his last month working to get all general merchandise online.

Jelvik believes the number one things bookstores can do now to increase profitability is to get products online. More products online, means more opportunity for search hits and cross-selling and up-selling products.

“Our web traffic has increased 20-30 percent on a given day. There’s a lot more pressure on my position, specifically from our buyers, as they have sales KPIs they need to keep up with. They are worried about how they’re going to sell their stuff if it’s not online,” he adds.

Nail the basics

Jelvik acknowledges it’s a massive effort to maintain a product catalog, but he also stresses there’s no need to be perfect. Campus bookstores are likely all resource constrained, so his advice is to “nail the basics.”

“Have good imagery and [product] descriptions, and tie your school to it somehow. Get the basics down, get up-sells up there and make sure the site is functional and easy-to-use. Everything else is icing,” he says.

Additionally, the environment is still rapidly changing. So far, he has seen some shifts in the way students and other patrons are shopping online, but he’s hesitant to call it a trend just yet.

“We will know better after a couple months. From summer quarter, I’m noticing some textbook orders come in earlier, I think because students are there, online and in front of their computers right now,” he says.

The shop’s online conversion rate is also higher than it has been.

Recognize opportunities to reach new audiences

“We’ve seen a massive uptick in sales of general merchandise and emblematic apparel through the website. We walk in on Mondays to more GM than we have ever seen. Students are looking for a way to feel that connection and alumni have been the same,” says Jelvik.

Notably, they have a larger alumni presence than ever before coming through the website thanks to massively popular alumni emails. “We sold 50 mugs through an email, and we wouldn’t sell that in store that day,” he says. “Those are the people there waiting who may not be on campus, and they’re invested in getting information from you.”

Stay nimble and flexible

Looking ahead to fall, Jelvik notes they’re not evolving their eComm strategy too much, because they’re still in a reactive mode.

“It’s hard to be proactive. We don’t have a whole lot of information to operate on,” he explains. “We’re trying to get all products online, and not much change is coming to course materials, other than we are pushing digital as much as possible.”

He also anticipates a continuation of safety protocols already in place through the fall. “Sterilizing, masks, distancing, working from home – we’re working to adapt our processes to these conditions,” Jelvik says.

Be sure to read next month’s newsletter to learn Jelvik’s eCommerce best practices and how to implement them in your store.