Your website is the one member of your marketing team that's working 24-7. (Even those one-person-marketing-teams get a little sleep...sometimes.)
And while of course it is working at all hours to share your brand and message with prospective families, collect donations from generous donors, and keep current families up-to-date on the latest happenings, there is one sleeping giant that could make a huge impact on your school: using it for commerce — AKA an online school store.
Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield, CT is one independent school, who in particular, has had incredible success with their online school store using Finalsite's Commerce Manager module — bringing in thousands of dollars each year to benefit the school.
Fairfield Prep launched their first run with Commerce Manager about seven years ago, just before the holiday season. After working with our support team to get all the nitty-gritty back-end details handled, like shipping and taxes, the remainder of the process became something Colleen Adams, Director of Marketing and Communications at Fairfield Prep, knew best: marketing.
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$31k in Off-the-Clock Purchases
In the past year, Fairfield Prep brought in $31,000 in sales from 681 transactions and 1,400 total items sold using Finalsite's Commerce Manager.
When you break that down, that's approximately three items sold per day online.
"This would not be possible if we could only use the on campus store," said Colleen. "Our campus store is only open two days a week, but the online school store allows the greater community to purchase when it is most convenient to them."
While $31,000 in additional revenue is enticing, many schools wonder if the potential added workflow is really worth it. Colleen, who handles the online school store almost completely on her own, with some help from the on-campus school store manager, finds the Commerce Manager interface to be a time saver.
"The Finalsite shopping cart system works beautifully," she said. "It creates notifications that go to our store manager and our business office to record every sale. It also sends a notification to the buyer summarizing the purchase."
Seven Years of Success
Take a look at Fairfield Prep's online school store, and you'll find nearly 100 items for sale — from baby onesies to men's sweatshirts. With categories including gifts, hats, women's, men's, golf, sweats, and kids, the online school store is organized just like any online commerce site.
"Over these years, we've posted almost 300 items for sale in Commerce Manager," said Colleen. "And the nice thing is when you're out of something or something phases out, you can just un-publish the page, so if something comes back in stock you can republish without needing to re-do anything."
Aside from spirit wear, the school also makes school uniform "senior polos" available online through the online school store. They're also currently planning how they can put together sports packages for the school's teams to streamline and simplify the process for everyone.
"It is just so efficient to not have to deal with cash, check, and paper ordering in Commerce Manager," she said.
Building a Branded Community
Fairfield Prep's online school store stemmed from a greater marketing and branding initiative happening around the same time they launched with Finalsite eight years ago — and is now frequented by students, parents, and alumni.
"Around the same time, we went through our own rebranding with logo updates and color guidelines because many of the athletic teams were ordering their own uniforms, and it was getting inconsistent," said Colleen.
By establishing the school store, everything had to be designed, ordered and approved by the store manager who was following the logo and color guidelines, centralizing the once-somewhat-disorganized entire operation.
"Selling merchandise has been a very important part of our school branding," said Colleen. "It is very satisfying when you go to a football game and the stands are filled with people wearing red Prep spirit wear — from babies to grandparents."
Marketing the Prep Pride Campus Store
It goes without saying that Fairfield Prep's online campus store is a huge success. Partially due to the school's brand and following, and partially due to their marketing efforts.
Just this past October, Fairfield Prep used Commerce Manager to raise $2,000 for the pink Pledge campaign in Fairfield. The school created a Fairfield Prep pink pledge t-shirt, and sold it exclusively online.
"We put the shirt up online and got out the communications in just two days, and we got the whole campaign together in two weeks," said Colleen. "This is a very positive use of Commerce Manager," she added. "You can make a good thing happen for an important cause, quickly."
Colleen also uses eNotify to send out information about online school sales, and to encourage recipients to browse and make a purchase with links right to the online store. They also promote the school store in the Quicklinks on their homepage, on social media, and offer time-sensitive promotions around the holidays and beginning of the school year.
Is your school interested in launching a successful online school store using Commerce Manager? Here are some tips from Colleen.
- Get a good idea of what the popular product base is, and focus on your top-selling items.
- Share things that you have a large stock in to avoid any inventory issues.
- Start basic. Ours has grown over time. When we launched it we only had about 50 items.
- Promote it for different holidays — we just had a Valentine's Day sale!
- Sell uniforms and other essentials to make it convenient for families.
"The most important thing is that you can just launch it with a few items," she stressed. "I think everyone looks at Commerce Manager and wonders who has time to manage it...but anyone does."