The coronavirus pandemic leaves many college-related purchases up in the air. OCM is using email retargeting to help recover sales during a challenging year.

2020 is a challenging year, says Marcelle Parrish, chief marketing officer at dorm essentials retailer OCM.

Shortened school years, no graduation ceremonies, no graduation parties and uncertainty about in-person school in the fall all mean tepid spending on college-related purchases. This is bad news for online and catalog retailer OCM, which sells dorm room bedding and other college home goods.

“We do support and care packages for the students during finals. You can imagine that slowed down immediately when students didn’t come back from spring break,” Parrish says.

OCM partners with about 900 universities to license their logos and names to put on its products. As of publishing, the majority of them are planning to have students return to school in some capacity in the fall.

For the past four decades, OCM was a direct-mail business, and it didn’t launch its ecommerce site until about 8 years ago. Now, ecommerce is a primary channel, although it still conducts a significant amount of business from consumers calling into its call center, Parrish says. OCM is No. 1291 in the Digital Commerce 360 Next 1000, with web sales growing a Digital Commerce 360-estimated 9.1% year over year in 2019.

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Commitment day—or the deadline for students to decide which college to attend—is typically May 1. Right around then, OCM counts on a spike in sales as students are excited and want to outfit their dorm room. This year, with uncertainty about schools being open in the fall, many universities postponed that deadline and OCM did not have its typical May-Day spike in sales or traffic, Parrish says.

Here’s a look at traffic for OCM.com in 2019 and how the coronavirus pandemic has squashed its typical spring traffic bump, according to web measurement firm SimilarWeb.

OCM looks to this 3-month spring period, when students transition to college, as a critical time to acquire customers. After that, it works to re-engage shoppers via direct mail.

Prior to the coronavirus crisis, OCM had planned a new integration to help increase its conversion rate and acquire new customers. OCM focuses on acquiring a soon-to-be freshman customer, so it can get her first purchase of dorm bedding, and possibly future college home purchases as she moves off-campus and has other college-related needs.

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OCM decided to use digital marketing vendor Listrak’s cross-channel automation tool called Growth Xcelerator Platform (GXP) to grow its email list and increase conversion from email. OCM went with Listrak because it already uses the vendor as its email service provider—there was no additional technology integration needed. Plus, it was about 40% cheaper than using other vendors, Parrish says.

The integration was supposed to launch in February, although OCM delayed the launch until May as school plans were up in the air for a while. It took about 4 weeks to get the tool up and running, she says.

The tool is helping OCM think more positively about the future. Revenue is up 800% for consumers who had abandoned their cart from mid-June compared with mid-May, the retailer says. While the season is still getting going, the retailer says this is a significant jump. Plus, in the last month, sales generated for consumers that have received a GXP-targeted email are up by $450,000 compared with consumers who did not receive one of these emails.

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