Thinking mobile is 100-year-old college bookstore's secret edge

Optimizing for smartphones and tablets helps The Duck Store at the University of Oregon handle online traffic spikes on game days, helping it win out against big sporting goods retailers.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Even though The Duck Store, the non-profit bookstore at the University of Oregon, was an early convert to e-commerce it never really thought about the traffic driven to the site until the 2009 timeframe, when the university's football team was thrust into the national spotlight.

Suddenly, its logo apparel and gift items became a whole lot more popular. That's when the four-person operation decided to ditch the custom platform it developed in-house on ColdFusion and move to the Volusion platform.

The Duck Store, which was founded in 1920, sells apparel, accessories and other items. The money it raises goes back into the university, in the form of student wages and support for the athletics department. It is run as a cooperative, with a board elected by the student body.

There were two big factors in The Duck Store's choice of this particular service: it's ability to scale traffic dynamically during peak selling seaons and Volusion's rich support for mobile sales checkout, said Alex Lyons, the web team leader for the store. Instead of pushing customers to a full web site like other platforms, Volusion's technology enables buyers to complete transactions on their mobile devices more easily, Lyons said. That means the 50,000 or so people on the store's mailing list can link directly over to products they like and buy them in-the-moment. (The organization supports more than 1,500 SKUs on its site.)

"We are able to direct the users from marketing into the category page. Before, deep linking wasn't available," she said. "Now, we have a better conversion rate."

Oregon Duck Store Mobile 1

During the six-week period after its conversion, The Duck Store experienced a 184 percent increase in daily mobile sales and a 21 percent gain in the average order size from mobile interactions, according to a case study published about the installation.

Overall, Lyons estimated that about 15 percent of the store's e-commerce visitors in the 2013 fiscal year got to the site from a mobile device; this year, that number is approximately 23.7 percent.

Volusion's platform prioritizes mobile design as part of a better omnichannel e-commerce experience, said Jason Woosley, vice president of product development for the company, which now supports about 40,000 stores. "Our philosophy on mobile is that everyone should have it," he said.

To date, approximately $15 billion in merchant sales have been run through the Volusion platform. The service is optimized for organizations that are managing less than $5 million in annual sales, and its biggest retail verticals include apparel, electronics and sporting goods. Most of the organizations using the service are much smaller: less than $100,000 in annual sales. What's more, many of them are online-only plays (The Duck Store is a hybrid operation).

Pricing for Volusion starts at $15 per month for up to 1GB in bandwidth and up to 100 products. The most popular plan right now is $75 per month, which includes up to 10GB in bandwidth and up to 10,000 products. 

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