After testing it at a handful of schools last year, Target is expanding a program that allows college students to order items online and then to pick them up days or weeks later at a store near their campuses.
The college order pickup program will be up and running at 300 stores this year, potentially reaching about 70 percent of the college population, according to the Minneapolis-based retailer.
The pilot program at six universities last year was “overwhelmingly positive,” said John Mulligan, Target’s chief operating officer, so the company decided to roll it out more widely this year.
After customer feedback, Target made some changes such as increasing the number of eligible items from 300 last year to more than 3,000 products this year. Now besides dorm furnishings, lamps and fans, students also can order toothpaste, laundry detergent and boxes of Cheerios.
“We bundle it all up and have it sitting there waiting for you,” Mulligan said. “They just swing by the store.”
To further entice students, Target is giving customers 15 percent off their orders if they use the college pickup program. The discount does not include electronics.
The pickup window also has widened this year, with orders being taken until Sept. 1 and order pickup available through mid-September.
“It’s a neat idea,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “A lot of retailers are trying to get more creative to compete with Amazon and the world of online shopping.”
Amazon offers college students a free six-month trial of its Prime membership, and then half off the $119 annual fee after that. Amazon also has added pickup locations on some college campuses in recent years.
A number of retailers have been focusing more attention on the college crowd in recent years as they look for growth. For many of them, the back-to-school and college shopping season is the second largest buying time of the year after the holidays. It’s also an opportunity for retailers to hook students into becoming lifelong customers.
“It’s really the first point in starting to establish a relationship — not with Mom — but with the students,” said Mulligan. “They’re starting to shape their buying patterns for their future.”
Walmart is adding hundreds of back-to-school items to its curbside pickup service outside its stores. Orders can be picked up within seven days.
And both Target and Walmart are showcasing fully decked out dorm rooms on their websites so customers can get ideas and click to buy the featured products.
Target’s newest efforts aimed at college students build on many of the capabilities and services it has been rolling out companywide. The retailer has been working to better move the right products to stores as well as having workers shop store shelves for online orders that can be picked up in stores or outside via its Drive Up service, or shipped to customers homes.
Target also has placed more of its smaller flexible-format stores near college campuses. The first opened in Dinkytown at the University of Minnesota in 2014. It now has more than a dozen of them near campuses such as Boston University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Southern California.
Of the 30 small-format stores Target is opening this year, seven of them are located on or near college campuses. It opened one near Northwestern University in the spring and will open stores at Ohio State and Florida State universities next week.
While these stores are close to campus, the college order pickup program will be handled from Target’s larger big-box stores.
“The small-format stores don’t have the space to store 300 boxes for six weeks,” said Mulligan.
With all of these other options available to students, Target has been scaling back the after-hours shopping events in which they bused college students from many campuses to stores every fall.
Target is also running some promotions for back-to-school shopping, such as 15 percent off for teachers when they buy select classroom supplies Monday through Saturday of next week.