How The Container Store is using SMS to reach college students

The national retailer is capitalizing on mobile to drive online and in-store purchases during its back-to-school push.

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The Container Store is using texts and other mobile channels to drive back-to-school sales as college students prepare to move into dorms. The company’s strategy is tailored to engage customers in the manner they prefer without overwhelming them.

The national retailer partnered with texting platform Vibes to manage the campaign, which includes SMS (texts), MMS (with enhanced multimedia creative) and mobile wallet. Calls-to-action are included in complementary digital media, including social and search.

This is the third year the company has used this platform. In 2022, they enrolled over 121,000 subscribers, a 61% boost from the previous year’s list. Mobile-attributed revenue was also three times greater than in 2021. Over half of those on last year’s list have remained registered for this year.

Engaging graduates and gift-givers

This year’s campaign is even more comprehensive because it started earlier than previous years — April instead of June.

“We discovered, potentially, a missed opportunity where students are graduating from high school, asking for gifts and asking for gift cards,” said Sydney Hamilton, senior director of digital marketing at The Container Store. “They’re planning for their dorm rooms and for that next step in their life. And friends and family are giving them those gifts — they’re not waiting until July.”

The retailer also doesn’t require proof of college registration or other verification in order to sign up. This lets family members and friends sign up too.

Opt-in and segmentation

Those who want to sign up for the program text “class” and receive a promo code for a 25% discount. They can transfer this discount into a mobile wallet, allowing them to scan in at a brick-and-mortar checkout, or apply the code to an online purchase.

Members of the program also receive product-related texts.

The Container Store SMS Campaign Screenshot
Image: The Container Store.

“We want to make sure we’re engaging in the manner you signed up for,” said Hamilton. “Just because you signed up for texts doesn’t mean you’re going to get our emails.

She added, “Everyone has a different way they prefer to engage. We found that keeping texts separate and messaging specific is engaging consumers in the way they want.”

The campaign uses segmentation to group customers into common interests, making sure that consumers aren’t flooded with irrelevant messages. The segments are informed by engagement metrics as well as past purchases. For instance, if a customer isn’t engaging with a certain product category, they won’t be bothered with those products in future texts. High engagement, on the other hand, indicates that certain texts are hitting their mark with a customer. And this drives up attributed revenue when they click through and buy.

A team effort for the campaign

Besides Hamilton, there is one other marketer charged with managing the text campaign. Additionally, there is a digital marketer who manages paid search, organic social and paid social. The team is in constant communication to make sure that the campaign has a genuine and consistent feel.

The Vibes platform’s cost varies on the company’s size and message volume, so it’s possible for smaller organizations to run campaigns similar to The Container Store’s, depending on their marketing budget and the size of their texting list.

The key to intelligent texting is matching customers with the right products. The Container Store continues to expand its offerings for people like college students who live in small spaces.

“There’s a point in every single dorm room where we can help to make it better, organized and, then some add some flair to it,” said Hamilton. “In past years and this year specifically, The Container Store has done a really great job around offering products that aren’t just container-specific — for instance, a desktop fan, or vanity organization for jewelry and makeup, and then even some things you can potentially take to class like a Hydro Flask (stainless steel bottle).”

The Container Store’s college promotion runs through September.

Dig deeper: How AI is impacting personalized customer journeys


About the author

Chris Wood
Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country's first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on "innovation theater" at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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