The back-to-school shopping season bring both good news and bad news for retailers. On the positive side, it’s the second biggest shopping event of the year next to the holidays, so consumers are bound to spend more. In fact, the NRF estimates that “total combined spending for back to school and college is expected to reach $68 billion in 2015.”
The not-so-good news is the back to school retail landscape is more competitive than ever. Consumers this year are a lot savvier than before, and most of them will not only shop across multiple channels, but they’ll also be expecting lower prices and higher levels of convenience from merchants.
If you’re wondering how you can engage these shoppers and ring up more back-to-school sales, keep reading. In this post, we shed light on some back to school insights and examples that you can use in your business.
Have a special back-to-school section in your store or website
Round up all your back-to-school items, bundles, and promotions, then put them in a special section in your store (both online and offline). This will make it more convenient for shoppers to find the items they’re looking for.
One retailer doing a great job at this is Walmart. The retail giant created a back-to-school section on its website, and drives traffic to it by promoting it on the front page.
See if you can do something similar at your store. Create a collection on your website that’s filled with any back-to-school items you’re selling (i.e. supplies, clothes, gadgets, or dorm room furniture) then design a banner to encourage visits and sales.
Engage with Gen Y and Gen Z shoppers
Remember that you’ll be dealing with a lot of millennials and youngsters during the back-to-school and back-to-college season. As ShopperTrak points out, as of 2014, there are 80 million millennial shoppers who spend around $600 billion per year. ShopperTrak also cites an NRF study, which found that “students are having a greater influencer on their parents’ purchasing decision,” with 9.7% of parents admitting that their child influences 100% of their back-to-school purchases.
This is why you need figure out how to connect with the Gen Y and Z demographics. Here a couple of ideas:
Leverage social media
Create some great-looking back-to-school images and publish them on networks like Instagram and Facebook.
Plenty of retailers have already started doing this. Consider Urban Outfitters, which recently posted this Instagram photo featuring campus essentials:
Meanwhile, Aerie created a Pinterest board filled with pins of items for students as well as inspirational quotes and images.
Be mobile friendly
According to the NRF’s 2015 back-to-school survey, 41% of college students who own a mobile device “plan to use a smartphone to research products and compare prices, and 46% will use a tablet to shop.” The same study also found that this year, 31% and 35% of college shoppers plan to purchase products on their smartphones and tablets, respectively.
Clearly, shoppers will be using their mobile phones even more this season, so see to it that your site is easy to browse in the small screen. Make sure your site is responsive, and that people can easily find the information they need (i.e. product details, contact info, directions) when they’re on your mobile site.
You can also increase your visibility in the small screen by listing your business on sites like Google and Yelp. This will help potential customers find your business and could drive more traffic both to your website and store.
Send back to school-themed emails to your customers
Do you send out newsletters to customers and subscribers? Then now is the perfect time to create a back-to-school themed newsletter or campaign. Even if you’re not selling typical back-to-school products like supplies, try to find items in your store that you can relate to the season.
Take Kate Spade, for example. In its back-to-school email campaign, the retailer highlighted its recently launched kids clothing line to entice their mom (or big sister) customers to swing by their site.
Provide convenient and affordable order fulfillment options
We’ve been touting the importance of services like click-and-collect, ship-to-store, and free shipping for quite some time now, and this season’s back-to-school numbers show that these order fulfillment services are as important as ever.
The NRF found that 9 out of 10 back-to-school consumers intend to take advantage of free shipping, while almost half of respondents are planning to use ship-to-store or in-store pickup services.
That’s why it’s so important for retailers to start offering such order fulfillment options. While free shipping may not always make sense financially, you should at least look into implementing initiatives like buy online, pick up in store. An increasing number of online shoppers are choosing this option because it saves them both time and money.
What’s more, shoppers actually tend to spend more at the store when they pick up their items. A recent survey by USPS and Nielsen found that 45% of respondents who choose to pick up in-store said they bought something else while picking up their order.
Be prepared for more procrastinators this year
The number of procrastinators is up from 25% to 30% up this year, according to the NRF, so don’t expect the back-to-school crowds to let up anytime soon.
Think of ways to engage these last-minute shoppers. Perhaps you can extend some of your seasonal offers. Or maybe you can promote your convenient back-to-school bundles for easy and quick shopping.
Whatever you decide, be sure to spread the word about your back-to-school initiatives. Promote them on your site as well as on social media and via email, and do a bit of offline and in-store marketing.
How are you prepping for back-to-school shoppers? Let us know in the comments.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.