Making the Most of Back-to-School Season
We’re approaching the end of back-to-school shopping season.
Grade school students have bought the folders, pens, notebooks, and binders that they need for the year. College students have bought microwaves, mirrors, rugs, lights, and other miscellaneous necessities for their dorm rooms. And parents are helping guide their children through the transition to the school year, buying them cell phones, clothes, and books.
But as we think back on this back-to-school season, have we done as best we could to cater to exactly what the grade school students, college students, and parents needed? Do we really know who they are, how they shop, and how they choose where to shop?
It’s worth taking some time to find out the answers to these questions, as well as how those answers impact the way that retailers run their stores.
The Importance of Back-to-School Season
Back-to-school season, the second-biggest shopping season of the year, is unbelievably important for retailers.
According to NRF’s annual survey detailing back-to-school spending, this season is expected to reach sales of $83.6 billion, up almost 8 billion from last year’s $75.8 billion. That’s an increase of over 10 percent, a massive jump. The same is true if we just look at back-to-school spending for college students. Sales from this season are expected to increase from $48.5 billion to $54.1 billion, another staggering jump of over 10 percent.
In the future, these numbers are only going to increase as more students attend college and more students enroll in extracurricular activities like summer school. The share of teenagers enrolled in summer classes has increased by over 15 percent over the past 15 years, and is climbing higher and higher. In addition, the percentage of recent high school graduates that are going to college is steadily increasing, and will only continue to increase as our economy moves to a model where a Bachelor’s degree is necessary to gain access to the middle class.
A New Generation of Customers
Back-to-school season is undeniably going to become more important in the future, so it’s worth looking at who exactly is shopping during that season and how best to improve their experience.
Millennial parents and Generation Z students are the majority of the customers during back-to-school season, and as such, back-to-school shopping is changing. For example, 43% of back-to-school shoppers are planning to use smartphones to assist them while they shop, a number that only increases (to 60%) if we look exclusively at parents shopping during the back-to-school season. That’s an incredibly important statistic when we consider all of the different ways that smartphones can be used during the shopping process, whether it’s price matching, buy online & pick up in store (BOPIS), checking a store’s inventory, or looking up product specifications. 45.5 percent of consumers also plan to shop online during the back-to-school season, so perfecting omni-channel services is especially important for retailers.
It’s important to remember the value of brick-and-mortar as well. For example, 71 percent of Generation Z shoppers prefer to buy school supplies in-store. Many students today are increasingly using online capabilities as a way to do research and elicit the opinion of their peers before actually purchasing anything. This, along with Generation Z’s preference for a seamless shopping experience, deeply illustrates the importance of making sure that in-store operations are as efficient and streamlined as possible.
Tools and Solutions for Back-to-School Season
So how can retailers use this knowledge to engage customers and sell more during the back-to-school season?
One way is to make sure that store associates are capable of handling the needs of these Millennial and Generation Z customers. Giving store associates mobile devices means that they can extend the shelf and create the “endless aisle”, can help provide customers with a way to utilize omni-channel services in-store, and can access pricing and product specification information that customers may not have on hand.
Another way is to make sure that store operations are running seamlessly. This means that shelves cannot be empty, there needs to be enough workers on the sales floor to handle the number of customers in the store, and store communications need to be streamlined and efficient.
There are many ways to address these dilemmas:
- Empty shelves can easily be remedied with a real-time store operations solution that alerts store associates when shelves are empty
- Discrepancies between projected and actual labor needs can easily be remedied with a labor operations solution that is able to accurately predict labor needs at any time
- Un-prioritized and redundant store communications can easily be remedied with a task management solution that provides the ability for quick and simple corporate-to-store communications
Now that back-to-school season is coming to a close, it’s time to look at what can be done to make next year even better for retailers. Maybe it means looking at providing store associates with mobile devices. Maybe it means equipping stores with solutions that can simplify and streamline store processes. As the school year begins, it’s important to remember that there are many actions retailers can take to make next year’s back-to-school season the best one yet.