Back to school shopping is in full swing, with total retail sales expected to reach $27.8 billion this year. While this is great news for the retail industry, retailers need to ensure that they are fully equipped to handle rising consumer demands. This means readying their technology and operations to handle the full gamut of consumer needs– in-store and online and from fulfillment to merchandising. This also means understanding how this year’s trends are shaping the retail landscape
Here’s a look at the five biggest trends in back to school shopping:
1. Mobile shopping is on the rise, but it’s not replacing brick and mortar shopping.
Not surprisingly, online back to school shopping is on the rise, particularly with online only sites and when consumers are shopping for electronics. According to Deloitte, mobile back to school shopping is also expected to grow to 60%, up from 53% in 2018. Additional research from Ad Colony found that 70% of consumers use their smartphones to help in back to school shopping. But despite claims that retail giants Amazon and Walmart are cannibalizing retail, more than half of American shoppers say they shop online and offline equally and prefer to do so for items like back to school clothing and supplies. Another survey from BRG retail found that 80 percent of back to school shoppers said they would buy the majority of their items in a physical store.
2. Malls are getting smarter about back to school shopping.
Although brick and mortar retailers have been delayed in changing their game plan to compete with online retailers, malls are now thinking more strategically about back to school shopping. Instead of asking consumers to buy back to school clothes in June and winter clothes in August/September, stores are more focused on lighter weight clothing that can be worn now. In addition, many stores are rethinking their approach to discounting. For example, sneaker brand Vans is running a back-to-school promotion designed to bring shoppers back after school starts.
3. Back to school shopping may be a direct lifeline to Gen Z.
Back to school shopping is also proving to be a way for retailers to reach Gen Z consumers directly. Research from the National Retail Foundation found that teens anticipated spending $36.71 of their own money, which is an increase from $30.88 10 years ago, and pre-teens said they plan to spend $26.40, an increase from $11.94 a decade ago. The Deloitte study also found that kids will likely influence 70% of what their parents spend on back to school items, especially clothing and accessories.
4. Retailers are experimenting with different pick-up and shipping options.
Major retailers like Target and Kohl’s are giving their customers the opportunity to have their purchases shipped directly from stores or to buy and order online and pick up in stores. Retailers are finding that ship-from-store helps keep up with digital demand and pick-up-in-store cuts down on shipping costs. In July, Kohl’s announced that customers can return eligible Amazon purchases at its stores nationwide, making it even more convenient for shoppers.
5. Back to school shoppers are seeking flexible payments.
Interestingly, research by Splitit found that consumers would spend more on back to school shopping if offered the ability to use flexible payments solutions and free shipping. These shoppers are looking for payment solutions that suit their cash flow without incurring debt, like “buy now, pay later” plans.
With these industry shifts in mind, retailers can still win big when it comes to capturing back to school sales. To do so requires focus on the following:
- Prepare stores for increased foot traffic. Stores need to prove themselves over online options, creating a wow factor for consumers with merchandise and an overall positive experience. And don’t forget about Gen Z customers!
- Make sure that key items are in stock. Stores must have enough styles, colors and sizes to meet customer demand, especially “wear now” clothing and school supplies.
- Ensure appropriate staff to manage fulfillment. Make sure there is enough well-trained staff to handle increasing demand for fulfillment and all of the possible issues and interaction involved in the process.
- Make sure the right systems and technology are in place.
- The back to school rush makes it even more imperative that operations run smoothly. Having the right technology and tools in place can be the difference between a happy customer and an unhappy one.
- Give customers choices. Back to school shoppers crave options
- Whether it’s flexible payment, creating a more mobile-friendly experience, picking up in store, shipping directly from store or something altogether different, retailers need to provide consumers with flexibility.
- At the end of the day, whether retailers succeed during the back to school shopping season will depend on all of these factors and more, but staying laser-focused on meeting consumer needs and fostering a superior customer experience should always be at the top of retailers’ priority lists.
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