Back-to-School Shopping Season is Here

Lauren Krause
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As the second-largest retail event of the year, back-to-school shopping draws families to brick-and-mortar stores and online websites in droves. While parents once organized their shopping lists for mass-buying trips, the convenience of mobile technology has motivated shoppers to spread out their buying time and hunt for competitive deals. Retailers that want to attract the most consumers should consider the latest trends to refine their marketing strategies for future back-to-school shopping and holiday seasons.

Where Have All the Shoppers Gone?

Based on annual surveys, the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend $68 million on back-to-school shopping in 2015, and college-bound adults significantly influence where that shopping takes place. More than 50 percent of college students own tablets, and 46 percent plan to use these devices for school shopping. Mobile shopping is also popular among parents of K-12 students who value the flexibility of browsing during convenient moments of down time. The average family shells out $630 for K-12 back-to-school shopping and $899 for college. But what types of retailers benefit from the seasonal frenzy?

Mass-market discount stores continue to pocket sizeable profits, but spending has decreased as shoppers gravitate toward specialty retailers, such as electronics and office supply stores. Specialty retailers experienced a 600 percent increase in back-to-school shopping in 2014, benefiting from the consumer trend of conducting online research and comparison shopping before making purchases. Digital marketing influences 62 cents of every dollar spent on electronics, according to the Deloitte back-to-school survey.

Even when shoppers plan to visit brick-and-mortar stores, they often use mobile technology to check inventory and stay up to date on promotions. Retailers that maintain a strong Web presence and target consumers with location-specific advertisements fare well throughout the shopping season, especially when offers are tailored to a shopper’s buying habits. During Walmart’s 2014 back-to-school campaign, mobile outreach accounted for 14 percent of marketing impact. Proximity marketing helped the company appeal to the bargain hunter’s mindset, drawing consumers to stores more frequently to take advantage of local promotions.

Consumer Trends Drive an Extended Shopping Season

The fact that consumers can quickly track down competitive prices means they can also delay back-to-school shopping until the last minute. Instead of making costly purchases all at once, shoppers are making more store visits and smaller purchases that add up to higher profits in the long run. Since many brick-and-mortar stores are focused on shifting gears to prepare for the holiday shopping season, they may make the mistake of halting back-to-school promotions when shoppers are still in buying mode.

Omnichannel retailers capture the bulk of the tail-end traffic by spoiling consumers with time- and money-saving convenience features, such as ship-to-store and free shipping. These retailers have less-restrictive changeover periods, making it easier to accommodate the geographical trends of midsummer shopping in the South and late-summer shopping in the North. Omnichannel retailers are also the fastest to adapt to consumer trends, developing new mobile promotions on the spot in response to real-time analytics.

For retailers that want to ride the profitable wave of back-to-school shopping straight up to the holiday season, personalization, proximity and speed are key components of effective marketing strategies. Consumers want affordable pricing and quality products, and they flood the physical or virtual stores of retailers who make ongoing efforts to reach out.

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