An A+ in Back-to-School

It may only be the first week of August, but the retail world is already in full swing with one of its most important times of the year: back-to-school. Back-to-school is the second-biggest shopping season of the year, trailing only the holiday season. And the shopping trends, patterns and preferences of consumers continues to reflect broader consumer behavior trends and gives us a peek into what may come as we approach the holiday season. This year we’re seeing two important trends in back-to-school season: a slight decrease in overall spending and an increasing use of all retail channels, not just in-store visits.

After a decade of year-over-year growth, the National Retail Federation finds that families are expected to scale back their back-to-school shopping this year. It should be a fairly modest decrease ($38.92 per family) but it does point to a trend of families looking to shop smarter, perhaps in preparation for a larger splurge later in the year. To that end, consumers will seek more generic products, shop sales more frequently and reuse big-ticket items such as electronics for the younger students in the family as older students need new devices. This trend is also reflected in back-to-college shopping. Consumers are not retreating entirely; they are simply prioritizing. However, it does mean that  to capture the consumer’s interest and make the sale, retailers need to offer the right kind of experience and be ready at all times to deliver it to the influx of school shoppers.

As we wrote in an earlier blog post, consumers of all ages--and not just Millennials-- are beginning to embrace the omni-channel shopping experience. Shoppers are looking for ways to find efficiencies in what can be a time-consuming project. Almost everyone, parents and students alike, can remember comparison shopping for the best price, seeking “just the right brand/size/color” to meet that year’s trends and scouring the aisles to find the newest gadget or coolest notebook. We still participate in the same shopping expedition today, yet it is often sandwiched in between two busy careers and multiple sports practices. Free shipping, online reservations, same-day delivery and ship-to-store are some of the online shopping features that parents want as they squeeze in a last week of vacation, shuttle their children to sports tryouts and practices, and prepare for a busy fall.

Retailers are making this job a little easier on families: offering in-store shopping lists and interactive maps to help power through the job, particularly useful for busy working parents and/or families with several children going back to school. Technology providers like Point Inside are helping retailers like Target build and launch these customer-centric offerings.

Even though we might be gazing out at tranquil water, reapplying sunscreen and leafing through the latest beach read, all indicators point to the world gearing up for its next retail push. The ever-savvy shopper continues to evolve and demand more from the stores in which they shop, the technology fueling the transactions, and the people behind the customer experience. Before we know it, we’ll be writing about the lessons learned from 2015 back-to-school and what we foresee for the holidays.

Related topics: Retail, Retail Sales