A Localized Approach to Back-to-School Planning
Despite the fact that summer is not yet half way over, many retailers are already rolling out full-blown back-to-school floor sets. In a world where timing is everything, is it really necessary at this point?
The National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts that consumers will collectively spend $83.6 billion on back-to-school items this year, more than a 10 percent increase from 2016. However, retailers need to consider that not all back-to-school shopping happens at once, and, usually, not even in July or August, when most retailers are focused on back to school. In fact, the majority of back-to-school spending comes from apparel and footwear, according to the NRF, and, as 2016 data from Bazaarvoice revealed, apparel and footwear shopping surged during Labor Day weekend and during the final week of September.
These spending trends are also highly impacted by store location. While many retailers might not have the technology in place to plan at the individual store level, they should plan based on the needs at the store district level. In addition to accounting for local school calendars, three basic things retailers can focus on when planning assortments and floor set rollouts to avoid overstocks and margin losses during back to school are local climate, local school district requirements and the local population.
If you live in one the country’s warmer regions, you know it’s downright hot in August when many schools return. You’ve also probably noticed that as soon as midsummer rolls around, retailers start selling “fall” clothes and you can’t send a five-year-old off to kindergarten wearing pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a down jacket in the 100-degree heat. It’s key for retailers to make sure they have the right assortment of clothing in place for the local climate. While it may be cooling off in some northern regions, retailers need to ensure they have school-appropriate warm-weather apparel inventory. For many schools, this means uniforms.
School District Requirements
It’s no longer private schools that require students to wear uniforms; many public school districts also require uniforms or standardized dress. Retailers need to be aware of local school dress codes and stock the appropriate uniform colors and styles in addition to other school-appropriate clothing. In addition to apparel, school supply requirements vary not only by grade level but also district and even individual school. Each store or store district should carry the supplies that local schools require. To make this work, store operations leaders need to make sure they’re well attuned with the needs of local schools and communicating those needs to the corporate office.
For retailers with stores in regions highly populated by institutes of higher education, target the unique needs of college students. For example, stores that are closer to universities might see an increased demand for twin and twin XL bedsheets, or other common dorm and apartment supplies like mini-fridges and microwaves. Conversely, if the area is dense with retirement communities, stores should dedicate less floor space to back-to-school displays and merchandise.
As the retail industry continues to transform, retailers must localize back-to-school planning to optimize inventory productivity and maximize sales per square foot. Stocking the right products at the right time for specific stores and store districts will help ensure that retailers are making the best of in-store “real estate” and keep merchandise moving.
Debra Glassburn is a partner at Columbus Consulting International, a company that specializes in consulting for business processes in the retail industry.