Has Back to School Evolved Into a Dry Run for Holiday Shopping Season?
Back to School (BTS) represents big business for retailers as consumers spend billions of dollars preparing kids for the upcoming school year. The second largest shopping season, BTS also serves as the transition into the all-important fall/winter product line. While retailers will certainly be judged on their BTS revenue, industry leaders have another, equally important goal: to gain valuable insights on consumer shopping behaviors and quickly adjust strategies before the holiday season.
Through almost real-time access to consumer shopping behaviors and social media insights, merchandise planners and merchants were able to optimize and localize assortments for the BTS shopping season. This richness of data enables retailers to not only start the BTS season with personalized offerings, but also identify winners and losers and make course corrections before the holidays hit.
Field Testing Omnichannel and Social Strategy on Savvy BTS Shoppers
The beginning of the BTS season continues to creep forward as retailers refresh floor sets immediately after July 4 to serve school districts beginning classes at the end of July. The season now stretches for nearly three months as consumers shop into September, taking advantage of promotions and responding to peer influences after kids go back to school. The extension of the BTS season has increased the importance of leveraging social media as a powerful sales channel, and then providing a seamless transition from mobile and online to the in-store environment over the full three-month span.
BTS campaigns are an important opportunity for brands to meet the needs of today’s connected, socially empowered consumer with a seamless shopping experience across locations and channels. Furthermore, BTS is an essential time to provide a consistent brand experience, establishing relationships through various social media channels.
Social media is a powerful extension of the entire BTS experience, as well as an effective platform to engage new and existing consumers. In addition to communicating promotions, social channels should connect the consumer to a brand's BTS experience from July through September with regular content updates. Brands like TOMS have successfully integrated a sense of community into the foundation of their BTS social media campaigns and leveraged this theme throughout the season with product launches. Considering the ubiquity and influence of social media, capitalizing on these touchpoints must be at the top of every retailer’s priority list.
Serving Two Masters — Parent and Child
While parents have traditionally led consumer decisions during the BTS season, they rarely shop without their kids. The parents may control the wallet, especially in the case of younger children, but kids still have a great influence on purchase decisions, For example, market research firm Mitel found that 84 percent of parents with children aged six to 11 said they sometimes or often ask their kids for their opinions when purchasing clothing.
While deploying BTS social and omnichannel strategies, retailers must be sensitive to the needs of both parents and children. Parents seek quality and durability at a compelling price point, while children, particularly teenagers, focus on the latest styles and social media trends. This dual audience requires a social media and marketing balancing act that addresses the quality and construction of materials, while leveraging Instagram, Twitter and other platforms to showcase a brand's identity, engage students and react operationally to the latest trends.
For any brand, managing the complex ecosystem of shopping channels, social platforms and multiple audiences is a combination of data, experience and artistry. The BTS season is a major retail moment in its own right, but those retailers that leverage these critical months as an opportunity to examine and improve strategy before the holidays will more effectively navigate this competitive, omnichannel and socially connected retail world during the upcoming holiday season.
Brandon Rael is a principal, retail industry, for North Highland, a global consulting firm. Andrew Billings is a senior manager of retail and consumer products at North Highland.
Related story: 4 Holiday-Themed Email Takeaways for Retailers