Back-to-school (BTS) is a critically important selling period — and an opportunity to connect with shoppers before the holiday season. In a recently completed shopper survey, BRG Retail found consumers consistent in their expectations for BTS shopping, presenting a golden opportunity for retailers to strengthen their connection to customers.
In the survey, we asked how shoppers felt about their personal financial situations. Nearly 50 percent said they felt better off financially than at this time last year. Furthermore, approximately 40 percent said they plan to spend more for BTS in 2019 than last year, with just 10 percent expecting to spend less. A cautious consumer isn't likely to be a challenge for retailers this BTS season. The opportunity lies in knowing where and when they will shop, and what will drive their purchase decisions.
Stores Still Count
The physical store isn't dead. Consumers were asked how (and in which channels) they would complete their BTS shopping. Approximately 80 percent said they would buy the majority of their items in a physical store. Why?
First, shoppers like interacting with the product — especially apparel. Second, shopping at this time of year is a family affair: 84 percent said their child picks out at least some of the items to purchase, and 38 percent said their child picks out most items with limited parental input.
Many customers will pre-shop online, and about 50 percent said they will do some of their BTS shopping online. Still, retailers should view BTS as an opportunity to exceed shopper expectations when it comes to the in-store experience and deliver a coherent and compelling omnichannel experience.
Purchase Drivers: Price and Timing
BTS shopping trips will be mission focused. Over 70 percent of respondents said they will buy (1) tops, (2) bottoms, and (3) footwear. Nearly everyone will look to replenish their students’ basic school supplies.
Over 60 percent stated they will only shop during a sale, with just 10 percent saying promotions have no impact on purchase decisions. Top destinations for BTS shoppers include Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, and Old Navy — retailers known for everyday low prices, strong promotions, or both.
Furthermore, most shoppers are anxious to get BTS purchases taken care of quickly, and plan to complete shopping by the end of July or mid-August. Most consumers will spend from a weekend to two weeks to three weeks to purchase apparel and footwear, while they will complete their shopping for school supplies in a single day or weekend.
Customers know what they want, want it at a great price, and want to get it all done quickly!
Winning During Back-to-School
To make sure they’re ready when shoppers hit their stores and websites, retailers can take the following steps:
- Prepare stores for increased foot traffic. Stores need to wow and excite consumers with excellent customer service and a robust merchandise assortment.
- Stay in stock on key items. Stores must have correct allocations across styles, colors and sizes. Shelves have to be well-stocked on key, fast-moving school supply items whose sales will be driven because they're required items for local schools.
- Find alternatives if one of your stores is out of stock. Leverage e-commerce capabilities and visibility into another store location’s inventory, and offer free shipping to get the customer the item(s) they want.
- Offer compelling promotions and value. Make sure your advertising, digital campaigns and website call out exciting BTS promotions to drive customers to your store.
BTS is a critical shopping occasion. Retailers that win at BTS will have a leg up when it comes to gaining the attention of consumers when the holidays roll around. Take advantage of the opportunity!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of Berkeley Research Group, LLC or its other employees and affiliates.
Keith Jelinek is managing director, retail and consumer practice, Berkeley Research Group (BRG), a leading global strategic advisory and expert consulting firm.
Richard (Rick) Maicki is managing director, corporate finance at Berkeley Research Group (BRG), a leading global strategic advisory and expert consulting firm.
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Keith Jelinek is the managing director, retail and consumer practice, Berkeley Research Group (BRG), a leading global strategic advisory and expert consulting firm.
Keith Jelinek has held management positions and led and advised Fortune 100 retail companies to drive transformational improvements for more than thirty years. Before joining BRG, he was a senior managing director in the Retail Performance Improvement practice of a global business advisory firm. Prior to that, he assisted the launch of the Retail Performance Improvement team at an international business management consulting firm, where he twice received the Achievements in Excellence Award for delivering results far exceeding client expectations.
Richard (Rick) Maicki is managing director, Corporate Finance at Berkeley Research Group (BRG), a leading global strategic advisory and expert consulting firm.
He has more than twenty-five years of business experience, with approximately fifteen years of consulting experience plus direct management roles within industry. He has extensive experience leading and advising Fortune 100 companies, with a focus on retail and consumer products companies.