As a kid, Labor Day weekend was always an exciting time. It meant the end of summer, but also the beginning of so many new experiences. New classes, new friends, and new clothes! I now think of these moments through my son’s eyes, with the goal of helping him to prepare for back to school.
This year, however, we’re preparing for a lot of unknowns. With school boards planning for a wide range of back-to-school options and some colleges and universities delaying the physical return to campus until 2021, parents and students are left wondering what they need to do to get ready.
Shoppers and consumers have a different mind-set than in past years. With online shopping at an all-time high, concerns about the economy, and many feeling personal economic uncertainty, the traditional retail playbook (and calendar) is no longer valid.
Understanding Changing Shopper Needs
Retailers need to lean heavily on data and consumer sentiment to understand the changing needs of their shoppers day-by-day and region-by-region. For years, marketers have been touting the value of personalization. Now is when this investment will pay off. Understanding your customer at a geographic, demographic and psychographic level will reveal the back-to-school winners and losers in retail.
Marketing With Empathy
Value is important, but retailers have to recognize when a buy one get one (BOGO) offer is the right lead message and when their customer needs something more. Old Navy has done a good job finding this balance with its recent campaign, which thanks shoppers for leading Zoom classes and rewards Americans in need by donating $30 million in clothing.
A strong loyalty program can also build trust with your brand. Develop an emotional connection with customers through hashtag-based promotions or stay-at-home moments that help build a personal relationship. A loyalty program can also enrich your data, allowing you to be better positioned for the holidays.
Employing a true omnichannel, omnicategory approach is also key to success. Having siloed teams in your organization — each with its own success metrics — isn’t helping your customers. If your data shows that shoppers are migrating from in-store to online, invest in your e-commerce site to give them the best experience possible. If your customers are historically price sensitive, think about what more you can do to help — e.g., cross-category value packs or smaller package sizes with reduced prices. This is the time to rethink your offering to provide your customers with what they need.
Rethinking the Retail Calendar
With Amazon.com moving Prime Day, the traditional kick-off to back-to-school spending has shifted. For those brands that relied heavily on this moment, it’s time to rethink the traditional calendar and start to make your own moments. Demand an agile approach to your marketing calendar through back-to-school and holiday planning. This will allow teams to act and react to changes quickly and, most importantly, to have multiple options — from promotions to media spend to shopping channels — ready to deploy.
Back to School is a Moment
Brands and retailers need to move away from thinking about back to school as a promotional time on their retail calendar and look at it as a shared moment across communities and families. Retailers can make this time special for students and parents. Having moments of celebration and recognizing milestones in our children’s lives means more now than ever. It’s up to marketers to make their brand a meaningful part of this experience.
Janine Flaccavento is senior vice president, media at Merkle, a global performance marketing agency.