Get Your Back-to-School Strategy Up to Date
The back-to-school season is wrapping up. Forecasts predicted a slight decrease in back-to-school spending in 2015; this isn't a result of consumer confidence, but instead a balancing of the spend which has grown 42 percent over the past 10 years, according to the National Retail Federation. To capture the wallet share of customers this back-to-school season, retailers must optimize their mobile strategy, going beyond responsive websites to delivering connected and personalized experiences that converge the store with the online experience.
The largest share of back-to-school shoppers reported buying products in-store when compared to online for most retail categories. Innovative retailers that leverage digital communications to drive in-store traffic will gain significant advantage this back-to-school season and will benefit from significant learnings for the holiday season and beyond.
Capitalize On the 'Want it Now' Mentality
Research shows that back-to-school shoppers still prefer to shop in stores, although they're researching their purchases first online. With this understanding, retailers must seamlessly connect the online experience with the store.
One way innovative retailers are making this connection is through the use of Local Inventory Ads on Google, which combine product ads on the search engine results page with the added value of inventory status in local stores. This ad unit provides consumers who have demonstrated intent or interest in a product to go directly to a nearby store to purchase the product they're seeking. This strategic use of paid media connects buying customers with available merchandise.
To further reduce friction on mobile devices, Google will also be launching new tools for consumers to help facilitate shopping. You may begin to see “Buy on Google” links for Product Ads. Google knows that consumers want their products now and are enabling them to buy directly on the search results page on mobile devices, bypassing what may be a less-than-ideal mobile shopping experience on a retailer's site.
Proximity is Key
Mobile has changed the way we do everything, and Google reports that over 50 percent of searches are now coming from mobile devices. Consumers are searching for merchandise, and “near me” has become one of the most popular search modifiers, with Google reporting that searches like “near me” have more than doubled in the past year. And it’s no surprise that over 80 percent of these searches are coming from a mobile device. The propensity for mobile “near me” searches certainly rises as we see the familiar move-in scene on college campuses all across the country this fall.
To capture this customer, retailers must optimize their search strategy to accommodate location-based search requests and ensure their stores and merchandise is front and center. There’s a particular opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to meet more new customers through these searches that might not otherwise lead to foot traffic in their store.
The Demand vs. Traffic Conundrum
Much like the busiest holiday shopping seasons, search traffic, online purchases and in-store shopping traffic don’t all align during the back-to-school season. Retailers should expect to see search demand peak two weeks before the in-store rush for back to school. As a result, retailers are shifting online dollars up in the fiscal year to maximize the benefits of the research phase.
The Parent Factor
In general, parents foot the bill for back-to-school shopping, but their school-age and college-age students have a clear influence on the products they purchase. Parents, for the most part, are driving comparative shopping, finding the best deals for the products their kids want. Parents are researching all times of day. Brand familiarity and trust are key components for parents, right behind cost-saving coupons. The more personalized a retailer can get with their shoppers, the more trust is built.
The back-to-school season also compounds one of the biggest challenges for retailers throughout the year. We know that consumers regularly research on mobile devices and make purchases on larger desktop or tablet devices. In fact, throughout the year, we see that over 21 percent of mobile phone pay per clicks result in an order on another device. That estimate only includes similar users, however. It doesn’t take into account teen and pre-teen shoppers who find products via retailer ads, but have those products purchased by their parents on other devices. Implementing tools like “email my cart” and creatively rebranding “wish lists” as “parent shopping lists” can help retailers tie intent from marketing programs with ultimate conversion values, regardless of who makes the ultimate purchase.
Influence Behavior Through Loyalty
Loyalty programs are a great driver of specific consumer actions through using both increased personalization and sought-after incentives. Loyalty members need to be given a reason to feel special for being a part of the program. Retailers should use the repository of customer data available to them through member accounts to segment and personalize their marketing efforts. It's important to incentivize through member-only promotions and rewards while shoppers are in the research phase in order to both keep customers from switching to competitors and to drive specific actions (e.g., purchasing in-store or during a certain timeframe).
In particular, finding ways to parlay purchases at back-to-school time into long-term loyalty is a big opportunity. For many young college students, this is one of the first opportunities where they’re learning to “fend for themselves” as they head off for their freshman year. Providing support at this point could allow retailers to be at the top of the list for future holiday and life-changing purchases.
Omnichannel isn't new to retailers, but to advance omnichannel success during critical shopping seasons like back to school, retailers must take advantage of digital platforms more effectively to better connect with their customers at their decision-making points. The first step is to understand your customer – how she shops, where she is, what she wants. Then, execute a digital strategy that answers the customer shopping patterns seamlessly across online platforms and in stores.
Susan Boland is the senior vice president of strategy at Merkle, a performance marketing agency specializing in data-based marketing solutions.