August is here, and while many of us are soaking in the last summer beach days, back-to-school (BTS) season is already in full swing.
BTS is the second most popular shopping season of the year, bringing excitement, nostalgia and, most importantly, sales. On the heels of the National Retail Federation’s 2018 BTS report, which forecasts this year’s total spending to reach $82.8 billion, Wiser conducted an independent study of nearly 3,500 consumers on their BTS shopping habits this year.
Here's what retailers need to know.
Prime Day is the Black Friday of Summer
Come July 5, it’s out with the red, white and blue, and in with the pencils, backpacks and calculators. While retailers like Walmart and Target start their BTS season in early July, most consumers begin their shopping in early August (32.3 percent) followed by late July (25 percent).
There’s a good reason for shopping early. Amazon Prime Day traditionally rules July e-commerce shopping, giving parents an opportunity to snag deals on BTS supplies. According to Wiser’s survey, 68 percent of shoppers will buy their school supplies online this year.
Not surprisingly, Amazon ranks No. 1 for the best BTS deals (78 percent). Ninety percent of respondents plan to use Amazon for online purchases, followed by Walmart.com (62 percent), Target.com (50 percent), Staples.com (24 percent), and Jet.com (6 percent).
The top reasons for putting away the car keys in favor of online shopping include ease of price comparison (82 percent), a better variety of options (59 percent), and free shipping (52 percent).
As for products most likely to be compared online, computers and laptops (63 percent) rank slightly higher than clothing and accessories (55 percent).
The In-Store Experience Still Matters
Despite the soaring popularity of online shopping for BTS, 32 percent of consumers will still visit stores for clothing, technology and other school supplies.
For the retailers with the best deals, check out Walmart. Seventy percent of in-store shoppers will likely purchase from the retailer, followed by Target (60 percent), and Staples, Family Dollar, and Dollar General, all of which were in to the mid-to-high 20s.
But why shop in-store when Amazon is just a click away? The No. 1 reason shoppers go in-store is to try out items before buying. Shoppers prefer to make sure clothes fit, backpacks holds all their books, and that the crayons have all of the right colors. About 41 percent of shoppers believe it’s easier to buy in-store for this reason.
Nostalgia also plays a big part in brick-and-mortar shopping. While 34 percent of consumers like to shop in-store for the experience, 25 percent said they do it out of nostalgia.
Making the Most of Back-to-School
The average BTS shopper will spend $440 this year, according to Wiser’s survey. Whether you’re Amazon or a challenger brand looking to capture a slice of spending, there are five things you need to focus on:
- Pricing Intelligence. Today’s consumers are savvier than ever, and will price check your products against your competitors. Use pricing intelligence to manage your relative price position in the competitive landscape, anticipate margin pressures, and boost revenue at the category level.
- Promotional Intelligence. Keep an eye on competitors’ sales and promotions — when they’re running them and how they’re creating urgency for buyers.
- Unified Commerce. Create an omnichannel experience that customers will love. A full unified commerce experience typically includes at least three channels: a frictionless e-commerce website; a mobile-optimized version or app; and a differentiated in-person, live experience that consumers will remember and revisit. Of course, these channels must work together seamlessly and deliver a consistent brand experience.
- Easy Shipping and Returns. Make buying, returning, exchanging and shipping easy both in-store and online. Consider options like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) and buy online, return in-store (BORIS), as well as on-the-floor ordering with free shipping if supply runs out.
- In-Store Merchandising. Make sure signage and pricing is up-to-date, and aisles are clean and organized. A recent survey found 86 percent of retailers believe there’s a correlation between proper retail merchandising and an increase in sales.
Want to learn more about the BTS shopping season? Check out the Total Retail Resource Library for the full Wiser report, infographic, and more.
Andy Ballard is the CEO at Wiser, a company that collects and analyzes online and offline data with unmatched speed, scale and accuracy for brands, retailers and more.
Related story: Pricing Intelligence: What it is and Why it Matters