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How Retailers Can 'Win' During Back to School Season

By: Nick Godfrey on September 2, 2015

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As Labor Day rapidly approaches, many students and parents are preparing (and anxiously awaiting) for the upcoming school year. The National Retail Federation (NRF) ranks "Back to School/College" as the second largest shopping season of the year (following the winter holidays) and for 2015 combined spending for school and college is expected to reach $68 billion in 2015.

For retailers looking to take advantage of Back to School shopping season, having a clear understanding of the convergence of online and offline shopping channels will be critical to their success. By removing friction along the buyers’ journey as consumers move from mobile, to online, to in-store, retailers put themselves in a position to capture a share of consumers’ wallet.

Here are the top trends for 2015 that retailers need to monitor to ensure their Back to School season is a success.

Purchasing online but picking up in-store.
In a recent survey, nearly half of all Back to School and Back to College shoppers said that they would be purchasing items online but are planning to pick up the items in-store. As the online and offline worlds continue to converge, it is imperative that retailers ensure that there is a seamless experience as consumers browse, shop, and eventually buy across potentially all different channels. This goes beyond creating a consistent look and feel as consumers move from online to in-store, rather for retailers it means understand how consumers engage with the various marketing touchpoints and being able to engage with consumers with the content that meets their needs at the various point along their buying lifecycle.

Shoppers are waiting longer to do Back to School shopping.
Thirty percent of back-to-school shoppers will wait until one or two weeks before school to start shopping, up from 25% last year. For retailers, this means that they need to continue to nurture shoppers for longer than usual and look for signals indicating that a consumer is ready to make a purchase. An example of this could be a consumer adding items to their cart but never completing their purchase. In this situation, retailers should remind consumers of their cart and offer an incentive (free shipping or a slight discount) to help complete the purchase.

Speaking of free shipping... Back to College shoppers are taking advantage of free shipping
When shopping online, 9 in 10 Back to College shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping. Free shipping is a powerful marketing tool used in ecommerce. Free shipping helps consumers rationalize buying something online instead of going to a store to purchase the same item. If shipping is too expensive for an item that we could just as easily get at a local storefront, the rationalization of online shopping convenience fails, and we abandon our carts. It is not surprising then “Unexpected costs” is the number one reason shopping carts are abandoned. For retailers competing for consumer’s share of wallet, offering free shipping provides an incentive that helps capture a sale and reduce the risk of consumers abandoning their shopping carts.

In summary, Back to School season is about creating a seamless experience for the consumer by using their data to understand their preferences and crafting a strategy that aligns with needs which ultimately helps capture the sale.

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