Gearing Your eCommerce Site for Back-to-School

Posted by Laura Hills, VP Marketing, Dydacomp

Gone are the days when back-to-school shopping involved visits to local, downtown shops as the primary source for children’s clothing and stationery needs.  The local 5 & 10 variety stores took a back seat to online shopping and big-box stores, supermarkets and drugstore chains, all offering deep discounts.  And, then there are the increasingly popular dollar stores that have made their way into shopping centers across the country.

In its annual back-to-school survey, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that parents are planning to spend an average of $634.78 on clothing and school supplies for school age children under the age of 17.  This is a drop of 7.8% as compared to 2012, but still indicates robust spending which is good news for retailers that cater to back-to-school shoppers.  The NRF estimates that back-to-school and back-to- college spending will reach $72.5 billion nationwide this year.[1]

The back-to-school selling season, typically the last two weeks of August and the first two weeks of September, is crucial for retailers that rely on back-to-school revenues to sustain their business.  It’s interesting to note that 10 states now start school before August 15th; all in the South plus Arizona and Utah.  And, colleges routinely start freshmen in August, particularly if sports are involved.

Recognizing that shoppers are continuing to be cautious about their spending, many retailers have already begun to offer special sales and promotions to attract buyers.  According to Bill Tancer, General Manager of Global Research at Experian Marketing Services, 41% of retailers that feature back-to-school promotions sent out email offer in July to try to get a jump on their back-to-school sales.

According to the NRF, back-to-school shopping will start:

  • 45.2% – Three to four weeks before school starts
  • 32.1% – One to two weeks before school starts
  • 14.6% – Two months before school starts
  • 5.4% – The week school starts
  • 2.7% – After school starts
  • How can you make the most of this prime season?

How can you make the most of this prime season?

  • It pays to know just who is doing the actual shopping; parents, the children or grandparents.
  • Be sure you know your audience and design special offers to appeal to each target.
  • Use the data that you have gathered in your order management system on your customers to determine who has purchased items for school aged children and, if possible, their grade levels to create even more specialized offers.
  • Stay on top of fashion trends and have a list of typical school supplies by grade and for the college bound students to help drive additional sales.
  • Make these lists easily and readily available to your shoppers along with alternative suggestions; ‘if they like this then they might also like that.’
  • Package or group similar or related items to make shopping easier.  Think of color coordinated notebooks, folders and accessories, or coordinating sheets, towels and room decorations.  If possible, offer group and quantity pricing incentives.

Many states offer tax break shopping days throughout August and September for the back-to-school shopping season so check whether this applies to you and be sure to let your customers know about this special incentive to get their back-to-school shopping done.

Make sure your inventory levels can meet the increased demand during this buying period.  Provide increased customer service staff to handle peak season online orders and calls.  If you have a physical store, be sure it is well staffed and stocked.  Nothing can lose a customer or a sale quicker than having a customer wait too long for service or not having the items that the customer wants or needs.

For more information on how local SMB and big-box retailers are gearing up for the back-to-school sales season, read “Back to school crucial time for retailers.”

For additional tips on how to better focus your target marketing and inventory management efforts to take advantage of the back-to-school selling season,  click here to download Dydacomp’s special report, “Retail Trends – Is Your Back Office Keeping Up With Your Online Store?

[1] National Retail Federation 2013 Back-to-School Survey

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