Back To School Or Back To The Couch: Retail Changes For Fall Spending

Back to school shopping, and back to school revenue, is big business. But what does back to school look like in a pandemic?

Across the country, schools are agonizing over the decision whether or not to bring students back to in-person learning. That’s not a decision that’s made easier by changing commentary, a lack of direction, and an unpredictable virus that spikes and surges in hot spots while leaving other communities almost untouched. 

That has advertisers in a tough spot. In 2019, families spent $27.8 billion on school supplies, tech, and clothing. On average, an American family took sixteen different trips for school supplies. That’s a segment of the market that has, so far, resisted the shift towards ecommerce. A full 56% of back to school transactions took place in real-life, brick-and-mortar stores. A big part of that behavior is that the consumer has almost a split personality; the parent might have the pocketbook, but the kids are the real tastemakers. Additionally, kids have a tendency to get bigger, forcing them to actually try things on. 

This year, parents are far less likely to bring their kids out to a retailer, and far less likely to make sixteen trips. The pandemic will force new behaviors, encouraging families to shop online in a way they never have for school supplies. As marketers, we’ve identified a few ways to make the most of your online presence as we inch closer to fall. 

Win Repeat Customers. If families were willing to make over a dozen trips to the store, there is every reason to think they’ll be quick to shop online again, too. Make the most of everything that gets your brand into customers’ inboxes. Include coupon codes on receipts, follow up with automatic emails with recommended products and nudge customers with abandoned carts. If these are new elements to your sales funnel, now is the time to put them to work. These are tactics that will be well worth refining heading into the holiday season and beyond. 

Read and React. Look at sales funnels and metrics to anticipate demand. Certain products will move quickly; invest and support those sales with broader marketing efforts. Of course, don’t just focus on demand. Many of these products may be seasonal, which means you’ll need quick access from suppliers without taking on burdensome inventory as students settle into the classroom or at-home learning. 

Be Human. Structure and strategy play a role in success, but being a compassionate brand matters more. Customers have dealt with months of fear and uncertainty for months now. Schools reopening have brought an added element of concern and many experts have warned that there are substantial risks no matter what option school districts decide on. 

At this point, your efforts to keep people safe and healthy go almost without saying. Instead, focus on the convenience of ordering back to school staples (even if they’re actual staples) from home. Convenience has universal appeal. Whether kids are going back to the classroom or parents are preparing to juggle work, homeschooling, and other responsibilities, saving time and reducing stress matters a lot. 

Offer free returns, curbside pick-up, and curated bundles to make the entire experience easy. 

Marketers, business, and families. We’re all taking this one day at a time. What we can do for each other is to listen, communicate, and constantly work to put ourselves in others’ shoes to answer the basic wants and needs of right now.