The back to school shopping season offers retailers of all shapes and sizes a multibillion-dollar opportunity to build their brand and their bottom lines – but only if they have all of the right omnichannel elements in place.
With a forecast average household spend of $510 per school child and $1,330 per U.S. college student, Deloitte conservatively calculates that $53 billion in retail sales are up for grabs between now and early September. The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) latest study (based on average spends of $684.79 for school and $942.17 for college) is even more aggressive and puts the figure at $82.8 billion.
“With the economy thriving thanks to tax reform and growing consumer confidence, we expect to see a very strong season,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “College spending is expected to be at its highest level ever, and back-to-school will be one of the three highest years on record.”
But whichever figures one chooses to consider, one thing is clear. Back to School is now second only to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend in terms of consumer spending.
“Back to School is a huge challenge and opportunity for retailers,” begins Mike Small, Chief Client Officer for Sitel Group U.S. “However, what sets it apart from other shopping surges is that it runs for three months rather than days and, in the case of many planned purchases on shopping lists, they have been mandated by the school or college in question – this makes stock forecasting and targeting offers easier.”
Indeed a targeted offer is crucial for stressed, time-pressed back-to-school parents. Three out of five consumers across all demographics, according to Deloitte, are spreading out their shopping throughout the summer in order to take full advantage of deals and promotions. What’s more, according to Deloitte, 76 percent of all consumers across income brackets said that this year they’re most likely to purchase from the retailer offering the best prices.
“Due to the nature of the purchases – clothing is going to be the biggest single product category – the majority of shoppers are going to head to physical retailers to check out garments, make sure they fit before buying,” says Small. “Therefore, your online channels must be optimized for driving traffic to your store, highlighting discounts, opening hours and inventory levels.”
As such, back to school is a microcosm of omnichannel customer experience (CX) with customers moving on- and offline during the path to purchase and expecting a complementary experience as the journey progresses.
In the research stage of a journey, consumers value information more highly than the brand providing it. Therefore, plugins like live chat on a website landing page, or options to use Messenger or call the contact center could keep customers engaged with your brand long enough to move further along the funnel.
“Unless you are that customer’s favorite brand, this may be your only chance to make a good impression, so that initial touch point has to deliver,” said Small. “The site must be clutter free, easy to navigate and, increasingly optimized for mobile – not just screen size, but for geolocation. Search is now officially mobile and every year, the number of retail-related “near me” or “nearby” searches doubles according to Google and more often than not consumers act on those search results. It’s why our Digital CX agency, TSC is staffed with teams who are experts in delivering these types of optimization.”
Deloitte’s study shows that while just 23 percent of consumers will actively turning to social media for help, 56 percent will be searching online before shopping in-store, partly because they’re focused on avoiding a complicated returns process if the item doesn’t fit or isn’t quite right. For example, 46 percent of respondents say they favor online stores that offer an in-store return option and 34 percent say they prefer sites with a click and collect model.
“Click and collect, or buy online and collect in store, is still a relatively new concept in the U.S., but it is one that perfectly marries the greatest benefits of both on- and offline retail,” says Small. “More importantly, when done right, with highly trained staff, short wait times and preferential treatment, it is a very effective way to build loyalty – don’t forget that back to school is a retail event where price and convenience surpass all other consumer sentiments.”
Roughly 20 percent of consumers’ budgeted back-to-school spend is not allotted ahead of time – i.e., they haven’t decided if the purchases will be made via an online or offline store or at a specialist retailer. This is where well-trained, on-floor personnel with the right combination of knowledge and equipment could mean the difference between upselling, cross-selling or a no sale.
“Customers will be looking to their smartphones and to sales staff for help and guidance,” Small explains. “The human touch can make all the difference in these moments of truth – especially if the staff members have the technological support – tablets or other devices for checking inventory, placing orders or reviewing customer history – on the spot; plus the requisite training and expertise to deliver this information in a way that makes and builds an emotional connection. Our educational technology and professional development company, Learning Tribes, is recognized as a pioneer in developing and delivering this type of ‘digitally enhanced’ sales assistant training.”
Whether optimizing web assets for ease of use and local search, training in-store personnel or developing and refining an omnichannel strategy that delivers regardless of whether it’s Cyber Monday or the height of the back-to-school season, partnering with Sitel Group will give you the expertise, support, and insights to ensure your brand delivers in line with consumer demands.
Was your brand prepared for Back-to-school 2018? Read our article on Back-to-School Marketing Efforts to find out!