What Does the Back to School 2020 Retail Season Look Like?


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Anyone who’s been in the retail business knows how important capitalizing on the shopping wave during the back to school, or BTS season is. Depending upon which expert you ask, this potential boom in sales is the second or the third biggest during a calendar year.

However, things are not quite the same this year with COVID-19 disrupting normalcy and businesses across the globe. Social distancing, job cuts, online classes, and economic instability are all likely to weigh in on consumer purchasing decisions for this back to school 2020 season and retailers need to be prepared to cater to this changing consumer behavior. 

Despite unstable economic conditions and the uncertainties associated with COVID-19, not many are planning to cut back on back to school and back to college seasons 2020, with almost half of the respondents (47%) from a recent Intelligence Node survey noting that they will spend the same amount on this new school year. Infact, a research by Statista shows that in 2020, the total planned back-to-school and back-to-college expenditure in the United States together amounted to about 101.6 billion U.S. dollars – a positive news for brands and retailers! With so much spending potential, back to school season is going to be of utmost importance for retailers to make up for lost sales in the past quarter.

As consumer shopping patterns continue to change during this year, retailers will have to rethink their back to school and back to college strategies and focus on an omnichannel approach to reel in consumers from both online and in-store channels. 

Let’s delve deeper into seasonal retailer and e-tailer techniques for riding the back to school 2020 wave, and what exactly BTS and BTC mean for retailers.

Understanding the Significance of Back-to-School Shopping

The BTS season is a little different from the boost in sales during ‘normal’ holiday seasons. In a nutshell, it’s longer than these other ‘boosted sales’ periods.

Parents may begin their research on products, prices, and promotional offers — usually online — as early as July. They compare the collected data and make their decisions by the month of August, making the purchase around the same period. Last-minute frazzled trips are usually done and dusted by September. This means that retailers have a longer window of potential sales compared to other big sales days, such as Black Friday.

Products that receive a boost during the back to school shopping window include office and school supplies, apparel, electronics, and books. This long list of products, and the relatively longer sales window, make strategies a little more complicated during the BTS season.

A Need to Align the Online & Brick-And-Mortar Store Strategies

Although the BTS season usually sees parents flocking to the brick-and-mortar stores for most of the school and college supplies, it’s no surprise that the back-to-school season 2020 is going to see some different trends. Our research shows that with the ongoing pandemic, 60% of the shoppers said they rely on online shopping more now than before the pandemic. This change in shopping patterns will most likely reflect during the back to school 2020 season as well.  

To ride this change, retailers need to have a unified, integrated inventory management system in place. This will enable them to keep a stock of all their inventory and also make it available for consumers through online stores. Consumers can then choose to either shop for back to school supplies online or research products online and then visit their nearest stores to purchase the identified products.

Tailoring Your Strategies Accordingly

Since we’ve already discussed the massive potential of this season, let’s take a look at marketing — and merchandising strategies designed to help retailers and brands achieve optimal returns.

First, you’ll need to understand that customers are primarily concerned with who offers the best deals. As a retailer, your first priority would be to think along those lines and come up with a strategy that helps you put your brand right there. Even Apple — not a brand known for offering sales — caves in during the BTS season, offering discounted ‘student’ and ‘education’ prices.

Clothing giants such as Urban Outfitters and H&M target children from middle school through college age with carefully planned ads. Take a closer look at textile e-tailer websites, and you’ll probably see smiling school and college kids, with huge blurbs advertising discounts up to 70%.

You will also have to ensure that while offering the best prices, your brands are ranking on online searches, as consumers are always likely to click on brands that are displayed first while searching for products online. You can do so by integrating your product SERP (Search Engine Results Page) data and optimizing their product pages for higher SERP ranking. 

Having visibility into your competitors’ pricing and merchandising tactics and altering your strategies accordingly is a great way to stay ahead of the game. Build marketing strategies around the BTS shoppers, and you’ll see your sales numbers rise.

E-Commerce-Specific Strategies, Techniques, and Ideas

With so many consumers spending so much of their time online and avoiding trips to stores in the wake of the pandemic, the retail industry today has grown to depend on big data, competitive insights, price comparisons, and online transactions.

With the sudden increased dependence on online shopping, retailers and brands need to curate unified marketing strategies across both the online and in-store modes of shopping. Retailers can use this opportunity to integrate inventory across channels and push out in-store inventory through online channels. 

If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to embrace social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. In fact, with Instagram shopping catching on, retailers need to up their brand game to attract the younger demographic for this BTS season through Instagram while also exploring other social platforms like Facebook. 

Seeing as 41% of college-goers base their buying decisions on smartphone-based research, M-commerce is another concept that needs to be embraced in order to ride the back to college wave.

Wherever your potential customers spend their smartphone browsing time is where your brand needs to be front and center. To attract Generation Z, the focus needs to be on creating immersive experiences and interactive content. Personalizing offers for students and offering freebies and discount deals like Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) offers are some other ways of enticing the younger school and college-going demographic to buy from your websites and stay loyal to your brand.

Intelligence Node’s retail analytics software and data-driven insights can help you build strategies based on big data and competitor trends.

Final Thoughts

With COVID-19 disrupting the retail landscape, the last few months have been difficult for retailers. We have seen many large brands declare bankruptcy or close multiple stores. With the data showing a positive sentiment amongst shoppers with respect to back to school season 2020, it is a great opportunity for retailers to make up for the last few months and emerge successful in this back to school 2020 retail season. 

By embracing concepts like new social media platforms, data-driven insights, omnichannel approach and a strategy tailored to buyer trends in the back to school 2020 season, retailers will be able to capitalize on the buying trends of parents and students in preparation for the new school year.

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