Retailers Trying To Get A Passing Grade This Back-to-School Season

Lisa Walters

Partner, Retail

8/18/20

The back-to-school season, the second largest shopping season for many retailers after the holidays, has been slow to gain momentum this year. Many families remain confused on how and when schools will open, with many school districts yet to finalize their plans. Parents are unsure what their children will need for school next year as the balance between online and in person keeps moving.

Retailers May Not Get a Passing Grade this Back-to-School Season by Lisa Walters
Five Tactics to help retailers survive in the most volatile back-to-school shopping season in decades
(8/18/20, New York, NY) The back-to-school season, the second largest shopping season for many retailers after the holidays, has been slow to gain momentum this year. Many families remain confused on how and when schools will open, with many school districts yet to finalize their plans. Parents are unsure what their children will need for school next year as the balance between online and in person keeps moving.
Virtual learning will drive purchases of tech, headphones and home office furniture, much of that spend is likely to come at the expense of traditional back-to-school apparel and footwear. Yes, kids grow but do the really need a full new wardrobe in August, especially as the federal unemployment payments have stalled? Are new sneakers a must have for the children doing virtually learning? Probably not this year. We hope to see the usual spend for apparel and footwear spread throughout Fall. Teen retailers could be more immune but it's likely both segments will see lower sales this year.
So how can retailers adjust to what is proving to be a challenging and unique back-to-school season?
1. Give them a reason to shop. Covid has brought about true changes to consumer behavior. Retailers need to focus on products that help create the best BTS season for this new world. For apparel that likely means comfort and cozy overtake fashion and denim styles, locker decor transforms to desk or room decor, safety means masks and sanitizers are the new must have school supplies.
2. Meet the customer where they are. Consumer sentiment and comfort levels are all over the map right now as to how one wants to shop. Retailers need to have a variety of convenient, safe options from online to social to drive-up/curbside to in-store. And that pertains to checkout and payments as well. Shoppers want contactless options.
3. Make it easy. Shoppers are starting to fully embrace online shopping but the fact is for many there are an overwhelming amount of choices and finding what they want quickly can be quite challenging and less interesting than shopping in a store. Retailers need to create BTS shops that link from their home page or are part of the navigation bar so shoppers can quickly find and assess choices. A similar approach needs to be taken in store shopping with BTS items placed in easy to find front entry shops or aggregated together in a specific area of the store with large signage to make them easy to find.
4. Add value. Straight discounts are the obvious way to do this. But retailers can differentiate themselves by providing other values such as installment payment options like Afterpay or Klarna, special services, maybe its great design tips for parents on how to transform a child’s bedroom into a fun play learn sleep area, maybe its virtual tech setup appointments or virtual styling appointments for teens, or a reusable tote or sustainable packaging.
5. Communicate. The one thing that is clear this year is there is no one size fits all approach to how schools will operate. Retailers need to tailor emails and social media posts that speak to parents who are sending their kids for in-person learning, hybrid or virtual learning. These should showcase how the same products can be used in any of these situations and show empathy. It is a trying time for everyone, and a little empathy to show you understand the pain and concern will create loyal customers.
basc partners is an insight-led marketing consultancy, offering a comprehensive range of research, strategy and creative services. We believe that creative should be grown from strategy, and that strategy should be seeded by insights. We help brands and businesses unlock key insights that we blend with company and category dynamics to build and implement strategies to nurture growth. www.bascpartners.com
Lisa Walters, a partner with basc partners, is a retail expert, highly sought after on Wall Street for her qualitative performance analysis of companies within the retail and consumer industries. Her insight and analysis on consumer behavior, retailer and brand growth strategies, store and digital innovation opportunities delve into the long-term relevancy of the retail and apparel sector. Contact Lisa at: Lisa@bascpartners.com

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