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Back-to-School – Round Two

, created by Florian Baur

Back-to-School – Round Two

Why the Beginning of School May Not Mean the End of this Seasonal Rush for Retailers

August once marked the kick off of the annual back-to-school “rat race,” but this season has quickly emerged as one of the most prolonged shopping periods of the year with parents spreading their back-to-school spending over longer timeframes.  According to a new survey from emnos, this year, 43 percent of households began shopping for school necessities not long after the advent of summer break, as early as June or July.

Another shift we are now seeing is on the opposite tail end – mom and dad delaying purchases until the late fall and even early winter.  Believe it or not, only 45 percent of parents complete the majority of their back-to-school shopping between June and September (emnos, 2014). 

Citing “easier on the wallet” as the primary reason for prolonging the shopping season, parents are now making a stronger effort to align their spending to replenishment needs and also retailer promotions – even if it means hitting the store after classes are in session.  “We shop around to get best prices, and many times there are better sales after school starts,” notes one consumer. 

When it comes to fashion and apparel, parents have learned to preserve a portion of their budget for post Labor Day shopping, as kids’ preferences and requests are highly influenced by peers. “Our daughter’s wants always change and we would like to accommodate her whenever possible,” explains mom of a high school student. 

Marshall Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst at NPD group, highlighted the tendency of parents to focus on key school supplies and basic wardrobe necessities first and to save the more fun and fashionable purchases for later in the season, once kids have determined what’s “cool” this year.

So, while the ‘official’ back-to-school season has come to a close, retailers can expect a second wave of traffic in the coming months. For the majority of households that have yet to complete this year’s shopping, 31 percent expect to return to stores for school-related purchases in the late fall (October and November), 39 percent in the early winter (December and January) and 30 percent thereafter (emnos, 2014).

To prepare for these subsequent spikes in consumer shopping, retailers should glean insights from the primary back-to-school season that is now behind us. Here are three trends that every retailer should be aware of as they look to connect with parents after class is back in session:


Taking advantage of more price-matching opportunities
During the back-to-school season, price matching was a core strategy for a number of retailers, including Staples, and parents took note. In fact, 51 percent of families planned to take advantage of retailers’ price-matching policies more so this year than they did last year (emnos, 2014).

Parents have become experts in deal-hunting, and retailers can expect this second wave of shoppers to be just as price savvy as they were in the summer. By extending back-to-school promotions and communications into the late fall, retailers can enjoy a greater share of this post-back-to-school pie.


Searching for online promo codes
Online spending is rising – this year more than 40 percent of parents will spend at least a portion of their back-to-school budget online.  For many parents, online shopping not only simplifies price-comparisons but also presents opportunities for stacking promo codes at checkout. 

In fact, 76 percent of parents use online promo codes on at least a percentage of their purchases, and 31 percent claim to use these coupon vehicles on at least 50 percent of online transactions. Furthermore, in situations where promo codes aren’t made available to them by retailers, 28 percent of parents have become diligent in browsing deal sites such as CouponCabin and RetailMeNot. 

By taking a more proactive approach to delivering personalized savings to consumers who shop online, retailers can build stronger relationships with this segment. As with in-store coupons, focusing on the most valuable shoppers should always be a priority.


Browsing catalogs
This back-to-school season, catalogs played an important role in inspiring shoppers and influencing purchases for 70 percent of households. 20 percent of families stated that catalogs had a high or very high degree of influence on this year’s shopping.

For fashion and apparel retailers in particular, catalogs can serve as a relatively powerful marketing vehicle in this next wave of back-to-school shopping.  When print versions become cost-prohibitive, retailers can also experiment with digital catalogs and lookbooks.

Navigating the back-to-school season can be tricky – especially once students have returned to the classroom. However, if retailers take a closer look at their data ahead of this second wave, while adjusting to the new spending patterns and preferences of parents getting their children ready for school, they can attract more shoppers and increase revenue even after the school year has begun. 

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