Back-to-school shopping is one of the revenue tent poles for many brands. Students from kindergarten through college need everything from electronics to clothing to school supplies to health and beauty aides in September.
This year’s season may turn out to be one of the biggest in recent memory, with sales expected to reach $74.9 billion, according to National Retail Federation estimates, making back-to-school the second biggest consumer-spending season of the year after winter holidays.
The NRF also reports that consumers are planning to spend more across every product category. This increase is great news for businesses, and there are many lessons to be learned from the data generated by all this shopping activity. Looking ahead, many marketers will need to adjust their strategies.
More consumers are shopping online. Over one-third of back-to-school shoppers and 45% of back-to-college shoppers expect to make some portion of their purchases online (National Retail Federation, 2014). Last year, the Internet also shot up on consumers’ list of sources for information about back-to-school items, trumping all other sources and knocking television out of the No.1 spot (Deloitte, 2013).
Here are three lessons we’ve learned from Back-to-School 2014.
Lesson 1: More consumers are going mobile.
More than 50% of back-to-school shoppers who own a smartphone plan to use this device to research products and compare prices; four in 10 will look up retailer information and 37% will redeem coupons and purchase products (National Retail Federation, 2014).
Three of five online back-to-school shoppers who own a tablet anticipate researching products and comparing prices, while nearly half expect to purchase products (National Retail Federation, 2014).
In 2013, 78 percent of smartphone owners used their devices for back-to-school shopping, up from 65 percent in 2012 (Deloitte, 2013).
The Takeaway: Provide a positive mobile experience.
By 2017, 87 percent of connected device sales will be via smartphones and tablets (Forbes 2013). As the shift from traditional PCs and laptops to mobile devices continues, brands that aren’t on board will suffer. Transparency and speedy service across all platforms are the standard most consumers now expect.
Whether it’s creating an alternate mobile version of your website or using responsive web design, providing a positive user experience – with mobile-friendly content – is essential for every brand to connect with consumers using mobile devices. Make sure your customers can find, engage, and purchase from you easily on the go.
Lesson 2: More consumers are checking reviews.
As parents prepare their kids for school, they lean on the people they know to discover new products, reviews, recommendations, promotions and, of course, sales. A Crowdtap survey of more than 850 men and women found that 45% of shoppers surveyed will search social sites for peer product reviews and recommendations.
According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, an overwhelming 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.
The Takeaway: Encourage your customers to write reviews.
Ratings and reviews are the digital equivalent of “word of mouth” referrals and are an important part of today’s marketing initiatives. The way you treat individual customers matters because they are going to tell others about the experience they’ve had with your business. People aren’t just talking to their friends and family, they’re talking to the world via social media.
The quality and quantity of ratings and reviews contribute to your credibility and authority for your business online – both with customers and the search engines. Encourage your customers to write short reviews. You can gather these in various ways, but the key is to make it as easy as possible. For example, include a link for a survey at the end of a transaction on the last page of your shopping feed, or in an email after the transaction. Motivate customers to fill out a survey by offering a small gift or a discount on their next purchase. Don’t wait for your customers to write reviews – ask for them!
Lesson 3: Social is more important than ever.
Social media will have a large impact on consumer purchases this season, with 64% of back-to-school shoppers reporting that social media will play a role in their back-to-school shopping (National Retail Federation, 2014).
Crowdtap’s survey reveals that 26% of consumers are most likely to share digital coupons, and 46% will update their Facebook status to share great sales or deals they’ve found.
The Takeaway: Integrate social media into every marketing initiative.
Understanding social media means understanding the new digital engagement path, one that assumes that consumers are exploring multiple channels simultaneously rather than proceeding through the traditional funnel.
Social media, with its omnipresence and ability to break through the “fourth wall” by engaging consumers in conversation, is the mid-point of the journey between awareness and purchase. But by approaching social media tactically, rather than as part of an overall integrated strategy, companies are missing opportunities for better business outcomes.
Integrate social media into every marketing campaign, product launch, and promotion you have planned. Use social content to generate and multiply consumer awareness. Make it easy for consumers to interact with your brand and share promotions.
We can help you “Do Better”.
The challenge for online marketers today is to engage consumers consistently at every stage of the digital engagement path from initial website visit to conversion. The best strategy for back to school and beyond is an integrated media mix that takes target audiences on a well-defined journey. This will increase consumer engagement and loyalty, provide better insights into consumer behavior, multiply the effects of media through a network, and improve ROI.
Whether you’re a small e-retailer or a global brand, engaging your suspects, prospects and customers throughout their journey is essential for long-term success.