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How Retailers Can Guide Shoppers In A Back-To-Normal Back-To-School Season

How is your back-to-school strategy shaping up?

Lauren Cooley, Senior Vice President, Retailer and Brand Solutions at RetailMeNot

We’re so close to normal, we can almost taste it. For much of the United States, it’s been a summer of joy as we’re emerging from our lockdown shells. That joy should be felt by retailers, too, in the coming weeks as a truly promising back-to-school season gets fired up.

Parents are excitedly prepping their students for a triumphant return to the classroom after a year plus of online learning. Brands are feeling more than a hint of optimism as well. A whopping 89% of them told us in a recent survey they are forecasting an increase in back-to-school sales compared to last year.

How is your brand’s back-to-school strategy shaping up?

Let’s look at some insights worth considering as you put your plan together.

SHOPPERS: For starters, you’ll be pleased to know that consumers are more excited than usual to hit the ground running in their back-to-school shopping. Our research reflects that well over half of all shoppers are looking forward to the coming school year more than usual and they acknowledge this back-to-school season will be a bigger deal for their family than past years.

(image credit: RetailMeNot)

Parents say they expect to spend more than twice what they spent last year, including on items like high-dollar tech products. This year’s average anticipated spend on clothes, school supplies, protective gear and more is $1,333 compared to $532 in 2020. Also worth noting: one in four intend to spend more on tech this year, with laptops and headphones heading the list.

RETAILERS: The back-to-school trend among retailers will mirror what we saw in the holiday season, with earlier promotions driving a longer season designed to maximize the opportunity.

Optimism among retailers pushed many of them to start this year’s promotions and campaigns in Q2. Roughly 38% started back-to-school promotions and sales in June or even earlier while 84% said Prime Day was the single most important time for driving online back-to-school sales.

More broadly, some 77% of senior retail leaders told us they plan to increase marketing investments for back-to-school campaigns and sales promotions. They are anticipating a 20% increase in YOY investment and an even higher increase Labor Day spend.

(image credit: RetailMeNot)

As always, retailers will be wise to champion an omnichannel approach. They won’t want to neglect all-important in-store experiences as brick and mortar appeals to many parents. However, online interest will inevitably level the playing field.

(image credit: RetailMeNot)

What are the top priorities & stressors for shoppers?

Of course, in order to best serve consumers, retailers are wise to understand where shoppers’ heads are at, particularly after such a tumultuous year. Re-entry anxiety is real for many parents and is likely to drive parents to seek balance between and among their shopping priorities.

The parents we surveyed identified three top priorities in terms of how they will approach back-to-school shopping:

  • Making sure their kids are happy with purchases (55%)
  • Purchasing items that improve their student’s performance in school (41%)
  • Being as efficient as possible within existing budgets (39%)

By the same token, they shared their top three stressors as well:

  • Getting everything they need in time for the start of school (30%)
  • Shopping safely amidst lingering COVID concerns (30%)
  • Purchasing what their student needs within their prescribed budget (28%)

So, customer satisfaction, real-life product impact and budget concerns come to the fore while health worries remain in the back of parents’ minds.

What role are deals likely to play in the back-to-school shopping journey?

With back-to-school shoppers in the mood to spend yet also constrained by budget realities, we recommend that retailers emphasize deals and promotions as a way of driving purchase decisions. A whopping 95% of parents we surveyed said they will be searching for deals as they crank up their back-to-school shopping, and nearly half of those people said price will be the single largest determinant in their purchase decisions.

Put simply, the time for your brand to cater to this audience with coupons, promotions and cash-back offers is right now. The back-to-school season is shaping up to be a coming-out party for shoppers and a welcome boom for retailers. We hope you are able to position your brand perfectly and ride the wave to a wildly successful 2021.

Lauren Cooley is the Senior Vice President of Retailer and Brand Solutions for RetailMeNot, leading the company’s efforts to deepen relationships with the nation’s top retailers, brands and restaurants. Lauren’s responsibilities include aligning across portfolio organizations to broaden revenue opportunities and bringing the needs of advertisers to the forefront of the product development roadmap.

See also: Back-To-School Cameras Offer Virtual Learning, Safety To Parents And Students