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TWICE Webinar: IT Remains The Belle Of The Back-To-School Ball

NEW YORK – While opportunity is knocking for a new generation of IoT-ready devices, staples like notebooks, peripherals and related accessories still go to the head of the class when it comes to back-to-school sales.

That was one of the key takeaways from the recent TWICE webinar, “Sell The Season: Dads and Grads & Back-To-School,” hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf and featuring a guest panel comprised of HP consumer sales VP Tricia Dugan, Purchasing Power merchandising VP David Carlock, New Age Electronics president Fred Towns and NPD Group industry analysis VP Stephen Baker.

The hour-long discussion examined the hot core products and emerging hopefuls that can drive seasonal sales, and the best in-store and online merchandising strategies to fuel them. Highlights of the discourse follow, and a complete replay is available online at

Stephen Baker, NPD Group: The next really good sales spike is back-to-school. If you look at the different seasonal opportunities and share of seasonal sales dollars for these key seasonal periods, back-to-school has a pretty strong index, and in fact it’s been improving for the last three years.

Typically for IT for back-to-school we see about 17 to 18 percent of the units happen there.

But even as notebook sales overall have stagnated this year, during back-to-school it continued to go up; in fact over 20 percent of the units outside of the holiday happened in 2014.

Conversely, you might think some things like headphones and speakers would significantly over-index in this period, with the kids going off to school, but we haven’t really seen that.

A category that we’ve been asked about for probably 10 years is televisions and small-screen TVs for people going back to school, but we’ve never been able to find any over-indexing there.

But if you look at those things that are over-indexing it is very clearly focused on productivity opportunity – around printers, around accessories like keyboards and mics, and storage, especially hard drives and USB drives, which have always done really, really well in this time period.

The fact that wearables, for example, haven’t done really well in this time period, and some other categories, just says maybe there are some other opportunities to think about. The notebook volume tends to overwhelm just about everything during this time period, and traditionally having a focus on IT has been the way to go to really maximize your opportunity during back to school.

Tricia Dugan, HP: One of the bigger points we think is that there’s pent-up demand in the PC space in terms of device replacement. I believe the number’s roughly 600 million PCs that are greater than four years old.

So we think that there’s this great collision in timing with the pent-up demand in the PC space, with Windows 10 coming in the back-half of the year, and with our very cool back-to-school lineup of desktops and notebooks with all the new form factors and cool colors. I think that’s something for folks to think about. Do the research and keep an eye on the data – watch that data. The timing is right to buy a new PC and we believe that consumers will see that.

Fred Towns, New Age Electronics: The opportunity extends to younger students as well; I think that a student today going into a middle school environment is pretty much going to be challenged without access to a computer, laptop or tablet for information, from the amount of work that’s put on them.

As Tricia said, with some of the changes that will be occurring within the Windows environment as we get into the fall season, a lot of the manufacturers will really be able to take advantage of the new technologies they want to showcase for back-to-school. It’s going to be a really good chance for people to show their new wares and colors, and based on what I’ve seen from HP, it’s going to be an exciting fall with some very great offerings.

There are also some new technologies you might want to bring to school. One of them allows you to not only change and control the lighting in a dorm room by replacing a bulb, but now that same bulb becomes a repeater or Wi-Fi extender, or it has the capability of becoming a speaker by screwing another lightbulb socket in.

Some of these technologies are going to be very interesting for retailers to showcase, to show a back-to-school student that we have this cool option we can add to your dorm room, and when you’re done with the semester you can unscrew your bulb and take it with you.

The complete “Sell The Season” webinar is available for replay here.