The back-to-school season has slowly become one of the largest shopping events of the year and as the needs of students continue to evolve, so to does the shopping behavior of their families. Today, back-to-school shopping has moved away from simple school supplies and now includes a range of items including clothing, shoes, laptops and tablets.
2019 is set to be yet another record-breaking year of spending for parents, with K-12 families expected to spend an average of $696.70, a $12 increase from 2018. Those who are sending kids off to college or university are expecting even higher expenditures of $976.78, up by $34 from last year.
In the days of pencils, pens, and notebooks, back-to-school shopping was largely completed using offline channels like department stores and hypermarkets but increasingly shoppers are turning towards online for at least some of their back-to-school needs.
In this week’s post we’ll be taking a closer look at the back-to-school shopping season and highlighting the roll that ecommerce plays in creating an omnichannel shopping experience for customers.
Online versus in-store: It all depends on the grade level
While more than half of K-12 households are planning to do more of their back-to-school shopping online than in the past, for younger students with simpler back-to-school lists brick and mortar continues to be the channel of choice.
Where online is gaining considerable traction is among the “back-to-college” crowd. With more specialized items and tendency for college students to live away from home, the convenience and 24/7 nature of online shopping has led to an upward trend over the last couple of years. The ease of ordering online and being able to ship directly to a dorm room makes the online shopping experience a great fit for college aged students.
Another notable shopping behaviour that spans both K-12 and College aged students is the trend of buying items online and picking them up in the store.
Blending online and brick and mortar are the key to back-to-school success
With lower overhead and a much larger potential audience, it’s not surprising to see that retailers are making a push to bring shoppers online for a portion of their seasonal purchases. Promotions such as free shipping, discounts on online orders, and playing up the convenience factor all effectively divert retail traffic to online channels.
With that said, there are downsides to online shopping that many retailers will want to consider. One of the largest is that online stores experience considerably less ‘impulse’ buying when compared with physical locations. When it comes to many back-to-school supplies (particularly stationary) people still like to touch and feel the products. They also like the immediacy that physical stores offer and even with two-day shipping, many shoppers aren’t willing to wait on these products.
When looking at how people are shopping, it’s important to remember that back-to-school shopping will always be taking place in a broader retail environment and that means consumers will shop across multiple channels and in multiple ways. Businesses that can combine the strengths of physical locations with the easy shopping experience of ecommerce will be the best positioned to capitalize during the back to school rush.
As with any busy shopping season, success comes from giving customers the products they want in the most convenient way possible. For back-to-school this means leveraging the best elements of brick and mortar with the best elements of ecommerce. Businesses that can create great experiences on both platforms with stand to gain the most from one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year.