What Retailers Should Know for Back-to-School Season

Class is in session. The lesson: Staying the course and adapting in the wake of a letdown. The COVID-19 brought this lesson home to everyone, but it now truly applies to retailers who anticipated strong back-to-school sales in 2021.

The school shopping season—last year and this year

As 2020 was the year of virtual classes for students and teachers due to the lockdown brought on by the pandemic, 2021 was going to be “back to school”—in person. This was good news for brick-and-mortar stores waiting to sell everything from school supplies to clothing and footwear, among other items. A recent CNBC report cited findings from Deloitte stating that shopping for students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 12 were predicted to reach an all-time high of $32.5 billion.

Then came the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the spread of which is curbing a lot of the optimism people had of schools reopening. How severe will this impact be on the back-to-school shopping season of 2021?

The importance of timing

In an interview with Chain Store Age, Udayan Bose, founder and CEO of NetElixir, notes that 2021 saw a delay in the usual back-to-school sales. One reason for this was on account of Amazon Prime Day having been scheduled in June instead of the fall season, which was too soon for the spike in sales to take place. The question, Mr. Bose notes, is whether or not and spike in sales between now and September will be strong.

The waiting game on making purchases

Whether classes will be held in a school building or conducted virtually—as the Delta variant may force many districts to change plans—there are some trends retailers should take note of. Tying with the delay of back-to-school sales, Christina Brandeberry wrote in AdAge that 71 percent of shoppers in the United States would wait as long as two weeks or more to purchase school items connected to sales, deals, or promotions.

What should retailers stock up on?

As for the items shoppers are willing to wait patiently for, Ms. Brandeberry notes that in addition to expected purchases of notebooks, pens and pencils, an additional 44 percent of shoppers are hoping to find sales for clothes and shoes. And, not surprisingly in this era of the pandemic, over one-third of shoppers intend to stock up on hand sanitizer, facemasks, and other safety-related items—regardless of whether their kids will bring them to the schoolrooms or learn from home.

Back-to-school season is an indicator for the holiday season

The trends and eventual outcome of back-to-school shopping is considered an indicator, or preview, of what retailers can expect for the upcoming holiday season. With this in mind, merchants must amplify their omnichannel presence, whether they own a brick-and-mortar store, an online site, or (ideally) both. 

Digital first and foremost

Even if a brick-and-mortar store does not have a website, it most likely has an online listing. The importance of having up-to-date information about location, hours, and phone number, among other bits of data pertaining to this listing cannot be emphasized enough. A service like Raydeus Local can ensure that parents who are searching for a particular store to buy school supplies for their kids will be directed to the right place during the right hours of operation.

And, stores that have an online presence should evaluate and review if their sites are providing the best possible user experience. Raydeus Local can be equally beneficial in related areas ranging from email marketing to content and video production, among other services. Oh, and let’s not overlook webchat capability, which is currently a popular and effective means of communication between customer and online store.

Many questions that merchant and customers have remain unanswered because of the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which still continue. EGC can help you stay the course. Contact us to find out how.