MARKET SEGMENTS

Back-to-school report Targeting students for seasonal gains An estimated 52 million students will be enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 this year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And a recent survey by mall operator Macerich Co. finds that these students will spend an average of $299 on new clothes and $95 on school supplies during the back-to-school season – mid-July to mid-September. But while a number of major retailers posted disappointing sales during the period, the mailers interviewed by Catalog Age are more than pleased with their back-to-school reports.

Abercrombie & Fitch, Dillards, The Gap, and May Department Stores are among the retailers that suffered same-store sales declines during August, when consumers do the bulk of their shopping for school. But for Alloy, back-to-school sales have been so strong that the New York-based teen apparel cataloger has revised its third-quarter sales projections upward, says CEO Matt Diamond. Alloy, which had $30 million in sales for ’99, expects to reach $80 million by the end of 2000 if business continues as it has through the first half of the year (traditionally the slowest period for apparel catalogs).

Diamond credits the company’s double-digit percentage increase in sales in part to a 40%-50% increase in the circulation of Alloy’s mid-July back-to-school catalog mailing.

New York-based teen girls’ apparel cataloger Delia’s also increased circulation of its three back-to-school mailings, the first of which dropped in July. Executive vice president Estelle DeMusey won’t give specific sales or circulation figures, but she says productivity per book increased 20% and that sales were above plan.

Meanwhile, fellow teen apparel marketer Girlfriends LA has seen a 50% jump in sales over last year’s back-to-school season, says company treasurer Kim Millman.

While most catalogers mail their initial back-to-school books in July, Richmond, VA-based Children’s Wear Digest drops its fall catalog in August. President Jim Klaus says customers are waiting to make their purchases until school starts. As of late August, the kid’s apparel cataloger’s back-to-school sales were up 10% from last year.

Not all kid’s clothing catalogers are singing the praises of back-to-school, however. Patagonia Kids this year decided to scale back its two fall mailings to one. “We see a decline in the back-to-school market because more schools are going year-round,” says direct commerce manager Carrie Randolph. “We are foregoing our mid-July drop and waiting until the end of September to drop a collaborative fall/holiday edition.”

Safety scissors and pencil cases In addition to new clothes, heading back to school requires new supplies. And today’s high-tech students require additional supplies, such as computer accessories. So it’s no surprise that office supplies mailers view back-to-school as a boost to third-quarter sales. For instance, during the past five years Quill, a subsidiary of Staples Direct, has added items such as construction paper and safety scissors to fall catalogs, says Mike Hammerschick, director of marketing. So far sales for the season are above plan.

Similarly, Officemax.com/Direct is pushing its back-to-school products on its Website, with a bold “Back to School Headquarters” greeting and a link to “special offers on school supplies.” Spokesman Steve Baisden says Web sales are up 394% since this time last year, due in part to the back-to-school push.

For St. Louis-based Bradburn’s, school supplies, along with educational materials, are its stock in trade. The mailer, which serves the Midwest, has surpassed its expectations for the season. While director of advertising Nancy Tonkins says much of that is due to the growth of the market, she also credits the redesign of the 480-page catalog: “There has been greater response since we added color and improved the layout to make it easier to find things.”

The secret to capturing the notoriously fickle teen audience seems to be promotions. Delia’s, for one, is offering a free CD featuring prominent Atlantic recording artists with the purchase of $80 or more, as well as the chance to register to win a trip to a music video shoot.

Girlfriends L.A. has teamed with YM magazine to host a contest for a free outfit and a pass to Los Angeles’ Jingle Ball pop concert. Also, an affiliation with Warner Bros. gives Girlfriends L.A. customers a free Scooby-Doo notebook with the purchase of other merchandise featuring the cartoon character.

And Alloy, which has linked up with Jive records for promotions, kicked off the back-to-school shopping season by featuring James Marsters and Emma Caulfield from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer on its catalog cover.

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