Students and parents see summer vacation as a time for relaxation and a carefree attitude; however, the season is anything but for retailers selling the items students need when they return to class in the fall.
While approximately a quarter of shoppers heading back-to-school or college start their search for new items at least two months prior to the start date, the majority stock up three weeks to one month in advance and about 20% wait until a week or two before school starts, according to a 2018 report by the National Retail Federation.
According to the same report, back-to-college and back-to-school are expected to be two of the largest consumer spending events of the year, second and third only to the winter holidays. Based on last year’s results, households will spend an estimated average of $942 on back-to-college shopping and $685 on back-to-school shopping for grade schoolers.
Given these statistics, those in the business of selling apparel, electronics, shoes and school supplies still have time to capitalize on this peak season and cater to customers in ways that will earn their trust and future business.
Expanding product offerings by going stockless or managing stock in an efficient way, ensuring consistency between online and offline stores and providing complementary services to customers, are some of the prime opportunities retailers can pursue to come out on top against competitors.
Resolve Stock Shortages
When it comes to pleasing customers, efficiency is key. Out-of-stock items and long lags in product delivery are quick ways to lose business, especially for time-poor households. According to recent consumer research from Mirakl, 71% of shoppers who experienced an out-of-stock went on to complete their purchase by going to a different retailer and 33% told us this made them less likely to shop with that retailer in the future.
According to a recent study from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, out-of-stock rates for eCommerce purchases are nearly double what occurs in physical stores, ultimately costing online retailers up to $17 billion a year.
In response to retailers’ inventories often failing to live up to consumers’ expectations, retailers shouldn’t fall into the trap of offering more than they can carry at sufficient stock levels. Offering thousands of product lines if the store only carries a few items in each size will backfire when customers want an item but can’t get it in their size.
An alternative to the stock shortage problem is going stockless completely. With this setup, the supplier or a third-party vendor holds items ordered by customers in its own warehouse and releases them when customers place orders for specific products. This just-in-time selling method makes it feasible for retailers to promote add-on items by experimenting with new product lines buyers may be interested in while they’re already in the mindset of shopping for the upcoming school year.
Guarantee Compatibility Among Channels
For retailers operating across multiple channels, synchronizing online and offline is crucial. Each shopper has their own preference when it comes to researching products to potentially buy, along with where they go to purchase them.
Whatever a customer’s preferred method, being able to access a store’s full inventory online and in-store with minimal discrepancies allows back-to-school shoppers to make confident decisions, which in turn could reduce return rates.
Provide More Services
In addition to a stockless inventory or a well-managed stock with consistency across all retail channels, finding unique ways to accommodate customers can also secure sales. From ridesharing apps to food delivery companies, services are at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Integrating convenience is yet another layer retailers can add to the online or in-store shopping experience, giving shoppers more options other than a product and its price when making buying decisions.
Amidst the stress parents and students feel during this back-to-school crunch time, high-quality customer service initiatives such as footwear departments offering in-store shoe fitting services can entice buyers in the moment and lead them to brand loyalty in the future.
Time is of the essence for those looking to improve their sales this back-to-school season.
Adrien Nussenbaum is U.S. CEO and Co-Founder of Mirakl