Why Brands Need to Level Up the Back-to-School Shopping Experience

Though summer may seem like it’s just getting started, the mad dash of back-to-school shopping is already around the corner. This season is a huge opportunity for apparel and accessories brands to see a lift in sales, as students and their families set out to buy new clothes, backpacks, glasses, school supplies and everything in between.

It’s the second-busiest season of the year for many major consumer brands, trailing only the holidays. Just last year, the NRF forecast that families would spend $86.3 billion on back-to-school shopping. That number is staggering, when you consider the sales opportunity for consumer brands in categories from apparel to footwear, to sporting goods to electronics. But are those brands prepared to handle the rush? Even better, are they ready to capitalize on this high-volume time?

Part of the challenge is that the season starts earlier than you might think. According to the NRF, 27.1% of back-to-school shoppers planned to start shopping at least two months before school starts— that means the beginning of July for most! By the time August rolls around, 77% of parents have already started back-to-school shopping. Now is the time for brands to get started, or risk falling behind and losing out.

In these crucial months leading up to the start of the school year, it’s not enough for consumer brands to rely on regular operations to succeed. Instead, brands need to up-level the in-store experience with eye-catching displays and engaging experiences—and increase staffing and education—in order to appeal to target markets and age groups, and to set their brand apart from others competing for market share.

Grab Shoppers’ Attention in an Instant

As leading retailers experiment with emerging technologies like AI, VR, and AR, it’s easy for brands to get caught up in the excitement and start thinking a little too big. Instead, consumer brands would be well-advised to focus on basic retail execution in stores. When almost every child needs a new backpack during the back-to-school season, setting your brand apart from the rest can mean executing well on things like inventory or displays.

Consider these important retail execution questions that consumer brands may overlook.

  • Are your products displayed in a high-traffic area? Or are products hiding in the corner of the store, where shoppers are unlikely to find them?
  • Are your product displays neat and inviting, or messy and unprofessional?
  • Is your product well-stocked, or worse still, is it even available on the store floor?

Executing well on these issues can lead to a boost in sales. During a recent back-to-school season, a leading footwear brand set out to increase sales and brand awareness by installing specific back-to-school table displays. The branded displays highlighted some of their newest styles, showcasing the product as well as the brand itself. The colorful, tidy presentation helped draw shoppers’ attention to the shoes—in fact, throughout the back-to-school season 3,000+ consumers were engaged, with an 11% conversion rate.

Sometimes, the factor that determines whether a shopper reaches for your brand or a competitor is as simple as location within the store. Field agents working with a leading athletic brand during the back-to-school season focused on elevating the brand’s presence by strategically moving product to a better store location and bringing more SKUs from backstock to the floor. Agents helped ensure that 90% of the brand’s displays were located in a high-traffic area. The result? The brand enjoyed a 20% conversion rate through the crucial month of August. It’s all about location, location, location.

Send Store Associates Back to School

Field teams are a crucial piece of this puzzle. In order to execute on all these in-store strategies, you’ll need to put well-trained boots on the ground, so to speak. Trained brand reps go directly into stores and not only create eye-catching displays, but return to rearrange, neaten, and restock them.

But that’s not all field agents can do. A knowledgeable, enthusiastic brand representative will also connect with consumers and educate them about available products—and drive sales in the process.

During the back-to-school season, parents and kids alike are overwhelmed with options, and it can be challenging and time-consuming to differentiate between two similar choices. Brand reps alleviate that headache by teaching shoppers about different product features and functionalities. In this frenzied shopping season, brands who make the shopping experience seamless, efficient, and fun will win big with consumers.

Field teams help brands achieve that experience. For example, one leading athletic brand recently invested in field teams, with the mission to educate parents and children on their newest styles. Throughout the month of August, field agents made double their usual store visits to select locations, and their efforts paid off—the brand saw its highest sales lift of that year to-date.

Maximizing the massive sales opportunity is ultimately the goal for brands during this back-to-school season. The potential is there, but now is the time to execute on the strategies that will help brands make the grade.

Gina Ashe is CEO of ThirdChannel

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