As sweltering temperatures cool, fall breezes blow in and fashion turns to comfy sweaters and game-day hoodies, retailers turn their attention to capturing a share of the student shopping dollar. Now the second-most important retail selling period, ranked only behind 4th quarter holiday, the book on the Back-to-School / Back-to-College season is being re-written, driven by shifts in consumer behavior and the influence of digital. A primary reason for the strong sales impact is the evolution into a long selling season, starting for many shoppers as early as July and continuing late into October. Just as impactful, our digital devices now give consumers access to more products, more retailers, more offers and more product information than ever before.
Here are 5 key dynamics that are influencing trends of this time-honored fall shopping tradition:
New cowboys are in town
Traditional department stores such as Nordstrom, big box retailers like Wal-Mart and office supply stores still capture a big piece of the BTS pie. But they now must contend with other retailers that are also hungry to take a bite out of the consumer’s allocated budget. These include the rising star dollar stores, off price retailers such as TJMaxx and surprisingly, re-sale and thrift stores.
No more matchy-matchy
Particularly for college students seeking to demonstrate their personal style through their purchases, making a design or fashion statement is important and the one-stop shop approach with everything coordinated is no longer in favor. The dorm room or apartment might be furnished with functional new storage solutions, hand-me down furniture picked up from graduated friends or one of the popular new apps such as OfferUp and even personally made wall décor with purchases from craft retailers such as Hobby Lobby. For wardrobe choices, it’s quite in vogue to comb through thrift and re-sale store racks for unique, vintage clothing and accessory pieces. These are often paired with a new $200 jacket from a department store and the latest suede boots found online.
Why buy it online
Some product categories are natural winners online, including sometimes complicated technology, computers and software. The shopper’s time is much more efficiently used searching for the specific model and features, reading customer reviews and making price comparisons. With widely available free shipping for the exact item desired, the time needed to trudge to multiple stores and patiently wait for expertly trained staff to answer questions often does not make sense.
Why buy it in store
Since the products purchased during this season are for the student, their input on the final choices is important. Moms wants to be sure there is value and quality in the purchase and the student wants it to look a particular way. School supplies is a category that reigns supreme for in-store shopping. Parents feel most comfortable since they can touch and assess the products while spending time with their children, allowing them to provide real-time feedback on their choices. Key items in this category include backpacks, notebooks and anything with a design, character, specific color or style feature.
Maximizing the mobile phone
The device proves itself an invaluable tool for price comparisons while in-store, reading previous customer reviews, locating stores to purchase specific items and even communicating with kids who may scatter within a large store or mall. Many retailers allow usage of their online coupons pulled up on the phone, a consumer-friendly convenience that eliminates the need to remember to bring paper coupons on the shopping trip.
Constantly changing consumer behavior is re-writing all the old pages in the back-to-school playbook. And our always-available digital access can contribute to a more stress-free, efficient shopping experience.