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What retailers need to know to win at back-to-school in an age of brick-and-mobile

The back-to-school shopping season is second only to the winter holidays when it comes to serious consumer spending. And every year, it starts earlier and lasts longer. In fact, back-to-school related search queries rose sharply the week of July 11, 2016 — a full week earlier than 2015.

Retailers need to be on top of their game when it comes to planning ahead. Here’s what they need to know to win this shopping season.

Brick-and-mobile is the current retail shopping standard. Nailing the customer experience in both channels is critical to success.
Mobile and in-store shopping channels both matter, and they each influence customer purchase decisions in different ways. Digitally savvy consumers — parents and students — are using a range of traditional and online tools to shop for the coming school year. They can research, compare pricing, and seek out promotions and loyalty programs.

Digital puts the power in the hands of the consumer — both online and in store. And it’s a major force driving an earlier back-to-school shopping season.  
Digital connectivity takes the guesswork out of finding the best deal. This transparency means customers can (and do!) take advantage of the best promotions (in store or online) in real time.

Last year, Amazon Prime Day (July 15, 2016) was a high point for online sales, with retailers seeing a 60% spike in sales during the back-to-school season.

In fact, most shoppers reference Amazon before and during the back-to-school season because other online retailers will price match Amazon’s deals and promotions. And Amazon checks all the boxes. The brand’s competitive pricing, diverse products with extensive reviews, fast shipping, and easy return policy provide the one-stop resource back-to-school shoppers need.

Despite the growing online trend, back-to-school promotional periods and tax-free holidays still have the power to drive customers in store. Last year, 18 states had tax-free holidays during July and August — a factor that pushed more back-to-school purchases in store.

The best back-to-school shopping experience satisfies the consumers’ desire to get what they need and quickly move on.
Retailers that ruled last year’s back-to-school season offered simplified shopping experiences that transcended a single shopping channel. Although brick-and-mortar stores still drive the most sales with both parents and college-age students, digital will continue to be relevant with back-to-school shoppers as mobile devices are more and more accessible to younger consumers. That’s why focusing on creating a great experience across all channels is a must.

“Success depends on meeting the expectations of shoppers. And it starts with knowing more about them, nailing their baseline expectations, and understanding what influences their purchase decisions.”

– Shannon Andrick, VP of Marketing Advancement, Alliance Data  

Meet the back-to-school shopper
Our recent report, “The generational perspective: How our past defines our future buying behaviors,” found that each generation connects with brands differently based on their life experiences. So, it’s important for retailers to better understand these differences if they want to deliver relevant experiences to their best shoppers.

Nail their baseline expectations
In our generational report, we found that digitally savvy shoppers across all demographics want a full-service brick-and-mobile experience. They want their payments to be secure, their transactions to be easy, and full awareness of deals and promotions. Our findings revealed that free shipping ranks top on shoppers’ lists, too. So, it’s no surprise that, according to Mintel, it’s also the top improvement they expect this year.

Understand what influences them
Back-to-school shoppers are influenced in different ways when making purchase decisions. Retailers will win if they know exactly what it takes to get their best customers to the checkout line.

Back-to-school shoppers this year also want a diverse mix of product offerings. In addition to the basics, like backpacks, school supplies, clothing, and dorm essentials, retailers that aim to provide shoppers with unique products and experiences will stand out. Consumers want products that say something about them and align with their values.

Is your brand ready for this year’s back-to-school shopping season? Connect with Alliance Data experts at to learn more.




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