Results on Back To School: Are retailers ready for the holidays?

by | Oct 9, 2017

Back To School shopping season is over. There might be a few straggler purchases here and there, but it’s October and school has been in session for most for at least a month. Back-to-school season is the second biggest shopping season of the year, touching 29 million households. This year school shopping is projected to hit record levels, with total combined spending forecasted to reach $83.6 billion, compared to last year’s $75.8 billion.

In addition to the expectation that back to school shoppers would spend more, more people started their shopping earlier in the summer. More than half began school purchases before August 1st. Consumers were open to buying school supplies across multiple channels, including online marketplaces like Amazon, with some research showing nine out of ten shoppers sought out free shipping and about half making use of buy online, pickup in store.

Shoppers indicated being influenced in-store when making back-to-school purchasing decisions, including by items on sale at the shelf (58%), aisle displays (45%), and in-store flyers/ads (42%).

Online tactics from retailers/stores, such as emails (41%), ads (39%), and social media posts (28%), were also influential to shoppers. Meanwhile, 47% of shoppers were influenced by coupons.

Shoppers also researched their purchases online. The most popular categories researched including computer electronics (46%); skincare or makeup items (38%); and school clothing (36%). However, fewer of these shoppers (21%, 20% and 14%, respectively) reported purchasing these items online instead of in a retail store.

Amazon, of course, was the big winner for back to school shopping. Amazon Prime Day has become the biggest day for student shopping. The company also rolled out special back to school promotions throughout August.

Your back to school season performance

So overall, the picture looks good for the economy and the retail sector as far as school shopping is concerned. But how about individual companies? By now, vendors and retailers should have some idea on how well they performed, and that’s not just in reference to how much money was made. You should know whether you were able to meet the expectations of consumers during the season.

How was your stock? Were you able to keep up with your orders, or did you run out sooner than expected? Were vendors able to keep up with orders, and refill and replenish before inventory ran out? Proactive vendors will often use data to notify their retailers when their stock is nearing a certain threshold so the retailers can make the necessary reorders.

How was inventory visibility? Were consumers able to see the real-time inventory counts on the websites, or were there a lot of out-of-stock issues? When suppliers share inventory data with retailers, including on their websites, it’s possible to avoid out-of-stock problems, or even worse, back orders.

What about delivery success? Did orders leave the warehouse on time and show up on the days they were supposed to be delivered? Were orders handled from the retail warehousefulfilled by the retail stores, or were they drop shipped from the suppliers? What kinds of issues did you face there? Retailers are trying a number of different shipping and delivery options to more easily and quickly fulfill customer orders and avoiding shipping delays.

Were there any major snags that impacted customers? Were orders filled correctly? Were returns easily handled without any complaints or problems? Customers often have issues if returns are not easy to follow and understand. Some retailers require online orders to be shipped to a returns warehouse, others want them sent to the original shipping warehouse. And still others allow in-store returns of online orders. Figure out what’s easiest for your customer and offer that. Easy returns go a long way towards gaining customer loyalty.

Finally, what were people buying? The products they bought could give you insights into what they might want to buy around the holidays. Pay close attention to your point of sales information and look for any unusual trends. Talk to your tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers and ask them if they noticed anything unusual. Getting ahead of these trends, and ordering more inventory in advance can help you avoid frustrating shortages that plague retailers every holiday season.

If you had any issues, such as drop shipping issues, you should be able to track down the problem and get it smoothed out before the holidays hit. Holiday shoppers are far less forgiving of late deliveries, especially when it’s close to Christmas, so it’s imperative to get it right the first time and keep them happy.

The back to school season is the final test run before the holiday shopping season. Everything you learned in August and September can be applied to what’s coming in November, to help things go faster, easier, and smoother.

If you would like help figuring out your POS analytics, how to manage your inventory visibility, or even automatic reordering and sharing EDI documentation, SPS Commerce can help. Please visit our website and request a free demonstration or speak to an SPS representative.

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Scott Bolduc

Scott Bolduc

Director of Supply Chain Strategy at SPS Commerce
Scott Bolduc is a multi-time winner of the Supply & Demand Chain Executive Pros to Know. He has worked with e-commerce retailers on their growth strategies and helped retailers transform their freight spending strategies to maximize efficiencies.
Scott Bolduc

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