3 Ways Back-to-School Shopping Has Changed

May 21, 2019

Brands By Bradley Hearn

Remember when getting ready for the upcoming school year was a big event? When students and parents would bond over the annual ritual of picking out pencils and notebooks right before the start of school?

Back-to-school shopping looks a lot different these days. It comes in spurts and lasts for months.

Every year, we round up our top tips for the upcoming back to school season. And each year, they’re published earlier and earlier. This year is no exception. If you haven’t had a chance to prepare your back-to-school selling strategy for 2019, now’s the time to start.

To help, we’ve identified three notable ways back-to-school shopping has changed in recent years, and how these transitions will impact your efforts as an online seller.

Consumer Expectations for Back-to-School Shopping in 2019

Every brand and retailer is familiar with the three factors that influence what, when and how people purchase back-to-school products: convenience, cost and comfort. They’re the same primary drivers of virtually every retail transaction today. But how will these empowered consumer tendencies impact back-to-school shopping in 2019? Based on the latest available reports, we know that…

1. Convenience continues to drive more back-to-school shoppers online

While plenty of parents still prefer traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experiences, many are leaning more and more on online channels — for a couple of key reasons.

First, there’s the emergence of e-commerce companies that specialize in back-to-school selling. When given the option, 65% of back-to-school shoppers have purchased pre-packaged supply kits sponsored by their children’s schools at least once. Most are repeat buyers. They include everything the student needs, and take seconds to buy instead of hours or days. The real kicker? Presales for many of these kits, which eliminate the need to shop for supplies, are happening right now — with deadlines in May and early June to give companies time to curate and deliver packages.

Second, for the other 35% who opt to work their way through school supply lists on their own, long lists of restrictions on what (and what not) to buy are driving many consumers further away from traditional brick-and-mortar shelves.

Consider the case of one back-to-school shopper who had been looking forward to helping her kindergartner pick out supplies: When she couldn’t find a particular set of washable markers in traditional colors at any of the stores they visited, she ended up buying them on Amazon to make sure her son had the right ones.

Similar scenarios will soon be playing out for countless 2019 purchases.

2. Cost keeps pushing the season earlier and earlier

Around this time last year, cost-conscious and deal-hungry shoppers were gearing up to purchase 100 million products on Amazon Prime Day. A large segment of them were preparing for the upcoming school year.

In fact, many families now approach Amazon’s July shopping bonanza as the day to kickstart their back-to-school shopping. What’s now the second-most important selling period for brands and retailers in the US is also the primary jumping off point for back-to-school promotions.

And it’s driving all kinds of expectations for pricing. According to a back-to-school survey conducted in 2018:

  • 84% of sellers believe back-to-school shopping begins on or before Amazon Prime Day
  • Nearly 70% of shoppers look for more savings during this season than they do during other times of the year
  • 65% said that final price is the biggest determining factor in their back-to-school purchases.

Gone too are the days when the first day back at school meant showing off shiny supplies and school gear from well-known brands. Today’s back-to-school shoppers are just as likely to opt for private-label products.

Private label sales reached $1.1 billion during the 2018 back-to-school season, up from $70 million in 2017. Whether they’re shopping with Amazon or Walmart, more than half of private-label purchasers are basing their buying decisions on price.

3. Comfort drives how people buy

Last but certainly not least, empowered consumers are drawn to the ease and comfort of online shopping. With mobile apps that make it easy to purchase products at any time, from any device, consumers no longer need to leave their homes to hunt for back-to-school supplies — let alone the couch.

It’s the reason 69% of online shoppers use buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) options to get products faster and avoid delivery charges. And it’s why another 75% want to buy online with the option to return in store. Why fight your way through gaggles of parents and kids to stand in line, when you can much more comfortably click, swipe and tap your way through those back-to-school shopping lists?

What These Back-to-School Trends Mean For You

Some of the strategies sellers should adopt are clearcut: Be ready for Amazon Prime Day, diversify your options for fast and free fulfillment, keep both your online inventory and in-store stock as up-to-date as possible.

Other needs are a little more nuanced, and will continue to change as the 2019 back-to-school season unfolds. We’ll be watching these and other trends closely in the coming months. If you’re not already receiving updates from the e-commerce experts here at ChannelAdvisor, take a moment now to subscribe to ChannelAdvisor Pulse for all the latest news and updates.

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