Back to School Shopping

Back to School Showdown: Online vs. Offline Shopping

Parents and students have recently completed the mad rush that is back-to-school shopping. From grade-school classroom supplies to college dorm room furnishings, back-to-school shopping is a yearly tradition that attracts the attention of both online and brick-and-mortar retailers. With the National Retail Federation (NRF) projecting a $27.5 billion dollar spend for K-12 and $55.3 billion for college, it’s easy to see why capturing Back-to-School shoppers is a priority for online and offline retailers alike.

Where Online Excels
Online shopping is the go-to format for those that want to avoid busy stores. Parents and kids with busy schedules can sit down together and complete the entire supplies list from the comfort of their home. Then, everything conveniently gets delivered right to their doorstep, ready to get loaded into backpacks for the first day of school. In order to promote online shopping, e-commerce brands turn to digital marketing strategies such as personalized email campaigns.

According to Digital Commerce 360, Amazon unsurprisingly was the online winner. The e-commerce retailer sent the most back-to-school email campaigns and had the highest open rates. While overall email open rates were down from previous years, Amazon crushed through with a total of 316 campaigns for the 10-week back-to-school period, and 49 percent of its campaigns had a high-performance open rate at or above 20 percent. Not only that, but Amazon launched an email campaign that earned a 45.6 percent open rate for one of its college and dorm themed communications.

Where Offline Excels
The bulk of back-to-school shopping traditionally takes place offline. Parents grab the supplies list provided by teachers and head out with their kids for a weekend of shopping, celebrating the end of summer and the excitement of the next school year. Hunting for the best deals and allowing children to pick the colors or characters on their back-to-school supplies is part of the fun. While many parents take this opportunity to also refresh their child’s wardrobe, trying on different sizes of both clothes and shoes in-store can save time. Offline shopping in a physical store makes an event out of the upcoming year and allows parents to connect with their children through spending time together preparing.

Mass merchants, like Target and Walmart, usually yield the most back-to-school purchases for brick and mortar locations. According to the Deloitte Back-to-School Survey, 83 percent of respondents said they were planning on visiting the physical store location of a mass merchant to complete their back-to-school shopping. With these types of stores offering a one-stop shop for supplies like pens, binders, paper, calculators as well as clothing, shoes and grooming items, plus bedding and dorm furnishings, it’s easy to see why parents and students of all ages would flock to these retailers.

Working Together
It’s safe to say that retailers and brand manufacturers want to tap into the billions of dollars spent on back-to-school supplies. Online retailers such as Amazon and mass retailers like Target use online websites to display available products and attract shoppers. Even when shoppers visit the physical store to purchase, many will research and compare prices and offerings online before arriving in store. Deloitte suggests that “Customers are mainly using their devices to access websites, look for prices and collect coupons and discounts—instead of actually making purchases. This could signal that shoppers are looking for the next innovation in retail technology.” So, what is the next innovation in back-to-school shopping and how will online and offline retailers tap into that innovation to further their market share?

Perhaps the next back-to-school campaigns will advance the buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) model. This allows parents the convenience of online shopping coupled with the opportunity to examine physical merchandise, have children physically try on clothing at the retail location and present an easy path for returns and exchanges at the point of pick up. Online retailers could also consider establishing back-to-school pop-ups during high-purchase seasons to expedite and add even more convenience to their online model.

No matter what the next back to school trend may be, it’s clear that representing products online with the most accurate information is still important to the selection process. Brand manufacturers and retailers need to work together to give customers the best and most convenient way to purchase products. Part of that is ensuring the most accurate information is displayed online for the products being offered. This includes the most updated product descriptions, images, videos, prices, content and ratings/reviews available to consumers who are pre-shopping and researching online.

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