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Jem RipleyManaging Director, Retail VerticalSapientNitro
Retailers have traditionally focused on pushing specific products for the back-to-school shopping season. Now, they are shifting their approach to cater to customers’ specific needs. eMarketer’s Yory Wurmser spoke with Jem Ripley, managing director of retail vertical at digital agency SapientNitro, about what retailers can expect this back-to-school season and how to put the customer first.
eMarketer: How important is the back-to-school season for retailers?
Jem Ripley: Back to school is becoming more important for retailers and with that, the season has spread out, much like how the holiday season now starts earlier than Thanksgiving.
eMarketer: When does the back-to-school shopping season start?
Ripley: From a planning-for-back-to-school perspective, the season starts as early as June. Retailers are creating opportunities for customers to put together their back-to-school shopping lists ahead of time—whether that involves reserving items, putting together packages, offering back-to-school registries or other marketing opportunities—to start the process as early as they can.
eMarketer: Based on the last couple of years, how will marketers change their approach to back to school this year?
Ripley: In prior years, there was a siloed focus on marketing product to constituents and potential customers. Now there is a focus on where different customers are in their journey and meeting their needs. Marketers are creating experiences that are focused on a particular grade level. They’re taking all of the products that would go along with that experience and marketing that as opposed to specific products.
eMarketer: Will there be an uptick in specific marketing or fulfillment tactics for back to school?
Ripley: Everything will go back to the ability to guide people through their journey. It could be a checklist or some type of guided selling that puts someone through the “have you thought of” or “people that buy this usually buy that” messaging in a packaged way depending on what grade they’re in.
Back-to-school registries are another opportunity for retailers that we haven’t seen in years past. They allow the different people who want somebody to be successful in heading back to school to make purchases.
Future date shipping and related options, like setting items aside and pack and hold in-store, will help retailers be as flexible as they possibly can for their customers. The buying cycle for back to school doesn’t necessarily happen in the three to four days before somebody is heading off—it can be weeks and months of planning.
eMarketer: How big of a role will Amazon play this back-to-school season?
Ripley: Amazon will be a huge part of back to school. However, back to school is a time when brick-and-mortar retailers can differentiate themselves. The experience of shopping together with your son or daughter and the tactile nature of shopping for products and clothes for back to school resonates with consumers, and Amazon is at a disadvantage there.
eMarketer: What new opportunities will retailers have this back-to-school season?
Ripley: Virtual reality [VR] in retail is in its nascent form. Marketers haven’t figured out how to leverage it to its best. But for back to college, students and parents are thinking about how to set up a dorm room, and VR can be used to see the room and think about products in context in the room. There is an interesting opportunity with VR for the college audience.
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