Customers, Not Retailers, Create Demand for Back-to-School Items - eMarketer

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Customers, Not Retailers, Create Demand for Back-to-School Items

July 13, 2016 | Retail & Ecommerce

Julie Krueger
Retail Industry Director

As the core back-to-school shopping season approaches, retailers need to let go of the idea that they can create demand for products. According to Julie Krueger, Google’s retail industry director, consumers now have control over when and where they make a purchase—if they want a product, they’ll find it somewhere. eMarketer’s Tricia Carr spoke with Krueger about the consumer behaviors that retailers need to adapt to this back-to-school season.

eMarketer: How will the 2016 back-to-school shopping season differ from 2015?

Julie Krueger: The biggest difference will be the continuation of the influence and domination of mobile on the shopping journey. In 2014, 40% of back-to-school searches were done on mobile. In 2015, it was over 50%, and it will only go up from there.

There are more people who are not just starting searches, but doing a bunch of research on mobile phones. This applies to both parents and the students. It’s also noteworthy that over a third of ecommerce is coming through mobile phones now.

eMarketer: Have the start, peak and end of the back-to-school season shifted since last year?

Krueger: When we look at what happened from 2014 to 2015 and more recently, during the holiday season, people are starting to shop earlier and earlier. Last year, 30% of back-to-school searches happened in July, and people had already started purchasing. I anticipate that the start will move up even sooner and start with searches and purchases for apparel, vs. school supplies, which tend to come closer to when school starts.

“The biggest difference [in 2016] will be the continuation of the influence and domination of mobile on the shopping journey.”

As evidenced by the 2015 holiday season, retailers will start their promotions earlier as well. Over the holidays, retailers thought to themselves, “If I sell out the week before Black Friday, who cares? I have this inventory and I need to sell it.” They’re going after the demand where it is, vs. holding inventory and managing it the traditional way.

Most recently for the spring and garden shopping season, research is starting earlier. Consumers find everything online, whereas before you had to wait until inventory was in the store. Retailers are adapting to where the demand is.

eMarketer: Does the length of the season differ for certain product categories?

Krueger: There’s an interesting dynamic in apparel. There is the group of fashion-forward teens who are online, looking at influencers on YouTube and finding out the fashion trends. There’s another group that waits to see what’s popular and then they buy. The fashion-forward kids start earlier and the followers start later—it’s the longest part of the season.

eMarketer: In addition to shopping earler, what other consumer behaviors should retailers take note of for the back-to-school season?

Krueger: Mobile goes without saying. If [retailers] miss on mobile, they’ll miss the majority of consumer touchpoints. Number two, make sure you think through the whole customer journey. Retailers need to consider all of the different places that both students and parents can get information and be influenced.

Third, consumers have a huge influence on when and where they buy. They don’t have to wait for the inventory to come in. If they’re early shoppers, they’ll find a retailer who has what they’re looking for. Retailers need to adapt to consumer demand, vs. thinking that the retailer will create the demand.

eMarketer: Who is the primary decision-maker for back-to-school purchases?

Krueger: When it comes to searches, students are as engaged as parents in the discovery and evaluation phases. But whoever ends up paying has the final say. Students, especially grade school and high school, have much more influence than they used to. Kids are empowered to say what they want, because they have access to the products.

eMarketer: How can retailers create a better customer experience for back to school 2016?

Krueger: Multichannel retailers need to remember that consumers don’t think about their brand as a physical place and a separate dot-com. They think about the brand as a whole. Online should integrate with and enhance the store, and vice versa. Neither one should be disparate. Do not set yourself up to disappoint one place or the other. Both should reinforce the total brand experience.

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