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Jeanne McPhillipsVice President, MerchandisingOverstock.com
For ecommerce site Overstock.com, the back-to-college shopping season isn’t just for selling products—it’s a chance to transform students into lifetime customers. eMarketer’s Tricia Carr spoke with Jeanne McPhillips, vice president of merchandising at Overstock.com, about the company’s philosophy on back-to-college shopping and what types of marketing will have the most influence on those consumers.
eMarketer: What’s your outlook for the 2016 back-to-school season?
Jeanne McPhillips: Retail feels soft industrywide. We’re pure play ecommerce—in our space, we are seeing growth in etail. For back to school, we’re focusing on the home category and positioning ourselves in the back-to-college space. Our biggest and most successful business is home, and the back-to-campus initiative will mirror that.
eMarketer: Who is the audience of your back-to-campus marketing efforts?
McPhillips: We market to the purchaser. Our main customer is female and a mom—we’re getting the baby boomer moms for back to campus. We feel that parents are the decision-makers, but of course the students will influence their moms.
But we are also looking past the demographics for back to campus and seeing it more as a life event. Going to college or getting your first apartment is a major life event. We want to capture consumers and keep them over the span of their lives.
eMarketer: What’s your product focus for back to campus?
McPhillips: We’re working on our product assortment across the board, including home. We are seeing growth in areas like home decor, lightning and rugs.
Back to campus is a bigger opportunity than just dorms. It’s students’ first homes, whether it’s college dorms or apartments. Even the terminology “back to campus” rather than “back to school” is telling. It demonstrates a shift in business from just apparel and accessories to a more encompassing experience for students.
eMarketer: How long does the back-to-campus shopping last?
McPhillips: It starts right after students graduate from high school, ramps up at the end of July, peaks in August and goes all the way through and even after Labor Day.
Because of the convenience of online shopping and delivery, the season leaks into September. Timing doesn’t matter as much because we don’t have the inventory issue. Whereas in a bricks-and-mortar model, there is only X amount of time to sell. We can deliver to dorms—that’s a huge convenience for parents, instead of having to schlep everything across the country. If they need something else when they get to college, they are still buying through September.
eMarketer: What types of marketing will have the most impact during the back-to-campus shopping season?
McPhillips: We have a multichannel approach to marketing, including some TV. Email will be a strong way that we communicate to our customers, and social media will play a bigger role than it ever has before. We’re also ramping up our personalization efforts to get relevant content in front of the right people at the right time.
Anything that’s image-driven works on social. Instagram and Pinterest are two of the most important ways that we’ll reach consumers for the back-to-campus shopping season and for those product categories.
We also offer lists and back-to-school registries now. The new experience lets you design your whole apartment or dorm room, save it, share it and click to purchase. This is where the influence of the student will be easy to see.
eMarketer: What role will mobile play in the back-to-campus shopping season?
McPhillips: Mobile will be bigger than ever and very important for influencing the purchaser. Mobile is part of everything—you look at email on your phone and you look for information on your phone. We have conversations with our partners about how we can present things better on mobile. How can we make images better on mobile? How can we present this value prop, such as a daily deal, on mobile? What ways can we get in front of a customer to engage them? Maybe they don’t make a purchase on mobile, but it’s the first place they engaged with us.
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