Back-to-School – Retailers Seek High Marks with Online to Offline

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The 2017 back-to-school season – the second-largest shopping event of the year – is expected to be the biggest ever. And research by retail industry groups suggests that retailers that effectively leverage Online-to-Offline (O2O) strategies stand to reap the rewards.

Consider these survey findings: 88 percent of back-to-school shoppers plan to shop at a physical mass-merchant store, while 56 percent plan to shop at a physical office-supply store. Meanwhile, 81 percent plan to conduct online research by visiting retailer websites and checking prices.

Some retailers are tailoring their O2O strategies to take advantage of how back-to-school shoppers are combining brick and mortar and online shopping. Walmart, for example, has expanded its online grocery pickup program to include back-to-school supplies. Bed Bath & Beyond has a “Pack & Hold” program and hosts move-in events at campuses, whereby customers can visit a local store or shop online and collect their purchase at a convenient location.

The back-to-school season is also creating new opportunities for retailers – surveys show that, as colleges increasingly require freshmen to live on campus, spending on home goods, snacks and beverages is increasing. And surveys show that almost half of parents of middle schoolers will be looking for laptops this year.

Not surprisingly, analysts expect Amazon to be the retailer of choice for shoppers looking for convenience, while off-price retailers like T.J. Maxx and Walmart will appeal to cost-conscious shoppers. Purveyors of home goods and office supplies should also do well, while mid-tier department stores – again, not surprisingly – stand to lose.

Other observations:

  • Retailers who have done their homework by focusing on re-inventing themselves with digital-first initiatives and in-store innovation will get the higher scores in terms of sales, merchandise demand and loyalty among existing and new customers.
  • The final exam will come in later November – until then, retail executives and IT Ops teams will be putting in long hours to make sure that planned strategies are executed smoothly
  • Back-to-school shopping can be a testing ground for new in-store programs and digital innovation that allows for adjustments before the peak season kicks off at Thanksgiving.
  • The test for IT teams will be around the ability to combine agility, security and governance and to ensure collaboration between development, QA and DevOps teams when it matters most – the holiday season.

The takeaway is clear – a back-to-school retail strategy requires focus that delivers shoppers the right mix of price, value and convenience.

For more information, visit Softtek’s Retail Industry page.