Navigating New Trends in Back-To-School Spending With Agile Consumer Insights

toluna logoUnderstanding how consumers shop differently during this specialty season could lead to a multi-million-dollar shift in Sales

The back-to-school shopping season is in full swing. In fact, in some parts of the country, particularly down South, children have already started classes. What we are learning as students of real-time consumer insights and Marketing trends is that seasonal shopping habits, for back-to-school, in particular, are shifting. No two categories are alike when it comes to buying preferences, and the in-store experience is more relevant than other times of the year.  Brands need to use real-time consumer insights to improve agility during seasonal shopping events to quickly take advantage of what’s working and move away from what’s not before missing huge Sales opportunities.

The National Retail Federation estimates the back-to-school market to be around $80.7B for 2019. A recent Toluna survey found that 62 percent of people spend $50 dollars or more each fall, with 26 percent spending more than $100 dollars on in-school supplies alone. Approximately 75 percent of respondents spent between $50 and $200 dollars a year on new school clothes.

Of key importance to marketers is realizing that when it came to in-store supplies such as glue, scissors, and pencils, more than 93 percent of those that shop for back-to-school said they relied solely or mostly on a list dictated by the school. Many parents can tell you these lists are specific, indicating the type of supply, the brand, and the quantity. This creates a unique challenge to brands that can’t rely on traditional tools like creative packaging, licensing deals or savvy advertising to attract children and parents because it’s essentially the teachers making the decision. Accessing these precise target audiences and implementing agile research solutions to inform decision-making will make or break the season.

Read more: How Consumer Insights Can Satisfy a Marketer’s Need for Agility, Innovation, and Disruption

However, without the tools to obtain real-time consumer insights, one might miss how drastically different other back-to-school purchases, such as clothing, school snacks, and even backpacks, are made. Here, parents are only steering the ship just 55 percent of the time. Children and other influences impact buying decisions. Throw in other variables, like regionality and ages of the student, and brands need to make very strategic decisions on what products to develop, how to package them and how to advertise. The same goes for the retailers that will then sell those items.

For example, in that same Toluna survey, the price was a leading driver for purchase decisions, with 66 percent of respondents ranking it the most important factor. Twenty percent favored brands they recognized versus 10 percent who opted for new items. These granular details are critical and impact your approach to the back-to-school retail season.

If you are an established competitor, do you save money on new packaging and focus elsewhere? Are you a startup that needs to undercut pricing to gain market share?  Brands don’t necessarily have the luxury to wait 15 years to become well-known, à la George Clooney. A strong and informed go-to-market is key, and that may mean back-to-school is not the right season for everyone, despite vast consumer spending.

So much focus is rightfully spent these days on e-commerce. With back-to-school, plenty of people are still headed in-store to find what they need. It’s nearly an equal split. Suddenly, on-shelf merchandising is relevant again, and a whole new set of consumer insights is required to capitalize. This could be the small window of opportunity for new brands without huge differentiators during this season. A unique and compelling on-shelf presence and strategy can potentially make up for the lack of consumer trust previously earned by veteran brands.

The decline in specialty store shopping, and the rise of big sellers including, Amazon, Walmart, and Target, has led to nearly two-thirds of people shopping for other household items while shopping for back-to-school. This creates potential upsell and additional Marketing needs for brands and stores alike.

Whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer, the fall brings both opportunities and challenges. Spend on back-to-school continues to rise year-over-year. That’s certain. Shopping habits do not enjoy that same stability. In the end, the brands that win will be agile and well-informed.

Read more: Four Marketing Trends to Watch in 2019

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