3 Online Strategies for Back-to-School Retailers Looking to Make the Grade

It’s back-to-school season and online retail is moving to the head of the class. As the second-largest retail season of the year, consumers are turning to the Internet for lower prices, flexible shipping and fewer crowds. Online sales are expected to increase 16% this season, with back-to-school purchases averaging $50.17, according to eMarketer.

Consumers give the Internet a passing grade:

  • storetypesHalf of all consumers and 68% of those age 18-34 plan to shop more online this year1
  • The Internet ranks as the #1 source for information about back-to-school items that consumers intend to purchase this shopping season2
  • E-commerce websites rank as the #2 favorite store type, ahead of office supply stores, traditional department stores, warehouse membership clubs and drug stores2
  • Almost half of all electronics purchases and about one-third of apparel sales are done online1
  • Consumers site better prices (25%), quicker shopping (23%) and avoiding crowds (21%) as their top reasons to shop online1

It’s no surprise that back-to-school shoppers do their homework. They are smart, savvy consumers who turn to online resources to make purchases faster and easier, whether shopping online or in-store. Retailers looking to win the dogfight over market share have to deliver a seamless, consumer-centric online experience.

How back-to-school retailers can win online:

1. SPECIAL PROMOTIONS
The web enables parents and students to research products, compare price and take advantage of special offers, without stepping foot in a store. Back-to-school shoppers, surveyed by Accenture, chose searching for deals and finding the best price as the top reasons they shop online: 65% expect to save money or find better discounts by shopping online and 59% want to spend more time researching the best prices.

In order to capture back-to-school traffic, retailers must first attract online shoppers and to their website and then incentivize them to the purchase. And they should leverage email and social media sites as a vehicle to promote their best deals and most popular products.

2. OPTIMIZE FOR MOBILE
In a back-to-school survey conducted by Deloitte, 84% of respondents own a smart phone and 74% of smart phone owners plan to use their device to assist with back-to-school shopping (a 10% increase since 2011). The top uses for a mobile device include downloading coupons, finding a store location, researching pricing information and visiting a retailers website.

As device preference continues to dictate consumer behavior, optimizing your website for mobile has become essential. A report by UPS indicated that the top reason (43%) consumers move away from a retailer’s website is that the product image is not clear or large enough. If designing for mobile retail, incorporate rich product visualization that is optimized for the device type. The difference in functionality shifts the user experience focus to embedded, large-viewer or full-screen interactive zoom and pan, 360-degree spin, and enhanced video functionalities.

3. FLEXIBLE SHIPPING
Free shipping and free returns have become the standard in the e-commerce space. According to an Endicia survey, freeshippingCustomers rank free return shipping as the most important aspect of the online return process. And 89% of shoppers say they’ll revisit an online store after a positive returns experience.

Back-to-school shoppers are no different. Deloitte reports that 66% of surveyed respondents are more likely to purchase from online retailers who offer free shipping during the back-to-school shopping season and 40% prefer to purchase from retailers that offer an option to buy online/pick-up in-store or buy online/return in-store.

With the Internet at their fingertips, back-to-school customers will shop around for retailers providing the best value through convenient and flexible shopping experiences. Whether shoppers “webroom”— browse online and then purchase in store— or “showroom”— browse in store and then purchase online— they’re looking for a seamless process that puts them in control.

Retailers looking to succeed this back-to-school season must recognize that brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce websites should not act as separate entities, but function as an integrated team, complimenting each other and working towards the same goal.

[1] AOL’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey

[2] Deloitte’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey

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Claire McCracken
Claire McCracken
c.mccracken@snap36.com

Claire is a Marketing Coordinator at Snap36. She recently graduated from the University of Dayton with a bachelor's degree in Communications and Marketing. Before working at Snap36, Claire had a marketing internship with a construction company in Chicago.

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