2021 may be the biggest year for back-to-school marketing in half a decade. This season will likely outstrip the past five back-to-school shopping periods, with spend expected to top $32.5 billion, according to Deloitte. In part, the shopping surge is attributed to the pandemic’s decline and school reopenings. As nearly a year of remote schooling comes to an end for many students, parents are eager to invest in new wardrobes and school supplies.
How can retailers capitalize on the back-to-school surge? Retail Uncharted spoke with OfficeSupply.com president Joe Schaefer and Sidecar’s Senior Customer Strategy Manager Brice Dunn to find the answers. Key to OfficeSupply.com’s success this season will be real-time demand analysis and inventory management. Product needs shift quickly throughout the back-to-school marketing season, says Joe, and sophisticated technology and artificial intelligence solutions will help the retailer stay on top of shopper needs.
“We’ve seen historically that merchandising and inventory management are going to be really crucial during this period,” says Joe. “Making sure that we have the right product assortment is key so that we can still deliver in the expected timeline that customers demand in today’s market.”
To stay on top of fluctuating demand, search query analysis is key for retail marketers, adds Brice. “Search query data is a really important way to track consumer demand throughout the back-to-school season,” he says. “Staying on top of popular search queries allows us to be flexible from a bidding and a budget allocation standpoint.”
During the podcast we asked:
- How can retailers capitalize on the back-to-school shopping surge?
- How can retailers overcome supply chain issues related to the pandemic this back-to-school shopping season?
- What back-to-school products will be in high demand this year?
- How is OfficeSupply.com approaching its back-to-school marketing strategy differently across advertising channels like Google, Bing, and Facebook?
- What is the biggest prediction you have for online retail in the next year or two?
Top Sound Bites
On the impact of child tax credit checks on back-to-school marketing:
Brice: We think that’s going to have a pretty significant impact, actually. If you look back throughout 2020 whenever there was a government stimulus submitted to consumers, we saw almost immediate increases in demand, increases in conversion rate and revenue, as a direct correlation. So similar to the trends that we saw in 2020, I think we expect pretty much the same for Back-to-School with those child tax credits.
For office supplies, it’s going to be a little bit different because their business does skew a little bit more towards commercial consumers, which obviously aren’t receiving the tax credit. But for some residential consumers, like parents that are buying school supplies for their individual child or families, we do expect to see an uptick in those types of purchases.
That will probably mean potentially lower AOV, at least for a period of time, as more traffic skews residential.
On the unique needs of commercial and residential shoppers during back-to-school:
Joe: Each audience has a different level of product demand and an average order value. We take a look at those two audiences independently to try to determine what are going to be the right key featured items to get out in front of those consumers but also then take a look at what we feel is the best efficiency to target those customers.
Lower AOV also tends to mean higher expenses in regards to getting the products to the consumer, whereas an institution will have a much higher average order value and generates a much greater efficiency for us. We do tend to take a look at the bidding a bit differently, and also the product assortment as well, so that we can still remain attractive to both.
On the key technology that supports better inventory management:
Joe: We have a proprietary inventory management system that we built and manage ourselves. The complexity of what we do is partly driven by the fact that we have hundreds of suppliers that we pull product from and so those suppliers and their inventory levels are constantly changing throughout the day. Our systems are always in communication back and forth about what they have for availability and even where those items are located.
And then, on our end, we can take that information and determine what’s going to be available and forecast, “How do we get that product out to a customer? Where do we want to pull it from?” With those systems always running and monitoring, that helps us ensure that the customer has a great purchasing transaction where it’s easy to order from us. They know it’s going to get delivered to them.
Our system will even continue to update the customer after the transaction so it’s sending out additional shipping information and tracking information. If things are moving faster than we anticipated, the system will even notify the customer that. So there’s never a doubt of whether the item is available and whether it’s even going to get to them.
On leveraging Facebook to build brand awareness with back-to-school shoppers:
Joe: It’s a channel that we were working on internally, and just couldn’t find the efficiencies and success that we were looking for. So we are happy to have this opportunity to work with Sidecar in launching our social media campaigns.
Our goals for this channel is to broaden our reach for potential acquisition. It’s a different approach that allows us to talk to consumers in a different way, and yet remain relevant to them than what you might traditionally see through search like Google or Bing.
We’re looking forward to using the opportunity this year to learn from it and see where our opportunities lie, so that we can apply it throughout the year, and next year when we get into the back-to-school season again.