Enhancing the Back-to-School Shopping Experience

Enhancing the Back-to-School Shopping Experience

Naomi Sleeper
Director,  Productivity Improvement
Imperial Distributors


Back to School (BTS) is the second biggest shopping season of the year, expecting to bring in $27.6 billion in sales this year, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Back to School Survey. While consumers shop for BTS throughout the summer, more than half of these sales ($14.6 billion) is projected to take place in August and September, with peak sales occurring during the first two weeks of August. While shoppers plan to do 57% of BTS shopping in-store (versus online), 20% of shoppers are undecided about where they will source their BTS necessities. This leaves $5.5 billion available for the taking.

School supplies alone account for $6 billion of market sales and $112 of the $510 average household BTS spend. The percentage of expected sales still up for grabs due to shopper indecision about where they will source their BTS products this year is skewed even higher in this BTS sub-category at 22%. Supermarkets have a great opportunity to capture a portion of this uncommitted $1.32 billion in school supply sales.

Back-to-school shopping is typically an anticipated event for students. Deloitte’s 2018 BTS survey reveals that experience plays a role in shoppers’ choice of where to buy their back-to-school needs, particularly for high-income households. In addition, children are expected to influence over 76% of BTS spending. Incorporating experiential elements, specifically targeted to students heading back to school, can be a critical approach for retail stores to attract shoppers and capture a greater share of the BTS market spend.

In GMDC’s July webinar on Experiential Retail: The Future of Brick-and-Mortar, Mark Ravi from PlanetRetail RNG points to three key ways that retailers can enhance the in-store shopping experience to attract customers: inspiration, services, and education and events. These approaches can be applied to back-to-school categories in supermarkets to increase store traffic and build back-to-school sales.

Inspiration: Inspiration, enhancing the “fun element of shopping,” includes product sampling and demonstrations, as well as superior in-store merchandising. Many supermarkets have embraced these experiential approaches, particularly in food categories, with in-store tastings, food demos and vibrant fresh food displays around the store perimeter. For the BTS season, merchandising lunch kits with kid-friendly food tastings and demos are ideal for inspiring creative and healthy school lunches and snacks. Product demos can also be applied to school supplies and other back-to-school GM product. Supermarkets can attract BTS shoppers with in-store BTS demo stations equipped with testers of school supplies that inspire children’s (and adult’s) creativity, such as gel and glitter pens, scented markers, clear and colored glue, and cutting pattern scissors. In addition, setting up a mini dorm room to display back-to-college accessories like area rugs, bedding, mirrors and fans can draw in and inspire the shopper getting ready for college.

Services: Services can attract foot traffic by adding value and convenience with more reasons to come to the store. Many supermarkets already provide additional services to attract customers in the form of in-store dining and prepared food options, as well as health and personal care services (e.g. Whole Foods’ Spa @ Ink Block and Hannaford’s Healthy Living Center at select locations). For the BTS season, a supervised school supply demo center can offer kids not only an opportunity to test out school supplies, but also a fun space and activity for kids to get creative.

Events and Education: Several supermarkets offer community events and workshops, themed food-related events, cooking demos and classes, as well as education on products in the form of product ingredients, production and source information. August is a perfect month to attract shoppers with back-to-school themed events and education. This can include BTS-themed workshops on school lunch prep and back-to-school organization, for example. In-store education on must-have items for the school year, including school supply lists specific to local schools in the community, can also help shoppers make the most of their in-store experience.
Through BTS product and merchandising inspiration, services, events and education, supermarkets can enhance the back-to-school experience for shoppers and capture a bigger portion of this season’s substantial spend.