E-Commerce Summer School

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Most students won't see the inside of another classroom until the end of the month, if not later. But for online retailers, there are just a few days left before the peak of the back-to-school shopping rush is upon us.

That’s why WM felt that a crash course in the latest data and expectations for the 2011 season was necessary, helping merchants better target their audiences, price their products and fine-tune their promotions. Dozens of research firms and countless marketing analysts have been working hard to paint an accurate picture of what retailers can expect this year, and below we have shared the most valuable points of data from numerous comprehensive studies.

What to expect
This year’s consumers are still very budget-minded, as they have been the past four years, and a survey by the National Retail Federation reveals that shoppers will likely hold back on their spending on school supplies in 2011.

The study indicates a decrease of 0.5 percent in overall spending from 2010 – meaning that most families are expected to spend a little more than $600 on back-to-school supplies this year. Other studies have that number closer to $800, and one as low as $300, but the total spending is expected to surpass $68 billion – so the opportunity is there.

Online spending is expected to overtake brick-and-mortar spending this year, however, partly because of higher gas prices and the propensity for bargains on the Web. So get your promotions out now, and offer customers increased benefits for shopping online, i.e. coupons and discounts as well as free shipping and loyalty rewards.

When to act
Right now, if not yesterday. Thirty-five percent of respondents from the NPD Group’s annual back-to-school spending report are starting their shopping on August 1 – today – or have already begun. Sixty percent will begin their shopping before September 1, and a scant 5 percent will begin after September 1.

So, offer time-sensitive deals to every group – the early birds, the later shoppers and the procrastinators. Nothing makes consumers feel better than getting a great deal for having beaten the rush or having gotten in just in the nick of time.

Who to target
Every retailer knows that moms are the primary back-to-school shoppers, but a recent study has concluded that men will spend more than women on school supplies in 2011. The reason is two-fold, and it comes with a footnote for retailers.

Traditionally, men buy more technology items than women, which accounts for a high percentage of back-to-school spending. However, e-tailers should also know that women do more than 60 percent of the online searching for back-to-school items – excepting the computer and electronics category – and then send their spouses out to do a lot of the brick-and-mortar shopping. So, don’t forget to include dads as well as moms when targeting your back-to-school audience.

As for age demographics, the 35-49 group is more focused on clothing and apparel while the categories most popular with people under 25 are text books and college dorm room-related furnishings.

What you can do
According to the NPD survey, school supplies (77 percent) were the runaway winner over apparel (58 percent) and footwear (45 percent) for what this year’s shoppers will be purchasing. Following those were school bags (30 percent), electronics (27 percent), accessories (17 percent), beauty products (13 percent), bedding (10 percent), calculators (8 percent) and small appliances (5 percent).

More data from that survey tells us that 2011 back-to-school shoppers place value (82 percent) higher than anything else on their list, including if the item is required (45 percent), needs to be replaced (30 percent), if their child just wanted it (22 percent) or if it was just plain trendy (12 percent).

With August 1 the official start to the back-to-school season, here are a few more quick things to consider to make sure your Web business thrives during this peak time. Expand your keyword list to include every back-to-school product in your inventory and be sure to create relavent promotions and new advertisements specific to this fast-approaching season.

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