Back-to-school (BTS) is one of the busiest times of the year for retailers. Families spend huge amounts of money to prepare children for the upcoming school year by purchasing notebooks, pencils, computers, calculators, and so much more. Parents of students predict that they will spend around $30.3 billion on BTS items in 2012 and parents of college students will spend around $53.45 billion! Back-to-school has evolved over the years from an actual shopping event to an overall spending mindset. This mindset has been nourished and encouraged by retailers and marketers alike, placing importance on back-to-school as a time of change – change for students, parents, employees, etc. By using universal change, retailers are able to market essentially anything that offers change to a large population. For example, a music store could market BTS as a time for anyone to learn a new instrument or a hardware store could market BTS as a time to re-decorate a room. In this shopper marketing segment, we’re going to analyze some of the largest BTS marketing campaigns for 2012 and offer insights into what they’re doing right.
Apple is arguably the largest electronic retailer for BTS, usually offering great savings on computers for students. This year, they’re giving away $100 iTunes gift cards with the purchase of a computer. This campaign, however simple it may be, brings in a massive group of shoppers because Apple products rarely go on sale. Even though the actual product isn’t discounted at all, the iTunes gift card is a useful promotional item – allowing students to download music, movies, and games onto their new computer. By perfectly pairing their products with promotions, Apple continues to leverage itself as the electronic powerhouse of BTS.
Staples is the king of BTS supplies in Canada and they appear to have it down to an art. With Wal-Mart as their main competitor, Staples has shifted their campaigns to focus on variety instead of trying to compete with Wal-Mart’s low prices. Approximately 78% of BTS shoppers stated that variety of products is the most important factor when selecting a shopping destination, whereas price was listed by 48% of shoppers. Even though Wal-Mart offers a lower price, Staples has a greater range of products.
“Value is always a top of mind factor in back-to-school shopping, but we understand that consumers want a wide variety of products – everything from essential supplies to the latest tech products and fun accessories,” said Steve Matyas, president, Staples Canada. “Students of all ages are required to have specific products, and more than ever, parents want the convenience of finding them all in one place. As the back-to-school leader, Staples equips parents, teachers and students with a wide assortment of products at affordable prices. Our commitment to a huge variety of products at outstanding prices covers the back-to-school season and the entire school year.”
Wal-Mart offers the most diverse variety of BTS products, ranging from school supplies to clothing, dorm accessories to electronics. Wal-Mart competes with product specific stores by marketing itself as the BTS one-stop shopping trip. By offering extremely low prices year round, Wal-Mart can continue to push BTS products without discount and still compete with other BTS retailers. It will be interesting to note Wal-Mart’s BTS campaign next year with the opening of Target stores across Canada, their main competition in the States.
Gap is one of the largest retailers for school uniforms, an incredibly popular item during BTS. Retailing uniforms is a tricky thing to do. It’s necessary for some students, bringing in lots of revenue, but completely isolates those students who don’t require a uniform. It can also be difficult to market a uniform against competitors who are essentially selling the same product. This year, however, Gap is offering a 30% discount on their uniforms and backpacks, encouraging parents to choose their store over other clothing retailers. This won’t encourage non-uniform students to start wearing uniforms, but the backpack discount may encourage them to choose Gap for all their BTS apparel needs.
Recently, there has been a shift in how BTS shoppers are buying. They are waiting till after the first week of school to purchase, afraid of buying the wrong trends and hoping to pick up some post BTS deals. This postponement has created some tension among BTS retailers and has created one of the slowest BTS spending seasons we’ve seen. Major BTS retailers will have to adjust their campaigns in the future to accommodate this new type of shopper and maximize the season’s potential revenue.
Back-to-school is time for change, potential, and new beginnings. It’s a time for retailers to evolve and adapt their marketing campaigns and create new, unique ideas to capture shoppers. BTS is a time for potential revenue and to try out new techniques before the Holiday shopping season. It’s one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year and retailers should take full advantage of that.