A market for all seasons – how retailers can use the back-to-school rush to get personal throughout the year

Simon Farthing, Director, Global Strategy and Insights at Monetate

Except for holiday wardrobe shopping, summer is a quiet period for most retailers. That makes back to school shopping all the more important. It signals the end of summer, and the start of peak shopping season. It is also big money. Last year, the back to school market brought in nearly £1.45bn in retail sales, and sales increased this year by as much of 1.3% according to statistics by the British Retail Consortium.

This growing market not only represents an opportunity for retailers to cash in on predictable seasonal shopping habits, but also an opportunity to turn new customers acquired during back-to-school into year round brand ambassadors.

So the good news is that whilst the initial back-to-school shopping period has passed, retailers can now look to the future revenue generating opportunities of these new customers. Here’s how.

Let your data tell your customer’s story:

Customers and visitors alike leave a trail of data when they shop with you: products that interested them, products they added to basket, whether they shop sale items or full price, and lots more.  This is true of any shopper at any time of year. However this data is vitally important during seasonal shopping influxes when you may see a number of new shoppers that you have not seen before. Collecting data like this gives you the power to focus on individual customers wants and needs as opposed to providing a one size fits all service.

Richard Young, Senior Personalisation Executive (Europe), Office Depot says: “Data and insights are key to success. Whether it be identifying consumers buying back-to-school items, or schools replenishing for the start of term, our transactional and behavioural data allow us to understand what is most relevant for customers. Technology platforms like Monetate allow us to present the right products and messaging, to the right audiences, at the right time in their journey.”

Let your data drive your action:

Your data should inform your next best action. First time shoppers that have browsed your site but have not yet purchased may need an extra nudge to finally convert.  Reassurance messaging can do just that. Highlighting your free return policy, speedy shipping options, or including additional incentives can facilitate the confidence needed to make the first purchase. Once it is made, you can capitalise on cross-selling opportunities by suggesting additional products relevant to the original purchase. This is a great way to introduce new customers to other options they may have missed or not noticed. This is true for this coming Christmas shopping period, or next year’s back-to-school time.

Wesley Frey, Senior Marketing Manager at Office Depot highlights that the back-to-school period is a key promotional time of year for the company. He says there are more than 17,000 products sold through its Viking online schools shop. Wesley adds that innovations such as personalised exercise books, and incentives such as free gifts helps Office Depot increase average order values and prove popular with customers.

Start to move across channels

The data you collect on site should be used across digital channels too. Email, social, and digital media are natural outlets for applying the data-rich profiles that your customers have established with you. These channels are great for keeping shoppers engaged and keeping you top of mind come this year’s Christmas shopping period. However, staying top-of-mind is all about staying relevant. Your data and data-driven actions are what do that. Reassurance messaging and focusing on the products each customer has shown interest in can be simple methods to gain and keep customers coming back.

Keeping your shoppers engaged with you is a matter of you engaging with them in smart and relevant ways. Your shopper’s data is the foundation of that engagement, capitalising on the influx of data that comes with seasonal shopping habits is an opportunity you cannot miss. In fact, leveraging the data from this back-to-school season will propel the most savvy brands into a stronger Christmas shopping period.

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