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Online Back-to-School Shopping Gets a Gold Star from Consumers 

Madison Karp

How’s this for irony? As students gear up for a return to the in-person classroom, most school shopping is being done virtually. For years more of this annual shopping tradition has shifted online and this is proving to be especially true in 2021. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s Annual 2021 Back-to-College Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the most popular destinations for K-12 shoppers are online (48%), department stores (48%), discount stores (44%), clothing stores (41%), office supplies stores (27%) and electronics stores (27%). It’s interesting to note that online is now equal with department stores, making the need for a seamless omnichannel experience even more important. And, online has become the top destination for college shoppers: online (43%), department stores (33%), discount stores (30%), office supplies stores (29%) and college bookstores (28%).

39% said they took advantage of online-only sale events (all held in late June), including Amazon Prime Day, Target Deal Days and Walmart’s Deals for Days, to shop specifically for school items. This tells us two things:

1. The back-to-school shopping season started even before some schools were dismissed for summer debunking the myth that back-to-school shopping season starts later. Clearly, more consumers are now focused on spreading out the financial spend over many months and taking advantage of great deals.

2. So much of back-to-school purchasing is driven by practicality versus brand loyalty. Whatever retailer has what they need at a good price, gets the sale.

Lesson plan: Learn from Back-to-School to Prepare for Holiday 2021

Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach a record $37.1 billion, an all-time high in NRF’s survey history, up from $33.9 billion last year. While it’s too early to predict what holiday 2021 will bring, it’s clear more shopping than ever is happening online. A strong back-to-school season bodes well for holiday 2021 and retailers can expect similar behaviors –shopping starting earlier and spreading out over the months leading to the holiday.

Retailers who can promise convenience and fast delivery will once again have the advantage. The importance of an omnichannel experience that combines options like buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup and fast delivery are all essential. Shoppers are still using a combination of online and in-person experiences to get the items they need, when they want them. Since many of us have grown to expect the convenience of shopping online, retailers must offer an experience where people can shop how they like and have the instant gratification of picking it up in-store or curbside.

A good example of retailers making this happen is the school list assist option where you can look up the school supply list, shop the items and opt to pick up in store or have them delivered. To really do this well, the more SKUs on hand, the better.

Product assortment and availability is a key competitive differentiator. The more choice you give consumers along with eliminating out of stock issues, the more loyal they will be. A CommerceHub survey found that 70% of consumers said product availability and product assortment (excluding price) were most important when deciding where to shop this past holiday season and all signs point to this still being a top priority for shoppers heading into holiday 2021.

Drop Ship: An A+ strategy for meeting consumer expectations 

Providing convenient options as well as enhancing the customer experience is the best way for retailers to move to the head of the class. Convenience plays a large role in customer satisfaction. Retailers need to continue to provide more ways for customers to get what they need quickly.

A drop-ship network gives retailers the agility to help customers find what they need at competitive prices with reliable delivery in time for start of the school year or before the holidays.

Drop shipping is a powerful tool which can be used to increase a retailer’s inventory without the costly process of buying more stock. Drop ship enables supply chain agility, which can extend assortment and source directly from suppliers when products go out of stock. If several suppliers fulfill similar items, this solution offers a backup plan: if one supplier goes out of stock, they’re able to keep the customer experience intact.

They also gain the ability to ship faster to get customers what they need. By using smart fulfillment, the customer location can be identified in line with the nearest supplier, helping to optimize the supply chain further, often sending out an order from a location closer than a main distribution center.

By tapping into digital inventory enabled through drop shipping, retailers are able to keep customers happy and deliver on their brand promise.

Raise your hand if you’d like to explore how drop ship can help you maximize your success during back-to-school 2021 and get ready for the holiday season: Contact us.

About the Author

Madison Karp

Madison is a Marketing Coordinator at CommerceHub. She has a passion for creating engaging content that showcases the value of partnering with CommerceHub. Madison blogs about how to succeed in today’s world of ecommerce with drop-ship and marketplace solutions and applies her experience in marketing and business analytics to provide fresh perspectives on what’s happening in the retail industry.