In preparation for last weeks of the back-to-school season, we’ve reviewed data from the 2012-2014 seasons and have identified key shopping patterns that can help retailers continue to stay a step ahead.
TREND 1: Busiest Weeks
Have you noticed a surge in shopper traffic lately? You’re not alone. Historically, this week (NRF week 28) is one of the busiest two weeks of the back-to-school season. Week 27 follows as a close second. While the actual number of shoppers has declined overall, visits have consistently peaked during this same two-week period year-over-year.
That said, remember that traffic patterns do vary by region. Retailers should review local nuances including historical traffic patterns for unique stores, local school start dates, and supply lists, so that associates are ready to turn browsers into buyers.
TREND 2: Visits Occur Earlier, Conversion Later
Shoppers may be flocking to stores during week 28, but, at this point, they’re not dropping much cash. Sales peak during week 32, which correlate with season-high conversion rates and average transaction sizes. Interestingly, this is the same week that store visits are at their lowest. At this point, data suggests that shoppers have already completed their research and are only visiting stores where they intend to make a purchase.
That said, don’t neglect your early shoppers. Weeks 29 and 30 are nearly tied for being the two second-highest weeks for conversion of the season.
TREND 3: Consumer Spending is Up
While traffic has, on average, declined 7.8% annually on throughout the 2012-2014 period, consumers are spending 2% more each year. We expect that sales growth will accelerate, while traffic will moderate. Since 2012, average transaction size has increased by 5.4% annually. Moreover, in week 32, specifically, average transaction size has increased 9.2% annually.
3 Tips for the Last Weeks of the Back-to-School Season
- Expect to see shoppers in different stages of the buying cycle as school start dates can vary drastically by region. When you have shoppers who are shopping for the same items, but have different motivations for entering the store (e.g., browsing, showrooming, or cramming for last-minute school supplies), associates must be prepared to assist customers with various needs.
- Matching labor to traffic is critical. One of the easiest ways to drive conversion is to allocate labor in proportion to traffic, not sales. During week 28, retailers should have all hands on deck to accommodate the increased number of shoppers. Plus, don’t forget to train associates on best practices for dealing with a crowed store.
- Retailers should look back at past years and closely examine stores’ performance during week 32. Across the country, this week has repeatedly been a week of skyrocketing sales. What has caused the surge in conversion and average transaction size? Gather your marketing materials, traffic data, sales records, local event calendars, and any other relevant material, and play detective. Put the pieces together to create informed hypotheses about which factors affected sales. Then, apply the lessons to these last weeks of the back-to-school season and track the results.