Stores Adapting To Endless Back-To-School Pressure

With forecasters predicting healthy gains for back-to-school spending this year, you may think retailers would feel like they’re in the money, and heading toward the holidays with good news under their belt. But Deloitte’s new report -- which is predicting that families with kids in kindergarten through high school are likely to spend $488 per household -- says a changing attitude about timing puts additional pressure on retailers, with the most enthusiastic (and bigger spending) shoppers getting it done before August even begins.

Matt Marsh, a partner in Deloitte’s retail practice who is based in Minneapolis, fills Marketing Daily in on what some of the family shopping trends mean:

Marketing Daily: Last holiday, many retail experts began to insist that days like Black Friday and Super Saturday were becoming irrelevant, since consumers were spreading their spending out over long periods. They’re beginning to say the same about back-to-school. Do you agree?



Marsh: The season is expanding. I even see it at home. We have two high-school kids, and we haven’t seen much of a back-to-school season in our house, either. But the season is still relevant, even if you change the way you categorize the length of it. It’s tricky for stores, especially with fast-fashion trends moving so quickly. But the back-to-school season still matters for retailers — it’s just become elongated.

MD: So how does that change the game for stores?

Marsh: When the season isn’t as condensed, when stores run promotions and sales becomes more important. And it means they’ve got to be sharper in offerings. For example, we’ve seen an increase in stores that will prepackage local schools’ suggested supplies, to make it easier for a parent to simply buy that kit. The question becomes how stores can better entice parents to come in and shop now.

MD: It’s been a bad time for teen retailers, with bankruptcies like Aeropostale and Pacific Sun, and brands like Abercrombie & Fitch switching focus to older shoppers. But it’s not as if teens aren’t clamoring for something new to wear to school in September. What’s up with that?

Marsh:  Fast-fashion stores are having a real impact on teens. And it’s an increasingly digital and competitive landscape, with teens and parents looking for ease of shopping. But the other part is that kids are wearing more and more athletic wear and that athleisure trend changes where they shop. 

MD: And yet we don’t see athletic brands and retailers approach back-to-school in quite the same way as other stores.

Yes. If sneaker and athletic brands are trending well, they don’t seem to do a lot of promotions or back-to-school sales and ad campaigns as traditional retailers. Shoes are that important. As long as kids, and their parents, are willing to shell out the money, those brands don’t have to.

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