retail

With Digital Push, Walmart Seeks Smarter Back-To-School Season

Invoking its retailing super powers, Walmart is shaking up its approach to back-to-school this season, expanding its omnichannel efforts and integrating lists from hundreds of thousands of classrooms around the country.

Besides its super-hero themed ad campaign for Walmart.com (created by Saatchi & and Saatchi), the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is making a bigger deal of the back-to-school and back-to-college items people can order, through both its Online Grocery Pickup and Pickup Today services, offering tens of thousands more items than in the past. It says it expects the pickup option to have special appeal for college kids, who can order online and retrieve in stores. 

Walmart has also souped up the functionality of its site, incorporating TeacherLists, the website that works with schools, brands and retailers around the country, into its own dedicated site. (So far, 500,000 schools are signed up with TeacherList, but Walmart expects that to reach 1 million as the first day of school approaches.) People can find their school using a zip code, look for a specific teacher request, and with an “Add all to cart” button, finish shopping in a few clicks.

And for those who do choose to shop in the store itself, Walmart is repurposing the “Holiday Helpers” squad as “Back-to-School Helpers” for the first time using designated associates to steer customers to the shortest lines or retrieve any last-minute items.

A new report from the NPD Group indicates Walmart.com is fighting an uphill battle in this effort: Last year, some 70% of back-to-schools buys were made in stores rather than online, and of the 14 categories the market research company analyzed, school supplies are the most likely to be bought in stores rather than via e-commerce, at 78%. (Sports equipment was lowest, at 61%.)

The NPD report finds that while Walmart and Target are among the favorite destinations, the decision about whether to shop online or in the store often comes down to an array of practical considerations that can trump convenience, from how much other shopping needs to be done, the chance to survey a number of trusted brands and wanting to take advantage of sales and discounts.

“Back-to-school shopping is about satisfying a list of needs and the retailer or product that delivers value and ease in doing so will ring the sale,” writes Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “Brick-and-mortar retail has been challenged this past year and overall online growth, while still strong, has begun to show signs of slowing. How well marketers re-engage consumers and meet their needs will determine who prevails as the back-to-school leader.”

 
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