As tired parents and teachers alike (not to mention students), get ready to celebrate the end of the academic year, retailers are already going live with their back to school campaigns live. Behind Xmas and Black Friday, it’s now the UK’s third largest annual shopping event, and second only to Black Friday in the USA.
In 2018, Mintel estimated that getting children ready for the new academic year saw some £436 million spent on school uniform and shoes alone. That’s an average individual spend of £273 on everything from stationery, bags to clothing and technology.
The demographic trends behind the growth of this shopping event explains why the opportunity is now firmly on the retail calendar. There was a birth rate boom earlier this decade, plus a 2015 change (in the UK), which saw the school leaving age increase to 18.
In terms of what products parents and students are buying, as more schools relax their uniform rules, and some children are preferring to wear more casual shoes and sweatshirts over formal uniform, shopping choices for parents have broadened. Younger kids today also express their identities with more fashionable bags, coats and stationery, which are also strong gifting items.
As students progress to higher and further education, affordable and portable consumer electronics like laptops, tablets and phones are in high demand, which is another opportunity for department stores, supermarkets, pure-plays and specialists alike.
Where there’s a retail event, there’s an opportunity to attract and convert customers using social proof messaging.
This effective eCommerce optimisation toolworks by collecting, aggregating and displaying the trends, opinions and reviews of other shoppers, in the form of real-time on-site messages.
By showing this product information on an eCommerce site, it’s 100% transparent what products are popular, how many are in stock, how they fit and how they’ve been rated by other shoppers.
Some of the largest online brands are now using Taggstar social proof messaging on their sites to market their back to school campaigns. Read how this simple tool can engage customers and grow your back to school conversions:
1. Be a ‘one-stop shop’
Mass merchants like supermarkets are a major beneficiary of back to school spending because parents and carers can buy stationery, uniform and other equipment in a single shop while browsing for groceries. And, for online department stores and pure plays stocking multiple product categories, the opportunity is also huge.
Stocking technology products alongside uniforms and other sundries from a single website, increases the opportunity to attract even higher average order values (AOV). What starts as a shop for school shirts and stationery, can see basket values increase as tablets, backpacks and sportswear are added.
As a parent myself, there’s an obvious attraction to shopping online from the comfort of my home, but there are caveats.
It’s a hard fact that children grow, and shopping online and without a store assistant means that they can’t try items on, nor can I check out fabric quality for that all important ‘non-iron’ feature. I’m also likely to be shopping late and at night when they’re in bed, so I can’t ask whether its on-trend.
Back to school shopping is also fairly stressful and dull. I’m not buying fun weekend dresses for myself, I’m shopping to meet a hard deadline in the first week of September, where three children need enough white shirts, and a pair of regulation black shoes each (with no velcro to avoid peer humiliation…), all in the right size. It’s why the product information, reviews and feedback that I get as part of the digital experience are key to whether I buy online - and how much I buy.
Because the information contained in social proof messages is taken from the behaviour of other customers - rather than the brand itself - shoppers are more likely to trust what they’re reading and to take this information on-board when choosing items. Because customers are influenced by what other shoppers do and say, these messages can help to engage and convert the back to school buyer.
For the retailer, social proof messages help consumers to navigate your website and find the right products for them. Imagine my search for non-iron shirts. My digital shopping experience is eminently better if I see a ‘Trending’ message on items on the product list page, followed by ‘48 others bought in the last hour,’ and ‘rated 5-star for quality’ on the shirts. These are details which both reduce my decision-making time, and increase my likelihood of buying, which improves the online experience, helps me engage with a product and ultimately makes the website more competitive.
I’m not alone. A/B testing data from enterprise retail websites using Taggstar show that shoppers are up to 12% more likely to convert if they see a social proof message (over products without).
2. Provide a solution to size, stock and fit frustrations
Also related to the pressure of buying for a hard deadline, is the frustration of discovering that your child’s size is not in stock, or that sizing is inconsistent. I was loyal to BHS when it came to school uniform shopping.
When I had to go elsewhere, I found that sizes were wildly different, and I haven’t yet found a child that likes having their trousers turned up twice. My children are also fairly petite and, as the size of children’s clothes relative to their age is getting bigger, it’s a problem to find that trousers and shorts have a huge waist. So ordering the wrong size can be irritating for me, and humiliating for the child.
What’s more, it’s only June and bricks and mortar stores are already packed full of school uniform. Learning from the mistakes of previous years - and also the feedback of store assistants - it’s likely that many won’t restock, and that my coveted age 13 long sleeve shirts will be slim pickings if I wait another month.
Stock shortages as we get closer to going back to school are always a major problem. But it’s an expensive time of year and it’s not always possible for parents to buy well ahead of time. For those that wait until late August, it’s disappointing when essential items are out of stock, or if you’re shopping online, if there’s no indication how many are available until it’s too late.
Online retailers have a major opportunity to own a larger slice of the back to school market, but finding ways to reduce the frustrations of fit and stock volumes are a key way to encourage loyalty and spend.
Social proof messaging can aid the back to school digital customer experience, by surfacing these important details. In coordination with enterprise retailers, Taggstar uses product volumes in the retailer’s data layer to display messages about stock and size like ‘Only three left in your size.’ These are specific to the customer’s search, and help in two ways.
Back to school shoppers can reduce the frustration of missing out on important items because they can see whether inventory is running low.
Second, and an important benefit for the retailer, Taggstar messages inject urgency into the shopping decision. Because the retailer has been transparent about their stock levels, consumers are encouraged to buy rather than miss out.
3. Convert early-bird shoppers
Summer is expensive. You’ve summer camps, playschemes and holidays to pay for, so it’s not always possible to buy back to school supplies early. Moreover, there are some things that are not practical to buy in June. School shoes for example are risky. Children are bound to grow out of anything bought earlier in the summer.
However, there’s a clear benefit in getting in early if you want to secure essential clothing stock, and good deals on non-uniform supplies, especially on technology items, which might be included in end of season or summer sales.
While some are waiting, other parents are starting to shop earlier, extending the length of retail event, with many now finishing their new school year shopping a month before the autumn/fall term starts found, a 2,000-strong 2018 YouGov/Ingenico Back to School study.
With an extended shopping period, eCommerce retailers can benefit by using social proof messaging to encourage early bird buyers. In fact, about two-thirds of shoppers (62 percent) plan to begin their back-to-school shopping before August, spending about $100 more than shoppers who get a later start (source: Deloitte; Back to School Survey 2018).
Messages that show how many of a product have sold, how many times they’ve been viewed, added to basket and critically, how many are left in stock, are proven to convert customers. Why? Because they make the digital customer journey easier to navigate, and provide compelling reasons why a shopper should buy now, rather than wait.
4. Convert more sales on high ticket items
If we think about the back-to-school market in its widest context, young adults going to college and university are the most expensive - and potentially profitable - retail cohort.
While uniforms are a thing of the past, the higher-priced items like technology, and household goods like bedding, kettles and pans, that are bought as students move away from home, can increase average order values, making this segment an attractive prospect.
Older students are also more likely to be making their own buying decisions for the first time as they transition into independent consumers, which is another opportunity for online retailers to attract and retain them as loyal customers.
However, the more expensive the product, the longer the decision-making process, and technology sales rely heavily on experts, making it imperative that online retailers optimise their eCommerce channel with help and advice.
Technology buyers are rarely experts, and choice can be overwhelming when faced with a product list page of hundreds of search results. Which is where extra help in the form of previous customers’ behaviour and feedback, can simplify and demystify your customers’ shopping experience, allowing them to buy the right product, the first time around, and reducing product returns, which are frustrating for both customer and retailer.
When the success of a sale depends so heavily on expert advice, social proof is a key tool that retailers can use to replicate the in-store experience online. It can be applied throughout the product sales funnel to show real-time sales, views, reviews and add-to-basket trend data for individual products, plus the latest product reviews and stock levels.
For the online customer, who’s shopping alone without a store assistant, this information helps draw their attention to products that have been popular with others, narrowing down their choices, helping them to make a shortlist and to consolidate why they should buy.
5. Provide expert help using the power of the crowd
It’s not just tech sales that can benefit from expert help. Parents and carers want knowledgeable store staff, efficiency, convenience and product information whatever they are shopping for. However, online shopping behaviour shows that we’re still hesitant about our eCommerce product decisions. We browse and compare prices on several sites (and in bricks and mortar stores) before buying.
Providing this ‘expert help’ online can be as simple as putting important information right in front of shoppers as part of their buying journey. For requirements like being able to check stock volumes themselves or to read third party reviews (not those of the brand), social proof messaging allows eCommerce retailers to deliver real-time product information to their customers at the point of sale.
It’s also a significant opportunity to differentiate your service from competitors, and also from bricks and mortar stores. The information displayed in Taggstar messages is likely to be more up-to-date than the knowledge of even the smartest store assistant.
Stock volumes, sales and views are taken from real-time feeds in a site’s data layer. We’ve also made the trends that we show personal to each customer, so that returning site visitors are able to view what’s happened since their last visit.
By reading a message like “Since your last visit at 10:11, 50+ have been sold in this size’, your customers can understand precisely what’s happened since they were last looking at a product, how popular it’s proving and if stock is running low.
For time -poor parents and carers, social proof messaging is helping to reduce back to school shopping pain, and increasing conversions for the retailer.
To find out more about how Taggstar can increase your sales conversions, get in touch today.