Study Up on Omnichannel to Ace This Back-to-School Season

The school bell won’t be ringing for another month, but back-to-school shopping is definitely in session. According to a July 2015 Google Consumer Survey, nearly one third of back-to-school shoppers have already started loading up on essentials. In fact, data from Shop.org shows that about 30% of online consumers start their back-to-school shopping at least two months in advance.

“We are currently in the midst of the second biggest shopping season in the U.S.,” Julie Krueger, Google’s industry director of retail, said to a room of journalists at a Google-hosted press breakfast. “Do you hear all of the back-to-school carols?”

And while many consumers try to get a jump-start on their back-to-school shopping assignments, most still cram to complete them. According to a March 2015 Google Consumer Survey, 80% of back-to-school shoppers say that they make their purchases in two weeks or less. Seventy percent make these buys at three stores or less.

What does this mean for marketers and retailers? If they’re not present as customers browse and consider products while outside of the store, Krueger says, then the odds of them winning shoppers over for their in-store purchases are not high.

“You have to be in the consideration to start,” she later told Direct Marketing News.

Marketers and retailers, however, don’t have to show up just early; they have to be everywhere.

Consider this: There was a year-over-year 4% decrease for in-store foot traffic Krueger said; however, there was also a 3% year-over-year increase in same-store sales, suggesting that consumers are doing their browsing and research elsewhere—like through blogs, online reviews, social, and mobile. As a matter of fact, Krueger reported that 50% of back-to-school searches are happening on smartphones—up from 40% last year.

Sharing even more insight was Lisa Green—Google’s head of industry, fashion, and luxury—who said that 22% of 18 to 24 year olds visit YouTube to figure out what’s cool to purchase. In addition she’s already seeing a 120% increase in watch time for back-to-school videos, and back-to-school YouTube searches are up 43%.

So instead of thinking of the dot-com world and the brick-and-mortar world as two siloed entities, marketers and retailers have to think of the shopper experience as one cross-device, omnichannel journey. As Jason Spero, Google’s VP of performance solutions, said during the event, “You now can’t plan the mobile without the store, and you can’t plan the store without the mobile.”

How can marketers and retailers do that? Jonathan Alferness, VP of product management for Google Shopping, focuses on three key moments in the shopper’s journey:

1. I-want-to-know moments: These are moments when the customer is deciding what to buy and is looking for facts (e.g., price, product details) to help him make a decision.

2. I-want-to-go moments: These are moments when the customer is looking for stores that carry the items that they need.

3. I-want-to-buy moments: These are moments when customers are ready to purchase fast and easily.

The bottom line for retailers? Show up on time; play nice with other channels; and practice your one-two-threes.

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