The back to school market was worth £1.7bn last year, according to GlobalData and it is a very lucrative time for brands that target children and parents in education. However, like with everything else in 2020, the lead up to this Back to School period has been extraordinary. We have witnessed a time of unprecedented turmoil for young people, from algorithms determining grades to having classrooms swapped for living rooms as the new seat of learning. With schools returning in September, anxious and tired parents will be preparing for every eventuality in ensuring their children don’t fall behind.
There has been a lot of hasty pivoting for brands depending on whether or not kids are physically back to school or not. Retailers and brands should take notice of a series of key trends impacting the market, ensuring they maximise the opportunity and connect with parents at this crucial time.
With a lengthy lockdown and parents becoming teachers overnight there has been a huge rush to buy electronic equipment for home schooling. With the potential of a second wave, parents may have to don the metaphorical mortarboard hats again. However it is laptops not whiteboards that have been their key props. Consumer Electronics has in fact been one of the few winners from the pandemic. Consistent growth is forecast due to the new demand for laptops for working & for schooling from home. Notebooks have been at the centre of a demand surge in particular. 73% of retailers have reported growth in sales for these products.
Pent up demand as parents return to retail
The economy grew by 8.7% in June on the back of the return to retail and steeper growth is forecast for July. With schools off since March, there is a lot of pent up demand with parents needing to get their children ready for the new school term. Clothing should still be a driver at the historical peaks of July and August, however stationary and tech products have been in demand during lockdown as both children and adults have been at home, with discounts readily available to take advantage of. The latest GDP figures showed Ireland, which is slightly ahead of the UK’s “return to normal” steps has shown positive precedent of customers returning to retail to buy their laptop and seek expert advice to do so. For many starting university or college it will be a virtual first term where lectures and study will not happen on campus but remotely, which could have a further effect on the tech market. Students will need the right equipment for working remotely and there is a huge opportunity to meet this need.
Allied to this, a clear trend that is coming through is that people are shopping with purpose. Parents looking to buy equipment for back to school are seeking expert advice but also looking to minimise unnecessary journeys with the virus still circulating. According to research from Kantar, since the Covid-19 induced lockdown began in March, shoppers have typically taken fewer trips to stores but have bought more items. We’ve found this ourselves, where some of our in-store brand teams have been achieving conversion rates well over 60%, however this can present some challenges. Many retailers will have a strategy to retain stock at their central locations to service online first, but also encourage stores to process click and collect or web orders for customers to allow the stock to go where it is in demand. This does mean limited opportunity for instant gratification, which is often the reason a customer will visit bricks and mortar. Retailers should look to ensure they can match the needs of customers so they can avoid a wasted journey. After all while online is growing it still can’t fully replace the bricks and mortar experience.
With necessity driving purchase and parents out in larger numbers looking to buy, brands and retailers should ensure they are still offering promotional activity to attract new customers. For example Dixons are offering consumers a 1-in-20 chance to win money back on laptop purchases of £349+. They are also offering Buy now pay later also on devices £349+. Meanwhile John Lewis are planning to run an “Off to Uni” online event from Mid Aug showcasing needed items.
With consumers less willing to venture out unless they have a ‘purpose’ we are seeing the high conversion rates indicated above of product demonstration leading to a sale. Having staff that can influence a sale was critical before the pandemic and is now more important than ever. With a plethora of hardware options out there for pupils, it is vital that in-store staff and those on the telephone can sell parents the products that meet both the needs of their children and their schools.
With new patterns of learning and pent up demand from parents, brands and retailers should learn the lessons and ensure they have a top of the class offering this Back to School period.
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