Back-To-School Shopping Stays Old School

“But the bulk of consumers will continue to do their back-to-school shopping in stores rather than online, according to researchers.” [Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times] [1]
Did you hear the lady? “IN STORES.”

Going to the store to shop back-to-school (BTS) supplies is a rite of passage (at least for privileged American kids.) We’re talking about good, old-fashioned supplies: pencils, pens, spiral notebooks, and Trapper Keepers. BTS supply shopping is the portal into the magical thinking that, “If everything is new and clean and organized, I will perform better!” If you study these kids and their glassy-eyed stares long enough, you can envision them in 20 years as 30-somethings wandering the aisles of The Container Store quietly chanting, “This is what I need. This will change everything.”

Many retailers were on the bandwagon of “giving back” by helping kids get the supplies they need. Target’s Give With Target backpack campaign[2] struck an important emotional and status chord by understanding that simply having the backpack was a huge morale boost for kids who couldn’t afford or access one themselves.

Walmart focused on the value side of the equation by airing ads that show a family shopping, buying and saving in their stores. The best BTS TV spot, though, had to be Kmart’s, Yo Mama[3], a refreshing twist on a usually negative adage.

Macy’s partnered with RIF this year to “give back” (Be Book Smart.) They offered shoppers an in-store coupon for every $3 donated to RIF. RIF is very important, especially to Macy’s. [snark alert] If we don’t teach our kids to read, how will they make their way through all that overload of text on the Macy’s in-store signs and flyers?
Sauce for the goose…sauce for the gander.

We see what we want (or who we aspire to be) on TV and we want at least some essence of that to carry through to the floor of the store. To a 5th grader, going to Dad’s office supply store for BTS is not a celebratory outing. Dad’s stores are old and scary and a little boring. There is a fortress of technology (designed for work, not play) at the front, and nothing in the store says that kids are welcome. Shopping for supplies where Mom shops, however, is a celebration. Target and Walmart are fun. The selection is outrageous. The prices are very competitive and the section is full of life and other kids who are awakening to the beauty of magical thinking. I celebrate at Target; I check something off of a list at Office Depot.

BTS is the second biggest holiday shopping event. It’s a far cry from Holiday (with a capital H, as in Christmas) but it’s huge- a $73B business (Holiday is $579B). This year, the annual household spend on all supplies (apparel/shoes, supplies, tech, etc.) was $635. (Mine was about $36 and I don’t even have kids. I just love notebooks and pens, and I was in the stores for research.) Create a celebratory BTS experience in your media AND in your store and watch your share of that $73B grow.