Retail

Back-to-school shopping isn’t just about deals

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Although my own children are no longer students, I have certainly noticed that it’s back-to-school time. I’ve also noticed something interesting about the barrage of emails, store signage, and even news stories related to this shopping season: most of the messages are about saving money. This is a perfectly valid advertising tactic. But money is not a parent’s only pain point, and marketers can do much more than offer discounts to improve the shopping experience.

Stores are still relevant for Millennial parents

Millennial moms and dads around the world are a growing and desirable target segment.  These younger parents are ambitious and acquisitive. They are also stressed, and look to technology for solutions, including when they shop. But will this generation of digital natives avoid stores altogether in favor of online alternatives? Probably not. A recent GfK survey of Canadian parents indicates that Millennials plan to spend more than other parents on back-to-school shopping, and they plan to do most of this shopping in stores.

The kids are likely to join them on these trips. Most (83%) Americans with children under age 6 go shopping with their children frequently or fairly often, as do 80% of those with children age 6-12 and 73% of those with teens age 13-17, according to recent GfK Consumer Life research.

Shopping with little ones is no walk in the park, though. Retailers can consider many ways to improve the experience:

  • Offer in-store entertainment in the form of drop-off child-care centers, child-sized carts, maybe even on-cart gaming. Let parents skip the checkout line and pay via app while you deliver their cart to their car. Provide free, healthy snacks for kids. Not only will these services make parents and kids happier, it will improve the experience for other shoppers.
  • Sometimes it isn’t practical to bring children into the store – for example, if they are sick or sleeping. But parents need to shop anyway. Offer delivery services where feasible, or let parents place their order ahead of time so they can pick it up curbside when they arrive.
  • If one parent stays home with the kids and the other ventures out, help them share the shopping in a virtual way, beyond endless phone calls about what brand of cereal to get. US Millennials, including the parents among them, are more interested in experiencing various things using virtual reality or augmented reality, such as shopping as if they are in a real store.

Make it easier for older parents, too

Once the kids are older, shopping attitudes and behavior shift somewhat. GfK Consumer Life has found that middle-aged Gen X parents are more likely than Millennials to agree that it’s fun to browse in stores and that shopping is something for family to do together. For parents of teens and tweens, marketers can offer back-to-school shopping fun in the form of funky products and events.

Yet Gen X parents are also more likely than others to say that crowds and lines are the worst thing about shopping in stores. In other words, they appreciate streamlining too. And they will continue to appreciate it after the kids turn 18, because parenting doesn’t end there.

shipping containersBed, Bath & Beyond offers a Pack and Hold service so college students can order what they need for their dorms and apartments ahead of time and have it ready to pick up in the town where they’re attending school. In the college town where I shop, this is no small matter of a few boxes sitting in the back of the store. Here’s how the parking lot looked on move-in weekend – a row of shipping containers filled with labeled boxes.

Inside the store, it was entertaining to watch the young adults – every single one of them accompanied by well-meaning parents intent on navigating their offspring through this transition to semi-independent living. I heard one earnest mother say, “Maybe you should get a teapot. Your girlfriend drinks tea.”

That snippet of conversation held a world of meaning. Today’s parents are often accused of being over-involved in their children’s lives. But the kids don’t seem to mind. The young man with the tea-drinking girlfriend certainly didn’t. After all, he might have been getting the teapot, but he wasn’t the one buying it.

Conclusion

The transition to adulthood takes longer than it used to, which means that active parenting is a long haul these days. Baby Boomers are nearly past this stage of life, but Gen Xers are still in the midst of it, and Millennials are just starting out. Make it easier for them every step of the way by understanding the role that children play in their budgets, schedules, and most importantly, their hearts.

Diane Crispell is a Senior Consultant with GfK Consumer Life. She can be reached at diane.crispell@gfk.com.

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