The Importance of Business Intelligence When it Comes to 'Back to School' Shopping

By Peter Bernstein August 26, 2014

Here in the U.S. it is “Back to School” time.  And, if your kids are already back, or will be next week, you no doubt have or will over the coming Labor Say holiday be spending a lot of time and money ensuring your charges are literally “good to go.” This means not just having the requisite basic school supplies, but also that your children are fashion forward/backward and digitally correct and current.  

Along with big gifting holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother and Fathers’ Days, there are few more important times of the year than now for retailers. In fact, given the change in seasons and getting ready for Christmas it makes the timing and pricing of retailer stocks and the associated marketing campaigns of critical importance for optimizing back to school. The time period is short and the shopping interest intense. Plus, in a world where consumers have competitive options available with the click of a mouse or the touch of a finger, a premium must also be placed on creating online and in-store compelling customer experiences.

The good news for retailers is that getting the timing right during any anticipated high-volume period thanks to technology has become much more a matter of science than art.  Indeed, it is ideal for the application of big data and sophisticated analytics.  For retailers, it is important to focus on the timing and the prices of our stock, without sacrificing service. 

With this in mind, readers should be interested in SAP’s recent look at the latest on back to school trends. They were gathered through social media insights of over 600,000 consumer conversations online, and are useful insights for retailers as they plot their 2015 strategies.

 Timing is “E”verything

As the graphic below highlights, SAP’s research reports that the overall consumer sentiment towards commercials about returning to school doesn’t become positive until the end of July. 

Source: SAP Back to School – A Retailer’s Insight (click to enlarge)

Sentiment hangs lower than negative 20 percent before July and only shows a positive margin after August 1st. In 2013, the sentiment towards commercials stood at negative 46 percent. They conclude that it is best to wait until the actual start day draws near. They do note that, “While running a commercial provides little value, deals and sales receive positive sentiment year-round. SAP’s research actually suggests retailers should time promotions to match the buying season of certain products.”

What the next graphic in fact illustrates is the value in timing promotions to match the buying season.

Source: SAP Back to School – A Retailer’s Insight (click to enlarge)

In short, it is optimal to promote the basics, and this would include clothing, when they are top of mind, i.e., as the kids are getting ready to start school. However, big ticket items like electronics need to really have some thought given within the overall strategy for promoting those products.

The growing importance of online

While time spent shopping and product price remain the most important aspects of consumer shopping experiences, one of the more interesting findings in the research was forward looking in terms of just how fast shoppers are increasingly looking to let their fingers do the walking. 

Source: SAP Back to School – A Retailer’s Insight (click to enlarge)

As the graphic above shows, in thinking about 2015 the entire online experience is going to need special attention. This means not just in terms of promotions. It includes fine-tuning omni-channel engagement capabilities and back office operations. It means leveraging big data and analytics to have both a real-time view of what is moving, when where and why, and tying that back into things like fulfillment, re-stocking, etc. It also means making sure your customer service is meeting or exceeding your metrics.

It may be back to school time for your kids, but if you are a retailer the results of the SAP research are likely to be a bit of a back to school time as to how to obtain, retain and satisfy your customers. As SAP explained these are lessons that are good for the entire year. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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