The past several years of “unprecedented” social and economic change have returned, in many places, to a more normal rhythm—fewer restrictions, a growing economy (but with inflationary pressure) and a return to planning for shopping seasons.
Back-to-school (or Back-to-Campus) season is a big driver of sales, and often an indicator of shopper appetite for spending during the holidays as well. And while the past few years were more heavily focused on eCommerce performance, this year promises to show strong activity both online and in-store…for the moment.
According to recent news reports, shoppers this year will pay even more attention to getting value for their money and may start shopping earlier to beat potential price hikes. Like gas and groceries, many back-to-school items, whether it be clothes, supplies or other education-related purchases are more of a necessity than an option. However, rising prices across the board may cause shoppers to trade down on items or make less extravagant purchases.
Here are some considerations and action steps for the next big sales season, and throughout the second half of the year.
Back-to-school… And back-to-store?
The impact of reduced restrictions certainly is good news for stores. However, there are other considerations: The continued comfort and growth in online shopping and the impact of inflation on traveling to a store to purchase.
The changes in shopping behaviors due to the pandemic gave people the opportunity to experiment with online shopping and gain a comfort level that helped to increase share of eCommerce as a portion of total dollars spent. Yet, according to McKinsey and others, although they have made online shopping a larger portion of their shopping dollars, they are also returning to brick-and-mortar stores—which showed an 8% year-over-year growth in March.
That means shoppers are spending more dollars online and in-store. They enjoy the online convenience and the prospect of less time driving, but in-store shopping also grew consistently in 2022 – eight percent growth March compared to the prior year, according to McKinsey.
Today, omnichannel is the norm – three in four consumers say they are shopping across channels. In today’s real-time economy, a unified approach across channels helps to deliver the brand message and consistency that shoppers are used to across all products.
New Interest in Variety
The pandemic also caused shoppers to change their behaviors quickly. For example, in the US, 75% of shoppers tried a new store, brand, or different way of shopping during the pandemic. Even more, shoppers have shown a willingness to move away from once-preferred brands in favor of new ones that offer value or novelty.
This means that consumers are more open to variety; therefore, the brands that can find ways to meet consumers where they are in their buying journey can benefit.
The “Loyalty Shake-up”, as McKinsey calls it, is driven by several factors including seeking more value (perhaps due to inflation) and the availability of products (caused by demand and supply chain issues). Brand “purpose” also has become less of a buying factor, while novelty has risen – so people are more willing to take a chance.
And according to Retail Customer Experience, consumers are shopping earlier to find deals and shopping online when it comes to purchase decisions. This leads to a need for marketers to promote in-market earlier and for longer periods, using more engaging and creative strategies.
These analyses highlight the unique opportunity brands and retailers have to gain new customers as shoppers seek products that are valuable, innovative or different.
Although the specific outcomes have yet to be seen, it is clear that shoppers will be using both online and in-store locations for back-to-school shopping, making it more critical for brands to take a unified approach to commerce.
Tell Your Story
Consider your product detail pages (PDPs) as a platform to reinforce your brand’s uniqueness. Although eCommerce retailers will want to ensure your content helps their site look consistent to their brand, there are plenty of opportunities within that framework to highlight your competitive differences—and different is good.
Simply following the retailer’s requirements and listing out product details, with a basic description and the required images, will not help you stand out from the crowd in the category. To drive awareness, engagement, and conversions, you need to connect with your audience…and tell your story. The way to keep them on the page and maximize your opportunity is with custom Enhanced Content that goes beyond the minimum.
Here are some excellent examples of brands working to engage while reinforcing their brand message online.
As we have seen, both in-store and online activity has increased year-over-year. But with consumers being more open to variety and different options, the online experience must able to connect with your shopper. A well-stocked PDP—with additional creative imagery, comparison charts, usage examples and more—will drive greater conversions.
Syndigo has found that product pages simply featuring Enhanced Content convert at 90% higher on average than product pages with only the minimum required content. And once your shopper interacts with that Enhanced Content, conversions go even higher—as much as 390% greater than pages with only base Marketing content.
Throughout this post you can see some real-time examples of back-to-school categories that drive conversion lift. Getting a solid return on your investment in eCommerce activities is a key metric for marketers today. So it is important to build your content to generate the most engagement across sites.
Making the Grade on PDPs
Fortunately, with Syndigo it is easy to develop product pages that can create the engagement you need. As the first Active Content Engine, Syndigo helps you through the entire content process:
Syndigo provides vast capabilities for setting up new items or updating existing items. We can accept complete brand-created information, or create it for our clients, whether that means building accurate 3D products from CGI files to capturing the actual item’s features using photography and digitization.
Content Readiness & Syndication
Developing your base product information through Syndigo ensures that your items will be available to be shown through the largest global network of retailers and distributors. Since we also work with many as clients—banners like Amazon, Walmart, Lowe’s, Target, Albertsons—Syndigo also has the personal connections to understand a retailer’s requirements.
Our cloud-native approach to managing information also provides many online dashboards and workflows, so clients know exactly which items meet the standard of each different retailer partner, and which elements may need to be updated. This saves a great deal of time and headache, as some solution providers do not have this capability…meaning your items may be “published” but may never appear on a retailer site due to incompleteness.
This is where the fun really begins! Aside from helping to make huge gains in shopper conversions, the rich media and other marketing assets a brand provides is what differentiates one product from the next (and often helps in the search rankings within a retailer’s site). This Enhanced Content, as we call it can range from additional images, to product lifestyle shots, to comparison charts, 360-spin imagery, advertising video, or interactive imagery with hot spots to call out key features.
Best Practices for Enhanced Content
Looking for a checklist to review? Check out the Enhanced Content list.
Beyond what a brand can provide to entice shoppers, Syndigo also has developed a series of Enhanced Content modules that our retailer clients also employ. This makes it incredibly easy to deliver your content directly to your product pages on a retailer site, automatically configured, to ensure proper display. Things like Engaging Heroes, Contextual Hotspots, Interactive Toolbars, as well as in-line modules…even “smart” formats that can change the images based on the size and type of device that’s viewing your page.
If that wasn’t enough, Syndigo also helps our clients ‘close the loop’ by monitoring behavioral activity across billions of shopper impressions, to monitor conversion rates for our clients and their competitors. Whether it’s understanding conversion rates across different content types, items on promotion/sale, product availability or out-of-stocks, or who is winning the buy box, Syndigo delivers these online insights in near real-time so brands can perform A/B tests and make content adjustments on the fly, to maximize their online activity.
School is in Session
Now is the time for brands to apply the insights available to them to help maximize their product performance, while reinforcing their brand promise across stores and online. Shoppers will be looking to prepare for the school season, and are more open to trying new brands, and different products. The savvy supplier will work with their retail partners (and solution providers) to ensure the most complete and engaging product information is helping them to drive more sales online and in-store.
With Syndigo’s comprehensive content solutions, you can control your brand story across your entire retail partner network, and your product detail pages from top to bottom. By ensuring complete and up-to-date product information and Enhanced Content, brands can ensure higher conversions, and continually optimize performance with analytics. The back-to-school season begins the second half of the calendar year, setting the stage for other seasonal promotion periods that can help brands and retailers ensure profitable performance.