This back-to-school season, people are unsure of what the academic year will look like—or how to best prepare for it. As consumers shift to completing their purchases online, they want steady, helpful updates and offers from brands to navigate the uncertainty.

Parents, students, and educators are unsure of what the upcoming academic school year will look like—or how to best prepare for it—considering guidelines for returning to physical schools widely varies per region. Despite anxiety stemming from ongoing uncertainty, consumers still plan to maintain their back-to-school budgets from 2019. Households with K-12 students are expected to spend $28.1 billion, according to Deloitte—$529 per household. 

To help create a sense of normalcy and stick with a tradition, many shoppers are planning to complete their back-to-school shopping at their usual time, with 80% planning to shop in early August. This back-to-school season, households are focused on setting students up for success—whether that means primarily attending class online, or returning to physical classrooms in some capacity. Parents and students are investing in at-home equipment and resources to support distance learning—51% of parents plan to increase spend on virtual learning tools. 

One constant that consumers and marketers can rely on during this back-to-school season is the power of e-commerce to prepare for the upcoming academic year. As consumers maintain social distancing, 37% will be shopping for back-to-school items online. 

To help navigate a noticeably different back-to-school season, we’re sharing the top three trends and text messaging tactics that marketers can use to support consumers and increase engagement.

1. Shoppers are increasingly relying on e-commerce

E-commerce growth has rapidly accelerated over the past several months and shows no sign of slowing down. Online back-to-school sales are expected to total $10.4 billion (compared to $12.2 billion for in-store sales), with undecided consumers accounting for another $5.5 billion. 

Back-to-school shoppers are helping further drive e-commerce’s acceleration. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 88% of consumers say COVID-19 will affect their back-to-school shopping in some way this year with 43% planning to shop more online. In a recent study, Adcolony found that 59% of consumers plan to rely on their smartphones to complete their purchases. Consumers are also increasingly relying on curbside pickup and “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) options—nearly one-half of shoppers plan to shop using BOPIS.  

Brands need to keep prioritizing their e-commerce presence and experience as many shoppers are anxious to stay healthy through social distancing measures. Many are also concerned about saving money and will prioritize finding the best deals. E-commerce is the natural solution: encouraging online purchases is an effective way to ease consumers’ worries about safety and have more transparency around pricing and product availability. 

Tactic #1: When pivoting to an online-first mindset, brands should rethink their product discovery experience. Traditionally, brands could highlight back-to-school items with dedicated in-store displays. To inspire online-first—and mobile-first—shoppers, brands can create product discovery experiences through personalized text message marketing. Share product reviews to recommend trusted items to subscribers, build helpful digital “back-to-school” shopping lists and kits, and incentivise shoppers to stock up on items with “buy-one-get-one” (BOGO) offers.

2. Clear, consistent communication is vital

Now is the time to over-communicate how your brand is helping customers prepare for the school year ahead—whether that’s explaining the precautions your brand is taking to ensure in-store safety measures, or recommending products that will help students (and parents) stay on top of learning. Customers want messages that are sincere, empathetic, and understanding of what they’re going through—communicating these updates using a comforting tone will help you build longer-term loyalty while easing the concerns of your customers. 

Sharing these updates will also have a direct impact on your sales—over 75% of consumers say that health concerns have led them to either seek out retailers taking COVID-19 precautions or to shop online. Ultimately, your customers will value the time you took to think through their needs and concerns, and in turn will invest even more trust in your brand. 

Tactic #2: Text messaging empowers brands to directly engage with loyal mobile subscribers. Leverage that personalized connection to engage in two-way conversations, and answer their frequently asked questions, such as what you’re doing to keep workers and shoppers safe during in-store visits. Then, continue to offer helpful product recommendations to support parents and students during the upcoming school year. 

3. Shoppers remain very value-driven

Back-to-school shoppers are turning to online browsing and shopping to compare prices and find the best deals. NRF found that 30% of back-to-school shoppers will do more comparison shopping this year.  

Help your text messaging subscribers rest assured that they’re getting the best deal possible by offering incentives—like percentages or dollars off, free shipping, or gifts with purchase. These offers not only help your customers feel more financially secure as they get their students back-to-school ready, but will also help your brand stay top-of-mind when customers make purchasing decisions. 

Tactic #3: Send text messaging subscribers an exclusive “5 Days of Deals” campaign, highlighting one mobile-exclusive incentive per day. By spreading the offers out over several days, you’ll build a captive audience of subscribers who are excited to see what comes next. More importantly, you’ll be able to drive more repeat traffic to your website—resulting in more product discovery and time spent engaging with your brand. 

After adapting to consumers changing needs over the past several months, brands are in a strong position to help consumers get back-to-school ready. While the back-to-school season—and academic year ahead—are full of uncertainty (like whether or not schools will be physically back in session), one certain trend is that consumers will continue to rely on e-commerce. Marketers can navigate this season by making it easy for shoppers to find what they need online and offering products and incentives to help meet the needs of consumers. By doing so, brands can increase trust,  loyalty, and drive engagement.

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