Shopping suggestions

by Rick West ([email protected]) 226 views 

If all goes as projected, U.S. families will spend upwards of $26 billion over the next several weeks preparing to send their K-12 students back to school, according to the National Retail Federation.

With so much spending on the line, Field Agent surveys over a thousand mothers of K-12 students each school year, all to help businesses prepare for the back-to-school (BTS) blitz.

One question we always ask: “As a mom of K-12 students, what are your top frustrations with BTS shopping?” And each year moms give voice to a very similar list of aggravations, including:

  • Untimely out of stocks
  • The need to visit multiple stores
  • Crowds and long lines
  • Disorganized stores
  • Insufficient notice from schools
  • Unnecessary purchases
  • Not finding supplies
  • High prices/costs
  • Time commitments

In light of so many frustrations, it seems worthwhile to consider how retailers can better serve BTS moms. After all, as the old saying goes, “If mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

This year, we asked 1,349 moms of K-12 students, “What could stores do to make BTS shopping easier on you?” Here are just five of their suggestions.

Help them pinch pennies: From backpacks to blue jeans, BTS encompasses numerous purchases for the typical family. And many moms tell us they’re looking for any way to save a little money. As one mom said, “Stores could stop raising prices every year. As a single mother … I struggle with back to school yearly.”

Indeed, our survey found that 82% of households agreed with the statement, “The BTS shopping season is a strain on my personal budget.”

Moms tell us they want to know they’re getting the best prices on BTS purchases, without visiting multiple stores to compare prices.

Consequently, some moms recommend retailers adopt clear, easy-to-use price-matching policies.

Get organized: Particularly during the wild BTS season, moms appreciate any amount of direction and organization that makes the store more shopper-friendly. For example, retailers should keep aisles clear of obstructions, maintain tidy shelves and displays and consider widening aisles to make them more maneuverable.

Mind those stock levels: Out of stocks. The bane of many-a-BTS-mom’s existence.

Moms naturally find it upsetting when they arrive at stores, a school-furnished supply list in hand, and can’t find everything (or anything) on the list. This is particularly infuriating, they tell us, when they make a special effort to visit a store where a specific item is advertised as on-sale, only to find it unavailable.

Moms also tell us they want a one-stop-shop for buying school supplies, yet our survey indicates that 91% of moms expect to visit more than one store to purchase supplies this year. Out of stocks are a primary cause.

Make BTS sales longer: Some moms feel the stress of BTS shopping could be reduced by simply extending the time frame on BTS sales. As one said, “Do sales for longer periods of time to ensure there are not as many people fighting over the same items …”

For retailers, this is killing two birds with one stone. By making sales longer, retailers are helping families save money, while simultaneously creating a less hectic, more enjoyable shopping environment.

Up the customer service: Moms believe customer service should be at the top of its game during the BTS season. One mom offered this suggestion: “Keep people on-hand specifically for back-to-school shopping issues/questions.”

From hard-to-find products to messy aisles, long lines to out of stocks, extra attention to customer service can truly make all the difference during BTS. Adequate staff levels and effective personnel management can potentially ward off many of mom’s frustrations.

So with BTS practically upon us, now is the time for retailers to get all their ducks in a row. After all, it’s probably never more accurate than during BTS: “If mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Rick West is CEO and co-founder of Fayetteville-based Field Agent, a retail auditing and insights firm. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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