Customer Stories | Aug 23, 2022

Customer Highlight: How Online Merchants are Handling Back-to-School Shopping

Hasan Nabulsi

It’s that time of year again when parents rejoice, and kids dread the start of school. But, one thing parents, students, and educators agree on is how essential back-to-school shopping is.

Growing kids constantly need new clothing, new supplies, and new items to help keep them organized, efficient, and looking good during the school year.

For as much pressure as those going back to school are feeling, e-commerce merchants selling those types of products feel a lot of the pressure this time of the year too. As many other merchants slowly prepare themselves for the holiday season, there is a lot we can all learn from e-commerce businesses in the back-to-school space.

We’ve decided to highlight a few of our favorite back-to-school online merchants to teach us about how they handle their rush of orders, as well as study some back-to-school shopping trends that can give us an indication of what to expect in the coming months.

Back-to-School Shopping Trends In 2022

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF) Back-to-school families plan to spend about $864 on average on school-related items. This is up from $848 expected the year before. This increase in amount doesn’t necessarily equate to parents buying more but rather the increase in prices due to inflation.

Approximately 84% of consumers expect to see higher prices this year. Because of rising costs,  roughly 42% of consumers are shopping for sales more often, and about 52% of consumers say they only buy products that are on sale. This search for sales has represented an opportunity for e-commerce merchants since 43% of consumers say they will do more comparative shopping online as a result of the current economic conditions.

However, online merchants have had to take into account a familiar competitor this year in the form of physical retail stores. According to a study from Deloitte, 49% of parents plan to do the majority of back-to-school shopping in-store at major retailers, while only 16% of parents plan to shop online only for back-to-school shopping.

Essentially, e-commerce merchants selling back-to-school items have had to get creative in offering sales to gain customers’ attention while also having to battle inflation on their end and increased competition from big box retailers.

The good news is that people are still shopping online for back-to-school items this year and in large amounts. By the end of the season, the total amount spent on back-to-school items in the US is expected to reach $37 billion.

Its been a hectic few months for these retailers, but they have been able to close out the season successfully and with a few tips that any merchant preparing for the holiday season can use.

The School Box | Educational Toys, Games, and Supplies

Let’s face it, learning can be difficult. This is especially true for younger students who have difficulty staying engaged and excited to learn. For Chris Persson, it didn’t take her long to see this occur firsthand as a young and enthusiastic teacher.

She began teaching first grade in 1988 and quickly saw that the best way to instill a love of learning was to make it fun, engaging, and interactive. Though, at the time, finding the proper supplies to accomplish that goal was nearly impossible. So she decided to create the materials and the space herself.

The School Box

The School Box started in 1990 as a retail store for parents and teachers to buy hands-on learning equipment and has since grown to be the largest family-owned and operated retail educational company in the south. They now sell items for teachers such as complete classroom themes, children’s books, and complete classroom resources. They also sell supplies for students, such as crayons, pencil pouches, binders, and so much more.

They’ve also added an e-commerce component to their business which provided a unique challenge to how they operate in the months leading up to the start of school.

“After years of running a primarily retail business, our transition into heavier online sales has definitely forced us to plan differently for our peak back-to-school season. Our warehouse begins increasing its staff in early May and will hire four times the normal staff to help us through the summer months. Additional packing and shipping materials are ordered, including boxes of various sizes, labels, and box tape. The cost of shipping our online orders to schools, teachers, and parents is a major expense that we do not have to deal with in our retail stores. We spend a good bit of time each spring reviewing our rates for UPS, postal, and LTL carrier rates to ensure we have the best partnership possible. After years with a direct contract with UPS, we have found significant savings by processing our shipments through Shippo. Now that our busy season has passed, our new goal will be to link Shippo with our online software to reduce the amount of data entry required to ship an order.” – David Persson, President & CEO.

4theloveofpi | Personalized Teacher Planners

Imagine trying to make any sort of plans for your kids. Now imagine trying to do that for 20 or more kids and trying to hold those plans for 180 days. Sounds pretty tough, doesn’t it? Being a teacher takes tons of care, patience, and great attention to detail which is why having a planner is a must during the school year.

But, each teacher has their own way of teaching and staying organized. The cookie cutter planners at retail stores may not have things organized to every teacher’s liking. Amie Flagg came across this problem while teaching as a math teacher in Kentucky and set out to create her own custom planner.

4theloveofpi logo

After her fellow teacher friends began asking her to make them custom planners as well, 4theloveofpi was born. Now teachers can select planners with 8 different layouts, pick the exact dates from the moment they purchase, and include other custom prints. 4theloveofpi now sells gradebooks, notebooks, and other helpful teaching supplies.

Since 4theloveofpi is a seasonal business and only operates from May to August, the entire summer is essentially their peak season. Here’s how they’ve been able to prepare for and execute throughout the season in their own words.

“As a seasonal business, peak season for us is all summer! Preparation is definitely key to ensuring our customers get their planners as soon as possible. One part of that is planning ahead, making sure we have sufficient shipping boxes and supplies. The second, and more important, is establishing and maintaining a good relationship with our shipping partners. We’ve developed a great relationship with our local post office, with whom we do the vast majority of our shipping. It’s a smaller location, so they have to make sure they also can handle the hundreds of packages we ship with them weekly. Having a great partner makes it a breeze when there are issues, or we need accommodation.” – Amie & Matt, Founders.

Lipstick & Littles | Teacher Tees and Children’s Apparel

Finding school-appropriate clothing for students and parents can be a challenge. Any parent that spends hours at the mall with their kids can tell you that. But, it can also be a challenge for teachers to find school-appropriate clothing too. Especially clothes that fit their personality.

Ashley Agney was a teacher by day and an e-commerce merchant by night for four years. After making herself a custom teacher tee that spoke to who she was, she quickly saw that other teachers could relate and wanted one themselves.

Lipstick and Littles

Lipstick & Littles has now grown to sell not only vibrant, comfortable, and colorful teacher t-shirts, but also apparel for the little ones in your life. Ashley’s kids are a huge part of her life and who she is, which many teachers can relate to as well.

Lipstick and Littles operates year-round with seasonal collections, so you can shop there no matter what time you need high-quality and fun school apparel during the school year. However, the peak of orders certainly comes before school starts. But no matter the season, Ashley’s business has a successful routine to stick to.

What Back-To-School Shopping Can Teach Us About This Year’s Holiday Shopping Season

While the peak season for merchants selling back-to-school items happens during the summer, for most e-commerce businesses, it happens during the fall. But, while the timing of the seasons is different, the preparation and execution remain the same.

For smaller e-commerce businesses, some helpful peak season tips back-to-school merchants shared with Shippo include:

  1. Inventory Management: Review your past sales forecasting projected sales to order the right amount of inventory.
  2. Labor: Hire additional temporary workers and/or contractors to help for the months ahead.
  3. Fulfillment: Order shipping and packaging supplies ahead of time.
  4. Carrier relationships: Make sure the relationship you have with the carrier of your choice is strong and can handle large quantities of shipments. Also, review how much you spend with each carrier and compare rates to ensure you’re optimizing your shipping spend.
  5. Shipping/Returns Policies: Be sure to have your shipping and return policies formulated and posted in multiple locations on your site. This allows there to be no confusion on part of the customer, and you can limit the number of tickets sent to your customer support team in what can be a chaotic time.

For larger merchants, the tips overlap with a couple of additional helpful pieces of advice:

  1. Automation: Try to automate operations where possible. Automation could be incorporated in customer service requests and responses, in certain parts of the customer journey on your website, and of course when creating shipping labels for large amounts of orders.
  2. Fulfillment centers: Be sure to have your partnerships secure and inventory sent to fulfillment centers close to your customer bases as soon as possible. This will limit transit times for your packages which will ultimately result in cheaper shipping rates.

Busy seasons like Back-to-school and the holiday season can seem intimidating, but with the right partners, much of the stress can be taken out.

With Shippo, you can automate parts of your shipping label processes and order batch labels for large amounts of orders at a time. You can also use our free return policy generator to create a custom policy in time for the holiday season. Best of all, you can compare multiple carrier rates all in one platform to ensure you’re getting the best shipping rates on every order.

To see how Shippo has helped other e-commerce businesses save time and money on shipping, be sure to check out any of our many case studies!

Hasan Nabulsi is the Content Marketing Manager at Shippo.

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