With the back-to-college spend estimated to reach $6.6 billion this year, competition among retailers is already heating up like nothing I recall in recent memory. In order to capture their fair share of the sales pie, retailers are pulling out all the stops, developing college registries and wish lists, providing product recommendations, and in-store pick-up options convenient to the college location, to name a few. National retailers have even posted packing lists specific to a wide range of colleges and universities, detailing approved/unapproved items, or struck deals to operate co-branded websites for everything from textbooks to ramen noodles.
It should come as no surprise that the biggest chunk of planned back-to-college spend is on electronics, followed by apparel, and footwear; but let’s not overlook the market opportunity for home-related products, which is estimated at $1 billion annually for home textiles and small appliances alone. 2 That’s nearly 15 percent of the total back-to-college spend, and doesn’t even include housewares, décor, and furnishings. Clearly, there’s plenty of reason to give attention to home products during the back-to-college season. In the small appliance world, back-to-college is the key selling period for compact refrigerators, and, to a smaller degree, countertop microwave ovens and electric kettles. 3
Another area of opportunity for the home industry lies in aligning the online shopping experience with the equally important in-store experience (at least half of shoppers still prefer a physical store experience4). Retailers vying for the attention of consumers know consistent messaging and coordination of complementary promotions across these two channels is critical to success.
While we can expect most customers to be price sensitive as they gear up to start tuition payments, retailers can also effectively compete on shopping solutions by simplifying their selections, having consistent messaging and promotions both in-store and online, creating the right adjacencies, making recommendations, and providing flexible purchase and delivery options.
1U.S. Census Bureau, October 2013
2Source: The NPD Group / Consumer Tracking Service, 2014
3Source: The NPD Group, Inc. /Retail Tracking Service, 2014
4Source: TheNPDGroup, Inc. / December 2014 Omnibus