25 Aug 2022
This week: Back-to-school shopping starts early this year, while hopeful indies try to get ahead.
If calendar months were days of the week, August would take the unenviable title of Sunday of the year. The month brings with it the sight of summer’s end and a bid goodbye to the only season when deadlines are shrugged off, while the hours of the day stretch out like friends sipping drinks on the lawn.
But goodbye to all that. Autumn is nigh… and you know what that means?
It’s back-to-school season, kiddos.
• It’s back to the races for small business owners, particularly those in the clothing, electronics, and paper goods sectors. Back-to-school season marks one of the highest periods of spending during the year, and can hint at the types of products and shopping experiences customers may be seeking during the upcoming holiday season. Nearly a third of shoppers start looking a full month before they need something, according to the Quantum Metric back-to-school report — which means for brands, it’s time to break out the crisp new agendas and number two pencils in preparation for the big spending season to come.
• One trend business owners should heed: earlier-than-usual inventory needs. “Expect the under-the-bed stash of holiday gifts to start earlier,” CNBC reports, citing shoppers’ desire to get ahead of inflation-induced price hikes, as well as further shipping delays for gifts and timely purchases. People will be more apt to bargain hunt, suggests a Salesforce trend report, even if that means buying Christmas lights in September. If it’s any indication, the Financial Times reports that US megaretailer Home Depot recently sold out of an early offering of Halloween decorations, thanks to shoppers’ conscientious approach. “Parents shopping for pens, notebooks and clothing for their children may face sticker shock as retailers raise prices to cover higher costs,” reports FT. Their shopping strategy? Early bird gets the worm.
• The upcoming period is a chance for shops in industries hit hard by the pandemic and remote learning to make up for lost time. In 2020, the co-founder of Stoke Newington stationery shop EarlyBird Designs, Heidi Early, spoke to The Independent about the difficulties for indies during the shutdowns, when many bigger competitors like WH Smith were considered essential, while smaller shops were not. “They’re selling the same kinds of things we are,” Ms. Early had said of the unequal footing between big retailers and independent brands like EarlyBird. This year, the shop is back in full swing, tailoring its marketing to anxiety-ridden college students waiting on their exam and enrollment results.
While students’ classroom experience may be more virtual than before, back-to-school shopping looks to be primarily IRL. Take it from the Google Cloud insights blog: “As the pandemic has abated, some 82% expect that their back-to-school buying will be in-store, and 60% plan to purchase online.”
SHOW & TELL
The start of school always arrives with evidence of transformation: classmates grown taller, friendships formed and faded, and the rearrangement of a new world order that a younger you may have struggled to imagine.
• “The pandemic has led many people — including parents — to reassess their priorities,” reports Deloitte. After the readjustment of remote to hybrid learning, mental wellness is one priority that has emerged in parents’ attitudes toward back-to-school season this year. “For some of these kids, [there is] a good bit of anxiety around getting back into the classroom on a regular basis," NPR reports. Parents are seeking ways to reintroduce their kids to physical connection, especially in an educational environment, to make this adjustment less overwhelming. Sisterhood, a social program in London dedicated to educating young girls in design, has been a bridge for students to do just that. After opening a pop-up with Appear Here in 2021, founders Rebecca Thomson and Rachita Saraogi said the communal space was a real experiment: “Especially as we had all shifted to either virtual or hybrid modes of working, would gathering in real life pay off its dues?” they asked. “It absolutely did for us, and we know this to be true because the young people we work with told us so.”
• Local bookshops have played a similar role during the last few years, acting as physical community hubs for parents and children alike. On the cusp of 2020, Round Table Books got its start in London’s Brixton neighborhood, seeking to provide a safe space for kids to process the conversation on race, identity, and equal representation by stocking a collection of books that prioritized marginalized voices. “We’ve all recognized that through the pandemic, you want that personal connection,” founder Aimée Felone told Appear Here. “And we can offer that if we have the support.”
• The importance of sustainable choices is another parental priority that has emerged over the last two years. Half of parents in Deloitte’s back-to-school survey responded that they seek out sustainable options where possible, “as they prioritize being better guardians of the planet they are handing over.” One snag? It’s not always easy to identify which products are genuinely better for the planet and which are just really good at green marketing. (Our friends over at ThingTesting provide holistic reviews of such products, FWIW). There’s an opportunity for smaller shops to provide the transparency and authority in this space that parents crave, which, by the way, Deloitte found the majority of parents are willing to spend the extra cash on.
For retailers feeling jittery about the high-stakes shopping period to come, just remember: It’s normal to have butterflies the night before your first day of school. After a long and lazy summer, it means you’re excited for the season change to come.
Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.