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Connected Classrooms Mean Changes for Retailers During Back-to-School

Guest Blog By Jon Stine

Technology adoption rates in schools and at home are growing significantly and back-to-school shoppers need products that can engage with the connected classroom. For example, laptops and iPads are no longer just optional tools for education; they are increasingly essential for classroom and homework success. Combine this with the fact that parents of elementary children are the most technologically savvy generation of parents ever. They’ve never known life without cell phones, barely knew life without ubiquitous WiFi and were the early adopters of smartphones and tablets. Technology has always been a part of their life, and it will be a normative part of their children’s life.

Internet search engines such as Google and Wikipedia have replaced the printed and bound encyclopedia, and YouTube serves as a remarkable repository of historical and explanatory information. We see the tremendous benefits the student can gain from digital connections in the classroom and at home and retailers that wish to remain relevant in this new era in education need to evolve their inventory.

Impact of digital revolution on back-to-school retail

The National Retail Federation estimates that 55 percent of families with school-age children anticipate purchasing personal electronics during this year’s back-to-school shopping – that is 1 in 2 shoppers. This year, the Back-to-School shopping period will see an increased demand for digital technology, and not just for the college-bound students. Now, we see younger students venturing off from the “family” computer or school computer labs, to needing their own personal digital technology at nearly every grade to be successful in the classroom. For retailers, this means an important evolution.

How retailers can respond

  • Smaller retailers need to add to their traditional back-to-school supplies of crayons and paper notebooks with more fun decorative computer accessories, such as thumb drives and creative laptop/mobile phone covers, or backpacks/clothes that hold that technology.
  • Superstores and consumer electronic stores need to work with schools/parents to offer more educational school systems and educators to create appropriate and secure digital back-to-school technology offerings for parents to buy. Apple and Best Buy are examples of companies using this approach.
  • Fashion stores need to remember technology is in every aspect of students’ lives including clothes and fashion accessories. Purses, backpacks; cell phone/laptop covers are big trends in back to school.
  • Retail store managers could personalize the back-to-school aisle by working more closely with local schools on making supply lists available on their website or in a pre-boxed bundle, allowing parents to just click online and get everything on their list.
  • For in-store shoppers, retailers could offer list print-outs on the back-to-school aisle, and/or pre-packaged bundles that kids can simple slip into their backpacks.

Targeting your back-to-school shoppers

Although young men and teens will select products based on cool looks and features, when it comes to digital tools for the K-12 back-to-school set, Moms still have a significant influence on purchasing decisions. Moms are the family’s chief purchasing officer and their decisions are made based on safety, security, and replacement-repair options for the technology. Women also have the highest rate of digital content consumption such as Internet-based video, digital imagery, and social media.

Retailers also need to engaged in all aspects of the omni-channel including digital commerce when targeting moms or they may be left behind. Moms start their back-to-school shopping by doing their research online and then bring their children into the store to gain agreement once the purchasing decision has been made. In a Cisco Study, entitled, Catch and Keep Digital Shoppers, we found that 65 percent of U.S. shoppers regularly research products and services online—and another 17 percent express a desire to do so.

The back-to-school shopping season is second only to the holiday shopping season, so it is important that retailers respond to the latest trends in education. To capture shoppers, retailers need to adjust their marketing and their inventory to meet the needs of the digital student in the connected classroom. There are limitless opportunities for learning, the new technology for education brings new opportunities for smart retailers.

 Jon Stine is Director Retail, Cisco Consulting Services

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