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How To Capture Last Minute Back-To-School Sales With Online To Offline Marketing

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With Labor Day weekend less than a week away and many schools across the country already open, it would be logical to assume the back-to-school sales season is nearly over.  Research from the National Retail Federation published August 20th shows that back-to-school shopping did indeed start early this year.  According to the survey, families with school-age children grades K-12 have completed more than half (52.1%) of their back-to-school shopping, up from 40.1% the same time last year. College families have completed nearly half of their shopping as well (49.5%). Looking at these stats, it appears the back-to-school sales season is winding down. But look again and you can also say that the sales season is only half over.  The NRF estimates school and college shopping will reach $72.5 billion this year.  That means there’s still $36 billion up for grabs.

How can retailers and brands engage last minute back-to-school shoppers and get a greater share of the remaining $36 billion dollar opportunity? One of the most effective ways to engage shoppers and get them in store to purchase is to leverage online and mobile channels. This is where retail and brand marketing is headed and it’s called online-to-offline (O2O) marketing and commerce.

The O2O Opportunity

Many retailers and brands may not fully understand the online-to-offline (O2O) opportunity and what it entails from a marketing standpoint. O2O refers to any and all activity that originates online, yet eventually results in a shopper going to a physical store where more than 90% of retail sales occur.  Research from Forrester supports the growing O2O opportunity for brands and retailers. By 2016 more than half of the $3.5 trillion spent in U.S. retail offline will be influenced by the web, according to Forrester’s US Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2011 To 2016.

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Nonetheless, marketers tend to have a silo mentality when it comes to online and offline marketing programs, often focusing most of their resources on e-Commerce and driving mobile transactions, even though the vast majority of consumers still make their purchases in store. In other words, marketers are putting too much emphasis into what can be considered mobile eCommerce instead of leveraging the unique advantages mobile has to offer, such as location, to drive in-store sales.

The back-to-school sales season is a perfect opportunity for retailers and brands to research and test O2O marketing approaches as part of their overall marketing mix. It’s one of the best ways to engage shoppers and drive in-store sales at any time of the year, and is especially well suited for last minute shoppers since O2O typically includes a strong and very persuasive call to action. Marketers who incorporate O2O into their marketing mix now will be in a stronger position for the rapidly approaching holiday sales season which follows back-to-school.

Mobile marketing via smartphones and tablets plays a crucial role when implementing an effective O2O marketing strategy.  While many marketers and industry experts continue to focus on the growth of mobile commerce, the real opportunity is in mobile’s role to engage shoppers at every step along the path-to-purchase. By providing them with product and location information, shoppers will have an easier time finding the products they’re looking for at their nearest, most convenient local stores. Shop.org’s State of Retailing Online report reinforces these mobile shopping habits, showing that smartphones and tablets are changing the marketing mix as consumers increasingly use mobile devices to research products, comparison shop, and look up retailer information to determine where to buy. With last-minute and impulsive shoppers, making this information readily available to them is even more important.   

According to a Shop.org blog post on the State of Retailing Online report, the takeaway for retailer and brand marketers is to “Ensure that your smartphone presence emphasizes what a consumer on the go will want most: retailer info such as location and hours, product and price details, and the ability to redeem coupons easily.”  This is essentially the definition of O2O marketing – bringing product and retailer location information together with a strong call to action into your online and mobile marketing programs.  So how do you get an effective O2O marketing program started?

Data And Call To Action Convert Online Shoppers To In-Store Buyers

The good news is that innovations in location-based targeting and data-driven marketing informed by product availability data have ushered in a new era of O2O marketing for retailers and brands. As Shop.org research and many other industry reports show, consumers are turning to online and mobile channels to learn more about the products and brands they consider during the early stages of their shopping process. Marketers, who are using these new technologies to entice online and mobile shoppers with offers that include purchase location information, specific product details, and inventory availability, are moving shoppers more quickly along the path-to-purchase from the consideration phase to the “buy now” action.

Retailers and brands should consider both “push” and “pull” marketing tactics when implementing an O2O marketing program.  The “push” comes from mobile ads optimized with product availability and nearest location-to-buy data, while the “pull” draws shoppers in-store to buy based on product searches performed on their mobile devices and via mobile shopping apps. Product inventory data and “where to buy” store information integrated into both mobile ads and search results is the call to action that converts consumers to customers and shoppers to buyers.

Consumers love options, especially when they have last minute back-to-school shopping on their “to do” list, or during the holiday season when people tend to get overly busy and stressed about getting their shopping done on time.  Brands and retailers that entice shoppers with online offers to not only buy online, but also to find and get what they want right now at the closest, most convenient retail location will be the winners for the 2013 back-to-school and holiday sales seasons.


Jeremy Geiger is CEO & Founder of Retailigence (www.retailigence.com), Retailigence drives Online-to-Offline (020) shopping behavior by leveraging unique access to location-based product, brand, and mobile shopper insights. He can be reached at jeremy@retailigence.com.

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