Back to school in my youth was always met with a heavy sigh when my parents calculated the uniform costs and I wanted the latest pencils and rubbers. These days, trends have changed. Thanks to the competition among discount supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl and Asda we’ve seen uniform costs and stationary prices plummet, giving consumers a far greater choice at more reasonable prices often using ‘event’ advertising campaigns increasing footfall into store and bolstering revenues in other areas of their business.
There’s one category that’s changed everything as it becomes a staple of the ‘Back to School’ event, particularly in higher education: consumer electronics - to be precise computing - adding a whole new layer of cost parents must budget for. While retailers should consider an all-year-round back-to-education strategy, back to school begins to increase in prominence from August, especially in the technology category. The value of the back-to-school market in the UK is estimated to be worth around £1.45bn and while uniforms and stationery will make up a large proportion of this market, the increasing requirement for technology in the classroom means that edu-tech continues to be a growth opportunity for retailers.
Every school, college and university around the UK differs, but they all require some level of ‘technology’ input and expense from parents. As government budgets for school funding continue to decrease, this need will only get bigger and more expensive. It’s a costly exercise and therefore something no parent or student wants to get wrong. A bring your own device (BYOD) policy is becoming common place and enables the market to grow to support this with the right advertising, marketing and in-store execution. As a considered purchase - and for many their first computer that they don't have to share - the need to try before you buy is important. It's a seminal moment for most teens. The look, the feel, the height and size are vitally important to most, especially in our streaming culture where the device is both for work and play.
Not everyone is tech literate and understands what product is best for their child and, yes, some schools have preferred suppliers, but often parents are sent out into the big wide world to get a lap top or a PC and the choice is overwhelming and confusing. This often leads to a whole host of questions: what hardware and platform do I opt for? What software will I need to buy? What about security? Is it going to be out of date before the end of the school year? Is it robust enough? Am I spending more than is necessary?
For teenagers going to University this is a chance to upgrade their old 'shared' kit and start fresh with new equipment that has the functionality to assist them in delivering their course and honing their tech skills ready for the workplace. This is a great opportunity for brick and mortar retailers to position themselves as the advisor – the place to go when you’re inundated with choice, don’t know what to buy or where to go to experience the products to touch and feel and work out if they’re right for you.
The ability to choose from a range in an environment geared towards making this decision is crucial for university and tertiary education students; different courses will require the technology to have specific functionality. Retailers need to be inquisitive and understand the student’s lifestyle to match the product to their needs. Technology purchases are not just about the one product these days, they are multi-functional lifestyle solutions, so in-store staff have to be trained to ask the most pertinent questions: What will you study? Is design (weight and size) a primary consideration? How do you consume media and home entertainment? What’s the budget?
Amazon will be a key back-to-school destination - especially for the 30% of Brits that now have Prime membership - but this is something Amazon and other online retailers can never do as effectively when a personal approach to a considered purchase is needed by a brand and retailer.
Never underestimate the first consumer interaction with your brand - an emotional connection that shouldn’t be undervalued. Not only is it a great opportunity for a brand to bring a new customer into their portfolio and up-sell them through their product ecosystem as their needs and lifestyle changes; it is also the chance to create an advocate and customer for life. Brands invest heavily in extra activity around back-to-education including Fresher’s Fairs and NUS affiliated marketing. Paying attention to planning and implementing in-store strategies within retail is an essential part of any back-to-education marketing strategy.
Daniel Todaro is managing director at Gekko