This year’s back-to-school shopping season is shaping up to look much different from those of the past. Nationwide, schools and districts are still grappling with major decisions like when to open their doors, how many students they will allow in the school at once, and whether to offer hybrid learning options, which would enable some students to receive lessons in class, while others take part from home.
Also, due to the many unknowns, a recent CNBC article reports that anxiety about sending kids back to school could end up affecting back-to-school sales, including when and what consumers will be purchasing. As such, grocers are left scratching their heads, not only about what products they should stock in their school supply aisles, but also what measures they should take to make consumers feel safe.
Although getting stores ready for this unprecedented school year is certain to be a challenge, it’s doable. With thoughtful planning, retailers can create a shopping experience that entices patrons and addresses ways to implement new safety precautions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s explore a few tips for grocers to consider as back-to-school season approaches.
Invest in high-quality, on-brand signage
Since retail’s second-busiest shopping season of the year is the back-to-school season, this year, it’s worth the effort to invest in high-quality signage that integrates messages about school supplies and safety.
If you haphazardly tape up handwritten signs, consumers might think you aren’t taking in-store social distancing and other safety precautions seriously. Consider instead infusing creativity into your brand-on signage, and then have it professionally made.
For instance, when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reopened, it lowered capacity and also displayed brand-specific professional signage reminding visitors to stand “two guitar-lengths apart” rather than the rote 6 feet apart. Grocers can use the same idea and customize signs to reinforce their brand. For instance, a sign might say, “Thank you for standing two shopping-cart lengths apart,” or something kid-friendly like, “Remember to stand six cereal box-lengths apart.”
In fact, rather than denoting the direction of foot traffic through arrows, use floor marking that are fun: Think of giant child-friendly paw prints going one way, or larger-than-life sharpened pencil floor stickers in your back-to-school section pointing to the new traffic flow.
And since children like to touch and pick up everything, include signs asking them to kindly look with their eyes instead of their hands, to help keep them and other shoppers safe.
Change up the back-to-school product mix
The 2020 Deloitte back-to-survey survey found that while overall back-to-school budgets will likely remain flat, spending on technology for K-12 students is expected to see a 28% increase. While most grocers won’t have room in their back-to-school aisles for personal computers, tablets and other large-ticket items, stocking accessory items like headphones, mice and keyboards, mousepads, and computer stands can be an easy way to support the rapid tech adoption we’ve seen this year.
What’s more, parents plan to allocate an average $46 per student on supplies to help protect their children. More than four-fifths of respondents to a recent Shopkick survey said that they’d purchase items that would protect kids at school, including hand sanitizer (97%), cleaning wipes (89%), face masks (71%) and gloves (44%).
That being the case, make room for these items in your back-to-school aisle, even if it means allocating less space for more traditional supplies such as pencils, binders and paper.
Plan properly to meet shoppers’ changing needs
Shopkick reported that while most back-to-school in-store consumers will shop at big-box retailers, 20% of them plan to purchase school supplies from grocery stores. And while some consumers have made their school shopping runs early because of the fear that stores would run out of supplies -- similar to toilet paper stock-outs -- many have yet to begin shopping, because they don’t know what supplies their children will need.
So, to recap, entice them through your doors and down your back-to-school aisles by stocking items that have become increasingly important, such as technology accessories that promote learning from anywhere, and safety supplies like hand sanitizer and wipes, and consider having on-brand professional signage made that shows consumers that you have a serious safety plan, including kid-friendly floor stickers and other signs that promote safer shopping habits, such as one-way aisles that encourage social distancing.
It might be a school year and a back-to-school shopping season full of changes, unknowns and surprises, but with proper planning, you can take on the challenge of meeting consumers’ needs while easing their COVID-19-related anxiety.