The Relationship Marketer’s Guide for Back-to-School in 2023

Danny O'Reilly
June 8, 2023

For generations the purchasing journey was relatively linear. In the back-to-school selling season, consumers would visit a favored retailer, get advice from a sales representative and make a considered purchase based on the trusted advice they were given. Then came the internet, eCommerce and a raft of unconnected touchpoints that changed this irreversibly. 

Today the purchasing path is anything but straight-forward. Over half of consumers (55%) use their mobile phone while in-store to research a purchase, and 50% admit to browsing in-store only to purchase later elsewhere. Today’s digitally savvy consumer expects consistent experiences wherever they engage with a brand as a prerequisite, true personalization derived only from self-reported preference data and loyalty rewards that go beyond points-for-prizes. Add to that the demise of third-party tracking cookies which have been the lifeblood of the online advertising ecosystem for decades and the brand marketer’s job specification just got a whole lot tougher.

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The state of play

Global economic pressures are bringing acute financial difficulties to many households this year and beyond. Sweeping changes in purchasing behavior and cutbacks in consumer spending this back-to-school selling season will have huge impacts on brands’ revenue sheets, too. Irrespective of this, back-to-school remains the second largest spending event after the Holidays, but it doesn’t mean brands don’t need to act. 

Consumers are incredibly concerned about current global economic uncertainty, with half (50%) planning to make less impulsive purchases and 46% relying on loyalty benefits. Many consumers will look for value when purchasing; however, there are only so many opportunities for brands to reduce costs before they start cutting corners — strategies such as shrinkflation quickly attract negative attention.

Brands must re-evaluate how they deliver value to consumers beyond just cost this back-to-school. Marketers must have a real understanding of, and empathy for, customers’ evolving needs in these trying economic situations. 

8% year-on-year increase in back-to-school spending per household

How marketers can win this back-to-school

It’s no silver bullet, but in a time of financial uncertainty, loyalty programs, and the value they provide, can appeal to the financial considerations of customers, while also helping brands gather zero-party data. Consumers are more likely to consider their rewards and value stored in loyalty programs as currency for making decisions throughout the household’s needs — from decisions on uniforms, sports kit, stationery and the like.

 Zero-party data will be crucial to accurately identifying these needs and delivering the right message, at the right time, to support consumers.

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