When I was a kid, back-to-school shopping was a really big deal. My mom and I would head out to the local T.J. Maxx and spend hours hunting for bargains on clothes, a backpack, a lunch box, and other "necessary" school supplies. We always hit the Friendly's next door after our shopping excursion, and the trip home consisted of me ripping off the price tags on my pricier treats (Esprit!) so that my dad wouldn't see the cost when we got home and I shared my new gems with him. It was our annual ritual, and it continued through the end of my university days, right around the time online shopping was truly born, around 1995.
Fast forward to 2019, when online retail sales accounted for more than 14% of all retail sales worldwide. In the U.S. alone, that total reached $3.5 trillion. Throughout 2019 and in the first couple of months of 2020, experts shared their carefully thought-out predictions of what those numbers might look like for 2020, and then predictions soon switched to best guesses.
Getting back to the topic at hand, let's consider some things that may factor into back-to-school purchases and perhaps online shopping for the remainder of this year.
Finances: Families are watching how they spend their money. Many are out of work, and income subsidies may have decreased or are completely gone. I recently placed an old printer at the end of my driveway with a "free" sign on it, and it was gone in 10 minutes. While families may need (or have needed) supplies for homeschooling, they can't necessarily afford them.
Need: Do children need new clothes, backpacks, or lunch boxes this year? Are they even going back to school at all? If so, perhaps that lunch box and backpack from last year will do just fine. Maybe some clothes from the neighbor's yard sale will look like new with a good old-fashioned washing.
Availability: I recently took a trip to my local Walmart to buy pools for my dogs, and while the store was surprisingly packed with families, the shelves were wiped out. While production has slowed, coupled with supply chains being out of whack, it is impossible for most retailers to fully stock their shelves. So if families have concluded that they have some finances, there's a real need for new supplies, and they can't find what they're looking for in a store -- and some won't even consider going into a store yet -- many will turn to online shopping.
I don't have a crystal ball. I don't think anyone can predict with great certainty what this back-to-school shopping season will mean for retailers. I do know that it is incredibly important that retailers' web properties load quickly, offer an interesting shopping experience with images and videos, provide a secure checkout for consumers, protect customers' personally identifiable information, and reward loyal customers. If you're not there yet, there is no better time to kick-start your Digital Transformation. Consumers' expectations for remarkable shopping experiences has never been greater. Competition is fierce and the stakes are high.
Akamai is here to help. If you have questions or want to test your web properties' preparedness, reach out to your engagement manager.
This is the first in a series of holiday preparedness-related blog posts. Stay tuned for more.