Back-to-School Retailing Is Now All About Using Mobile Data to Help Your Customers

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Back to School (BTS) is a $53 billion shopping season that’s entering its final stage as parents and college students take care of school supplies and clothing needs before Labor Day. And as we close out this decade and look to the 2020s, the combination of mobile technology, hyperlocal commerce, and consumer expectations make this a fascinating juncture in BTS history.

Generally speaking, retail now has two competing realities. On one hand, it is a multichannel game: brick-and-mortar stores are offering customers digital tools to discover and buy products, while ecommerce startups are opening storefronts. Conversely, consumers increasingly expect a seamless, practically channel-less experience where the only channel that really matters is your brand. Consider that 45% of BTS shoppers look to their smartphones for guidance, while, at the same time, 56% of them rely on shopping malls and department stores. And 69% of shoppers use their smartphones to compare prices and read product reviews in stores while 55% check out items in stores before buying online.

But these complex scenarios represent more of a golden opportunity than a paradox due to the promise of mobile. Here are two reasons why national and local brands should leverage data to bridge the online-offline gap and improve their BTS sales.

Help them find what they need

The opportunity to improve advertising based on location is palpable during BTS. What if you know a sizable audience of thirty-something consumers typically frequents Starbucks before stopping at Gap Kids and then making a final stop at the grocery store on Saturdays? There’s a more-than-good chance those folks are moms or dads.

Location-based marketing allows you to find those people throughout August and help them discover what they need by serving them relevant offers on digital and non-digital platforms. Out-of-home (OOH) advertising is a powerful ingredient in the modern marketing mix. A Nielsen study found that combining billboards with digital ads can lead to a 4X lift in online activation. Outdoors retailer REI has meshed location data with mobile ads and OOH to lift purchase intent by 7%, get a 14% hike in brand awareness, and see 3.6X more in-store visits.

REI’s hyperlocal strategy works for seasonal retail moments similar to BTS. For Black Friday a couple of years ago, REI’s #OptOutside campaign boosted store visits by 3.6 times when combining mobile ads with digital out-of-home and location data in Washington D.C., Denver and San Francisco. The retailer’s location-minded campaign helped it achieve a record annual sales of $2.62 billion.

Major tech brands should take a page out of REI’s sophisticated mobile playbook for BTS marketing. The research team at my company discovered foot traffic spikes during July 2018 for Apple (21%), Microsoft (20%) and Amazon (19%). Microsoft and Amazon saw particularly high foot traffic in major California cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Combining hyperlocal mobile and OOH ads would create even greater sales in those locales for the brands during BTS.

Serve the young

It’s worth noting that back to school is having a generational moment, and brands need to understand how incredibly important mobile data will be going forward. It’s hard to believe that Gen Z is preparing to enter college and millennials are thinking about parent-teacher conferences, but those developments are indeed happening.

With that in mind, retailers, in particular, need to view mobile data to be as significant to their BTS marketing aims as point-of-sale (POS) data because these digital natives are using their iPhones and Androids like shopping remote controls. For instance, 73% of consumers aged 29-38 shop on their smartphones.

Think locally with data

Indeed, retailers should increasingly use mobile data to connect with this new generation of parents and where they are at in the BTS customer journey. Consider that the average American spends 123 minutes every day browsing mobile apps and how important data is for enriching those customer experiences. With so many BTS shoppers using their smartphones—once again that’s nearly half of them in a $53 billion season—what kind of sales would you be missing out with them if your marketing team wasn’t thinking about where they go in real life as well as what products interest them (and what’s on their kids’ school supplies lists).

Mobile data is that crucial to your bottom line. It will be crucial to retailers of all sizes during BTS as well as seasons to come like Halloween and the holidays.

Brian Czarny is CMO at Factual, a Los Angeles-based locational intelligence company.