Students across the United States, from preschoolers to undergrads, are stocking up and heading back to the classroom. While the first bell has already rung for some in the Midwest, others on the East Coast won’t hit the books until after Labor Day. To successfully balance back-to-school supply with demand, shippers must carefully consider several factors, including current buyer preferences and, of course, logistics.

Back-to-School Spending

The National Retail Federation predicts that parents and students will spend $83.6 billion this season, thanks to a solid economy and high consumer confidence. Spending for college students should reach its highest level ever at an estimated $942 per student, and younger students are spending roughly $685 each. Not surprisingly, much of that total is earmarked for electronics such as laptops and mobile devices, which have become ubiquitous among students today (NRF).

Key spending categories for the 2018 back-to-school shopping season include:

  • Clothing and shoes
  • Electronics, including calculators, smart phones, laptops, and tablets
  • Supplies, such as backpacks, notebooks, and pencils
  • Dormitory or apartment furnishings
  • Food and personal care items
  • Gift cards

Retail Strategies for Back-to-School Success

Back-to-school is an important time for many retailers, second only to the winter holiday push. Given the fact that almost 90 percent of shoppers still had back-to-school shopping left to do in mid-July, putting the necessary products on shelves right now is essential to keep customers happy (GT Nexus).

To be successful this year, many retailers are focusing on the following:

  • Specials. According to NPD Group, shoppers tend to make 16 trips to complete their back-to-school purchases (NPD). To entice spending during each visit, retailers are stocking up on “hot-ticket” items to attract buyers and offering discounts or coupons on other items they might pick up while in the store.
  • Trends. Young people are sensitive to trends, and more importantly, their peers. What’s popular at their own school matters as much or more than what the experts say is “in.”  Getting to know customers by region, municipality, and school district can offer helpful insights.
  • Timing. Geography certainly dictates what students need, but the calendar is also key. New York’s September back-to-school timing requires jackets and jeans. Colorado’s August start calls for summer attire.
  • E-Commerce. Amazon and mobile devices have made online shopping easier than ever. In response to the threat from Prime Day, other retailers are raising their games with their own online events, free shipping, and the ability to buy online and pick up in stores. Loyalty programs are also popular among brick-and-mortars as a way to drive future sales (SPS Commerce).

3 Ways Shippers Can Prepare for the Back-to-School Surge

Just what does this mean for shippers? First and foremost, it means you must plan well. Here are three tips for managing the seasonal surge:

  1. Choose the Right Carrier. Look for proven carriers who meet your specific needs, such as agility or retail specialists. And be sure to look at on-time pickup and delivery percentages, OS&D counts, past claims, and other details beyond price to understand a carrier’s real value during seasonal surges.
  2. Diversify Your Network. Be sure to keep your options open. If you are strictly focused on cost and have sufficient lead time, look at intermodal.
  3. Plan for Flexibility. Train your people to deal with unplanned issues. Keeping an open line of communication between each department, from load planners to sales and marketing, is critical when planning for last-minute needs. In addition, to plan for flexibility build in longer lead times, streamline processes and minimize human error with automation, arrange for back-up capacity well before you need it, and more.

Capstone knows how to keep shipments moving during back-to-school and other seasonal surges. To take your shipments to the head of the class, contact us to learn about customized, time-sensitive, and reliable 3PL solutions.