Interesting Trends Anticipated for This Year’s Back to School Shopping

As the oldest in a family of five children, the end of July always heralded the beginning of the dreaded, chaotic Back to School (BTS) shopping. My mom would gather the lists our teachers provided us with at the end of the previous school year, pile us into the car and search the aisles of local stores boasting discounts.

At the end of the shopping spree, we would come home with bags containing an assortment of pens, notebooks, folders and binders that we would have to go through and separate for each sibling.

It’s that time of the year again, only (thankfully) I no longer have to accompany my mom on those trips, which could last hours. This year, more BTS shoppers have followed in my mom’s tradition of getting a jump start on the action. A survey commissioned by ICSC-Goldman Sachs found that 37% of consumers have already started shopping, compared to 29% who began at this time last year.

Ninety percent have indicated that they will purchase from brick-and-mortar retailers. According to the survey, “many retailers found in regional malls and open-air centers, such as office supply stores, traditional department stores, electronic stores and apparel specialty stores should see increased activity during the BTS season.”

Online shopping is expected to drop from 8.6% last year to 8.1% this year. Seventy-three percent of consumers said they will do research online and then buy their supplies from a physical store.

Average household spending on BTS items is expected to increase this year. Excluding electronics, expenditures are anticipated to be $325 per household, an increase from last year’s average of $285 per household.

This year’s Back to School shopping is still in its early phases. It will be interesting to see if the actual figures match up to the predicted ones.

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas… and a Headache?

Uh-oh. It’s holiday season in the Skrzycki household! Bring on classic movies ("Rudolph," I love you), presents (I embrace my reputation as a Scotch tape fanatic) and goodies (where do I begin?).

Employees who earn a spot on Santa’s “naughty list,” however, can spoil all the fun – especially for human resources professionals. Check out this article, 12 Days of Christmas: HR Headaches, and you’ll see why.

Here are a few excerpts:

Twelve Online Shoppers
Cyber Monday is the biggest day of the year for online shopping. Although some employees shop on their lunch break or at home, many take time out of the work day to cross items off their Christmas list. Solution: Remind employees that some down time is inevitable, but work time is still for work.

Eleven Fantasy Footballers
Wasting time at work is not an art enjoyed exclusively by shoppers. The holiday season is also football season, and that means fantasy players will be out in full force. Solution: See above.

Ten Office Party Drunks
Some folks continue to believe that getting intoxicated in front of your boss is a good idea (hint – it is not). Solution: Limit the number of drinks at office parties and arrange for safe transportation if needed.

Sound familiar? Sound off on your experiences and don’t forget to respond to our blog poll about holiday online shopping.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Our most recent blog poll asked who was to blame for the then ongoing mess (otherwise known as the federal government shutdown and inability to agree on just about anything) in Washington. Your votes were similar to some of the national polls:

  • House Republicans: 41%
  • President Obama: 16%
  • Senate Democrats: 6%
  • All of the above: 31%

Some of you bypassed the vote and simply went to the comment box. The two themes there were "my way or no way at all" in reference to the President and the "impact of the Tea Party in Republican primaries."

Our new poll (top right) seeks your view on holiday shopping and whether you'll be driving to the store or using a hard drive (for online purchases).

Customers’ Online Struggles Prove Costly

Many customer service nightmare stories involve the visible "mistreatment" of a person in your store or office location. When the problem is online, too many organizations fail to recognize they have a problem — and they’re paying for it.

A new study estimates 23% of annual online revenue is going by the wayside as the result of poor online customer experiences. And about four out of five survey respondents indicated they have little or no understanding why customers leave a shopping cart (78%) or exit a site (81%) without completing the purchase.

According to the study, limited understanding of the overall online customer experience, lack of multi-channel approach, and hard-to-diagnose site usability issues are all contributing factors to the poor consumer experiences that lead to billions of dollars in lost revenue. Most are reactive and rely on other channels to discover customer issues, with 76 percent most likely to learn about site problems as a result of calls to the customer service team or through customer emails.

The report, Reducing Customer Struggle, reveals that nearly one-fifth (18 percent) of businesses rate their understanding of the online customer experience as "poor" or "very poor," with only four percent classing it as "excellent."

When asked to identify the single most common problem that customers might encounter on their websites, bad site navigation/poor ‘findability’ was considered to be both the most common (57 percent) and most serious (55 percent) problem. 29 percent cited lack of information as the second most common and serious (31 percent) problem that might drive customers away from websites. When it comes to effective approaches for understanding the customer experience, only 11% of respondents said that they use session replay technology but an astounding 95% of those found it to be quite or very effective.

Linking online and offline channels and sharing insights across both is also a major challenge for businesses, with only three percent describing the multi-channel experience they provide as "excellent" and nearly a quarter (24 percent) rating it as "poor" or "very poor." Sixty percent of the companies polled admit that the offline parts of their business have little or no understanding of the experience a customer might have at their online store. Currently only 49 percent of companies have processes in place to prioritize and rectify the problems and issues customers face online; this practice will become even more critical as companies add a new channel into the mix, as 52 percent of those polled plan to invest in the mobile internet this year.