5 Ways to Get Your Supply Chain Ready to Go Back to School


July 28, 2021

New notebooks. Blue and black pens. Calendars, organizers, backpacks, laptops, and perhaps most importantly, the first day outfit. Parents and students alike are thinking about all the things they’ll need for the start of the school year. With a looming deadline and plenty to do, it’s no wonder that the back-to-school sales season is one of the biggest retail events of the year.

According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, U.S. retail sales during the 2021 back-to-school period are expected to grow 5.5% compared to 2020. The National Retail Federation agrees, predicting that back-to-school spending will exceed $37 Billion this year.

NRF graph on back-to-school spending trends.

Today’s families don’t just walk into their local store, school supply list in hand, either. Savvy buyers scour multiple retailers to find the right products at the right price. Brand loyalists go directly to merchant websites. And then there’s the thousands of shoppers who search online via Amazon, Google, and other marketplaces.

With higher spending across multiple channels, brands have plenty of opportunities to make a sale—but they also face fierce competition for limited shelf and online space. To make the grade, check out these 5 ways to prepare your back-to-school supply chain.

#1: Create a Great eCommerce Shopping Experience

Did you know that searches for popular school supplies like books and stationery are 27% higher during the back-to-school season than the rest of the year? Online spending accounts for 39% of all back-to-school sales, according to the latest data from Deloitte. To capture sales from online shoppers, you need a B2C eCommerce storefront that is visible, user-friendly, and chock full of great content. Here are some tips for doing just that:

  • Optimize for Seasonal SEO: Seasonal SEO uses the same principles as regular SEO, but focuses on timely, trending searches, like “Christmas gifts for him” in November and December, or “Mother’s Day gifts” in April, or “back-to-school” in August. To optimize your product pages, make sure to use trending keywords in your product titles and descriptions. Don’t forget to optimize images with descriptive, unique alternative text!
  • Create Shopping Urgency: Make sure online shoppers are aware of your latest deals, flash sales, and discounts with banners and calls to action throughout your site. It’s also important to advertise your ship-before deadlines to avoid frustrated last-minute shoppers.
  • Get Mobile-Friendly: In 2021, mobile commerce revenues are expected to increase 22.3%. For consumers shopping on their smart devices, it’s important that your eCommerce website is properly sized for every screen, loads quickly, and offers clear calls-to-action for carts and checkouts.

#2: Enrich Content for Marketplaces and Drop Ship Sites

“Rich media like 360-degree product views have been proven to increase conversion rates by more than 47%.” –Grainger

Having a great website will only get you so far, because many back-to-school shoppers go directly to marketplace and retailer websites to find the products they need. Selling your products on popular sites like Amazon, Walmart.com, and Target+ increases your visibility and sales potential.

To win the buy box on these sites, rich product content is key. Enhance your listings with detailed product information, including romance copy and technical specifications. Add in digital assets like photos and videos to create buyer trust. These can have a serious impact on your sales; in fact, Animoto found that 73% of shoppers are more likely to make a purchase after watching a product video.

Don’t forget about channel-specific SEO, either. Amazon has its own search algorithm, as do many marketplaces, which may require unique product titles and attributes for maximum visibility. If you’re selling on multiple marketplaces or drop shippers, product information management tools can make it easier to keep listings accurate and up to date.

#3: Increase Your Supply Chain Visibility and Keep Products in Stock

Despite the rise in eCommerce sales, brick-and-mortar shopping still plays a significant role during the back-to-school season. To ensure your most popular products stay in-stock, you’ll need complete visibility into your supply chain, and the agility to pivot quickly based on consumer behaviors.

Where consumers plan to shop graph from National Retail Federation.

Digital supply chain technology can give you the real-time data you need to make fast, informed business decisions. For example:

  • Integrated Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) lets you exchange key transaction documents with suppliers, carriers, retailers, digital commerce channels, and 3PLs, so you can respond to incoming orders quickly, and keep partners up to date on existing order status.
  • Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) enables you to automatically replenish inventory at retail partner locations based on real-time sales data, forecasts, and other shared information to reduce lead time and maximize on-shelf availability.
  • Scan-Based Trading allows you to see how well each product is selling, so you can make strategic replenishment decisions based on changing demand.
  • Supplier Enablement Platforms streamline communication with your upstream vendors, so you can keep track of incoming and outgoing stock throughout your supply chain.

#4: Boost Awareness with Social Media

Today, it seems like everyone is plugged into their phones, so it makes sense that social media influences shopping behaviors. In fact, Delloite confirms that social media channels are a top source for shopping inspiration, with 42% of social media users visiting retailer social media profiles to “not only assess their products, but also get a sense of their personality and purpose.”

Social media marketing allows you to interact with your customers by alerting them to deals and offers with fun and engaging back-to-school-related content. Advertising your brand on social media also gives you the chance to engage and respond to inquiries and comments, which will help create consumer trust and loyalty.

Graph depicting social media impact on back-to-school shopping from Deloitte.

You can also leverage social proofing through your eCommerce site with marketing tools like social sharing buttons, which let shoppers show off their favorite purchases on their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds. Like reviews, these “user-generated” posts are just another way to build your online presence and brand reputation.

#5: Make Sure You Can Deliver on Time

Back to school shoppers need to have all their new gear ready for the first day of school. So, it’s essential to make sure that your product gets to them on time—easier said than done when balancing increased multichannel orders and ongoing supply chain disruptions.

The first step to fulfilling your delivery promise is to set reasonable expectations. To do this:

  • Make sure online shoppers are aware of your fulfillment options and delivery dates.
  • Advise retail and drop ship partners of inventory lead times.
  • Post your “last day” announcements on social media.

Once the stage is set, it’s up to you and your supply chain partners to ensure timely, accurate deliveries. You can try to do this manually, keying in each order from each channel into your ERP and warehouse systems, but the reality is, manual data entry won’t make the grade during the back-to-school rush. More likely, you’ll end up with fulfillment delays, delivery errors, and frustrated employees and customers.

For A+ fulfillment, you can utilize integrated solutions like TrueCommerce that streamline order processing to reduce shipping costs and ensure shipment accuracy. By automating key workflows, these solutions eliminate manual data entry, so you can scale your operations as order volumes increase.

Start the School Year Right

Today’s back-to-school shoppers are thinking more carefully about their purchases, and spending more on more diverse channels. With the right omnichannel strategy, and the supply chain technology to support your goals, your business can take advantage of these buyer behaviors for even better school-time sales.

Looking for a supply chain partner that can help your business get ready for school? TrueCommerce offers integrated solutions for your entire supply chain. Reach out now to speak to a specialist and discover how you can do business in every direction.

See How Backyard Expressions Increased Sales with Multichannel Integrations

With eCommerce, EDI and Amazon solutions from TrueCommerce, Backyard Expressions was able to cut order processing time by 50%.

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About the Author: Lindsey McGee is a Marketing Content Writer specializing in supply chain strategy, thought leadership, and education. As part of the Marketing team at TrueCommerce, Lindsey strives to provide thoughtful, accessible information to help business owners grow and manage their operations. Lindsey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Cody, and rescue pets, Delta, Bahn, and Izzie.

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