The Smart Retailer’s Guide to Back-to-School Sales Success


As summer winds down, the school year is about to begin and thanks to continued COVID-19 outbreaks, it’s going to be a very different experience for most students, as they try to navigate a hybrid of classroom and online instruction, social distancing and mask-wearing.

Despite these changes, back-to-school spending is likely to rise through September and retailers are ramping up their promotions – albeit about a month later than they’ve done in previous years.

In addition to stocking up on the latest fashion and school supplies, savvy retailers will do well to incorporate the following technologies and best practices to ensure a safe customer experience for all their patrons.

Provide contact-light payment options

Back-to-school shoppers are looking for ways to minimize person-to-person contact this year. Here are a few of the top contact-light options that help them achieve these goals.

  • Self-checkout kiosks – Store employees will need to ensure these stations are sanitized regularly and printer receipts are restocked as needed. But these stations require far less person-to-person contact than traditional checkout lanes.
  • Contactless payment options – Enabling Apple Pay®, Google Pay™ and NFC cards is another way retailers can minimize the spread of germs through person-to-person contact. Many retailers already have these options available; they just need to be made aware of them and to post signs, so shoppers know it, too.

Adding QR code payment options is another excellent way to facilitate contactless payment. All a user has to do is open their QR code scan app (the latest iOS and Android devices have this built into the camera app), scan the QR code and confirm to process the payment.

Incorporate online and brick and mortar experiences

Considering that so many shoppers today use a mobile device or web browser for some portion of their shopping experience, retailers should embrace this trend by offering omnichannel experiences, such as:

Buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS) – As its name implies, shoppers start their journey at the retailer’s website. Upon checkout, they have the option to pick up their order locally at a brick and mortar store, preferably the same day, instead of waiting for their shipment to arrive in the mail.

To offer an excellent BOPIS experience, retailers must:

  • Integrate their store inventory and online ordering systems so customers can have accurate information about merchandise availability
  • Regularly update customers at each phase of the sales lifecycle—from payment confirmation to details about when and where they can pick up their orders
  • Create a designated pickup area in the store that’s easy to find (e.g., not at the back of the store)
  • Staff the BOPIS center, so customers can quickly pick up their items and leave with a positive experience

Curbside pickup – This service takes BOPIS one step further by enabling customers to pick up their orders without entering the store. To create a great customer experience, retailers need to:

  • Create a designated, well-marked pickup area close to the store
  • Include detailed instructions in their electronic communications and post at the designated pickup area, so customers know which steps to take next
  • Make it easy for customers to communicate their arrival to the store and ensure those communications are addressed quickly, so they don’t have to wait around wondering if they should go into the store for assistance

Virtual dressing rooms — Adding augmented reality (AR)-enabled mobile apps or special mirrors that allow customers to try on clothes or makeup virtually are a perfect fit for a time like this — especially when many stores are closing their dressing rooms to prevent the spread of germs.

Add delivery services A lot of parents don’t want to take their young children to the store nowadays, where they have to try to keep them from touching merchandise, shopping carts and their faces, running to see a toy, etc. Retailers can help mitigate this stress by offering home delivery services.

Create Personal Engagements Virtually

Despite the impersonal feeling created by wearing masks and social distancing, retailers need to establish a personal connection with their customers whenever possible. One way to do that is by telling  customers how they are serving them in new ways through new products, services and practices that will help make them safer when shopping with their company.

Before promoting the items identified above, keep in mind what’s most important to back-to-school shoppers in the various age groups. As suggested earlier, shoppers with young children may be most interested in a retailer’s delivery services. How about offering free delivery on merchandise these shoppers are most likely interested in? For high school or college students, offering a discount coupon on a future visit when they use a retailer’s BOPIS service for their technology purchase, could be a winning combo.

Don’t forget about the loyalty program – this is the perfect place to deliver personalized offers as well as to test innovative new approaches to customer care. For example, allowing the most loyal customers to pilot a retailer’s new BOPIS, QR code payment or delivery service (all with added discounts and other incentives) before anyone else.

If a retailer demonstrates to its back to school customers that they are making their safety a top priority and empathize with them that they understand this isn’t the time for business as usual, it will resonate with shoppers. Even if they have to work out a few imperfections during the execution of these programs and services, customers will be far more forgiving if they feel that the retailer has their best interest in mind.

-By Sean Gunduz, interim director of product management & technical services, Business Systems Division, Epson America, Inc.