It’s That Time of the Year Again

The phrase “back to school” takes on an entirely new meaning this time around.. Whether it’s in-person, virtual, or a little bit of both, this year’s semester looks very different from anything we’ve experienced before.

What does this mean for your brand?

As we are all pivoting to meet new markets and demands, here are some trends surrounding this year’s “back to school” landscape and strategies for suppliers.

What Are Suppliers Facing This Year, and How Are They Addressing the Unknown?

We are certainly facing unprecedented times. Typically, at this point in the year, suppliers start to see “peak weeks” rise, but there’s a difference this time around: those weeks of high sales are coming later than before. In other words, back-to-school sales have created a pattern of peaking later and later in the last two to three years. This year, given the current circumstances, those sales are even more delayed.

Why is this?

The unknown environment creates uncertainty for parents around what school will really look like this year, so the questions of “Well, what do I buy for my kids?” and “How do I prepare for that?” come to the surface. As a parent myself, it’s a challenge to plan because we don’t really know exactly what we’re planning for.

For suppliers, planning remains to be a major challenge, but we are finding ways to work with the questions we have. For example, we have had to take a step back and say, “What are the items that we can work with our dot com partners on to make sure that we’re covering all of our bases for both virtual, blended, and physical schools?”

At this point in the game, it’s a little too late to get new items in stores. Now the focus needs to zero in on throwing those “basic” items into the stores and elevating our mindset to say, “Okay, what are the other items that make sense for a virtual environment or a blended environment?” While this year’s back to school is not necessarily brand-driven, we are seeing items that gear towards virtual environments have a sales spike. For example, early education, arts and crafts, and at-home learning items are experiencing success right now.

Managing the Uncertainty

Suppliers are also facing new challenges around inventory management and forecasting management. We must be strategic about the inventory we’re going to hold and the inventory we’re going to ship.

This includes a “lean-in” where we must work with our Walmart team across both store and dot com to say, based on past events, there are peak weeks no matter what and we simply cannot miss those.

So, what can we do?

Get your content right.

To boost dot com sales, working closely with your category specialist to ensure that your items have a 95% or higher content scorecard rating is so important. Suppliers should also ensure that their items have at least 4-star ratings and plenty of reviews. The more reviews, the higher the stars, and the more enhanced content are all proven components to boosting sales and are all relatively easy to accomplish. On top of that, it’s really the basics: make sure you are treating dot com orders as importantly as brick and mortar orders.

Fulfillment is key.

If the fulfillment centers don’t have product to sell, it doesn’t matter how many ratings and reviews the item has. Another great way to boost sales is to work with Kenshoo or your Walmart Media Group contact to come up with a plan ahead of the season to maximize marketing spend dollars. You also want to make sure that you have the 20% of items in your total catalog that do 80% of the volume available on dot com. From there, you expand your assortment in collaboration with your category specialist team.

Be agile.

As of now, it looks as if “back to school” won’t end the second or early third part of September like previous years… We expect it to flow through September potentially even October. The downtrend is believed to be temporary amongst Walmart and the supplier community.

Leverage partnerships.

We are strategizing with our clients to ship inventory the right way based on the forecasting data we do have. I encourage the supplier community to communicate as much as possible with teachers and parents as they also figure out what comes next. One thing we know for sure: digital is becoming so important, and it’s going to continue to evolve and grow. It’s simply not going away. Lean in now and be an omni-leader in your space.

Next Steps

The best course of action suppliers can take right now is to follow the trends closely, ensure product is ready to be delivered on time ahead of the anticipated peak weeks and tax-free weekends, and to ensure they are set up for omnichannel success. If possible, rich media is always the way to go; enhanced content and lifestyle imagery can take sponsored ads to the next level. Keeping the lines of communication open with the buyers and the replenishment teams both in-store and dot com is key. We must work collaboratively as a group to be successful, and we must be ready to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice with the environment we are facing right now.

While “back to school” may look different, Harvest Group is prepared to manage the changes and hope to be successful in both our actions and reactions.