Technology Makes Back-to-School Shopping Elementary

July 17, 2014 Dawn Mortensen

Though many of us are barely settling into summer, retailers are already touting back-to-school clothes and supplies. This year, the role of e-commerce in back-to-school shopping is bigger than ever. According to a June report by eMarketer, online back-to-school purchases in 2014 will increase 16% over 2013 – a growth rate that’s nearly triple the 5.85% growth rate in overall retail sales.

Smart retailers are optimizing their mobile sites and using more advanced search and navigation technology to capture the growing audience of online back-to-school shoppers.

Mobile-Optimized Sites

In mobile shopping experiences of years past, many site visitors would give up out of frustration with the cumbersome navigation. Today, retailers with good mobile-specific sites make it exceptionally easy for customers to shop using smartphones or tablets. These retailers will gain loyalty and carry an advantage into back-to-school shopping and beyond.

tea collection 15July14Tea Collection is a great example of a mobile site done right. My eight-year-old’s one desire for new clothing is a maxi dress (the kind that “are swirly and go to the floor,” in case you didn’t know). On Tea Collection’s mobile site, I search “Girls 8 maxi dress” and three great options come up – all in the right size. Easy peasy, as a third grader might say.

Advanced Site Search & Navigation

Just as with mobile search, online retailers will win shopper loyalty when they make it easy for visitors to find and buy what they’re looking for. Just as great search is critical to help shoppers find exactly what they want, great navigation is essential to help them browse or narrow down items in a broad category.

I went to Lakeshore Learning’s site knowing that I wanted some type of learning game. I typed “learning game” in the search box, then with 529 search results I was able to narrow down to a few great options by clicking the refinements “mathematics,” “puzzles & games,” “3rd grade” and “top rated.” Yes, The Allowance Game looks like a great way to ease my third grader back into math practice.

Next, visiting Gymboree, I searched for some clothing basics for my 12-year-old, entering “girls uniform navy.” Up popped navy blue cardigans, skirts, pants and hair accessories – I picked what I needed and was on my way through checkout. Done.

It’s Not Always So Easy

Unfortunately, not all e-commerce sites make it so simple for visitors. It’s hard to know the immense value of good search technology until you encounter a site that does it poorly. I thought I might stock up on notebooks, folders and other basic staples at DollarTree.com. But when I searched “notebooks,” the results just showed me filler paper, legal pads and journals. I had to scroll beyond the first 12 results before I saw composition notebooks and spiral bound notebooks. Annoyed with the less streamlined experience, I left the site and decided to pick up these items another time.

Make Sure Shoppers Don’t Lose Patience

As more stores learn how to do search and navigation right, consumers lose patience with retailers who make it more work than fun to do their shopping. Retailers who want to compete effectively need to keep up, and that means looking for the best technology possible for site features like search, navigation, product recommendations and merchandising. Retailers who go with a cheap, basic search function just to check that item off their list are missing the opportunity to delight and retain the customers who are used to better relevancy and a better, faster, more fun shopping experience.

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