Girl smiling while wearing headphones around his neck, a backpack and school folder.

Ramp up your retail technology strategy in time for the 2023 back-to-school season

By: Wendy Rusk, Industry Services Specialist, Retail

Summary

Retail tech strategies to create a better back-to-school shopping experience for parents and teachers.

Read time: 5 minutes

Despite the lingering pressures of inflation, the 2023 retail forecast bears some good news. During its third annual State of Retail & the Consumer virtual meeting, the National Retail Federation announced it expects retail sales to grow between 4% and 6% for the year. And while this is promising news, retail executives still anticipate inflation to drive tighter margins and diminish consumption.

However, one area that shoppers are unlikely to scale back on is school supplies. Deloitte estimates that seasonal spending grew by almost 6% in 2022, and it appears parents will yet again be spending record amounts in this year’s back-to-school season.¹

Back-to-school shopping: necessary but discretionary

Though families and teachers consider back-to-school shopping essential, it doesn’t mean they aren’t discretionary about where and how they spend their hard-earned money. According to the NEA, prior to the pandemic, teachers spent an average of $500 of their own money on school supplies each year. The NEA is estimating that number to soar to $823 in 2023 as school budgets are cut.²

While shoppers will inevitably purchase what their children need, they’re more likely to switch brands to get the best price in the most convenient way possible. Retailers will be expected to provide a seamless, connected, omnichannel experience, including anticipating customer needs, making purchasing more flexible and convenient, and fulfilling orders on time and with precision.

To be competitive during this peak retail season and others, retailers should focus on their retail technology strategy now, and optimizing operations to give customers what they want: faster delivery times, easier in-store experiences, and more engaged customer service. Here’s how you can win during back to school.

Today’s shoppers want a blended approach that incorporates an easy way to switch between activities like online browsing, virtual try-ons, and curbside or in-store pickup and return.

Robotics for faster order processing times

Everyone in retail, from store associates to warehouse personnel, works at full capacity during peak seasons. And while hiring more seasonal workers to keep up with the demand used to be the solution, it can't be the only solution in today's economy. In fact, with current labor shortages³ and higher than ever wage rates, few retailers can augment their workforce fast enough to support the fluctuating demands of seasonal events.

Fortunately, robotics and automation working alongside employees help to offset these shortages in many areas across the supply chain and fulfillment ecosystem. Automation is making it easier for retailers and fulfillment centers to improve picking accuracy, order packaging, delivery times and even employee safety.

During the back-to-school season, this can mean the difference between delighting a customer with same-day delivery or losing them to the competitor for an incomplete order.

There are three main types of robotics to consider for material handling functions:

  1. Goods-to-person solutions: These are picking robots that eliminate the need for a fulfillment associate to walk long distances, pull heavy carts and reach for items on a shelf. Instead, the robot presents the item directly to a worker.

  2. Autonomous mobile robots: Geolocation technology helps these robots move autonomously through a warehouse or fulfillment center. They replace the need for conveyor belts and time-consuming activities like walking and pulling carts.

  3. Robotic arms: As the name suggests, these are picking arms that can scale inventory shelves, retrieve products, deliver them to warehouse workers, or place them into fulfillment containers. These cutting-edge retail technology strategies create more streamlined backend processes for retailers, which means faster order delivery times for time-strapped parents and teachers looking to purchase everything on their back-to-school list.

Pro Tip: If you’re considering robotic technology for your warehouse or fulfillment operations, consider a third-party tech partner for critical Service Lifecycle Management (SLM). SLM services can include everything from pre-sale consulting, installation, training, customer service, and even ongoing maintenance and repair support. Ricoh’s Service Advantage ensures the technology that keeps your operations running smoothly is always on.

Using retail technology strategies to simplify in-store shopping experiences

After several years of higher online sales, consumers continue to shop at brick-and-mortar locations. In 2022, in-store shopping was expected to represent 49% of back-to-school sales⁴, and based on recent trends the share of seasonal sales is expected to increase for 2023.

But the resurgence of in-person shopping comes with changed consumer behaviors and higher expectations around the in-store experience. Today’s shoppers want a blended approach that incorporates an easy way to switch between activities like online browsing, virtual try-ons, and curbside or in-store pickup and return.

Retailers can leverage several in-store technology solutions to create more convenience for shoppers, for example:

  • Intelligent Lockers: help customers save time by offering a BOPIS or BORIS solution that’s both visually appealing and functional.

  • Media and smart screens: elevate the shopping experience with digital signage for seasonal promotions or give customers access to real-time inventory availability, or product locations.

Pro Tip: With so many disparate technology systems available for retailers, it’s important those systems are properly connected. Many cloud-based solutions allow you to integrate applications, systems, and data so you can get the most out of the information you have and unlock valuable insights to drive better business decisions.

How a major retailer wowed customers with intelligent lockers

Conclusion

Even with households being increasingly conscious of price and spending, families will still prioritize the costs of back-to-school shopping, with 38% of consumers saying they’d cut back in other areas to make it happen.⁷

With competition for acquisition, loyalty, and share of wallet at an all-time high, retail executives must prepare for the 2023 peak season by creating more curated experiences, last-mile options and enhanced conveniences for shoppers. In doing so, they’ll need to rely on technology strategies that enable seamless, omnichannel experiences.

Contact us to learn more about our retail solutions.

gi-headshot-Wendy-Rusk-web.jpg
Wendy is a retail industry services specialist with 20-plus years of diverse knowledge and experience within the retail tech space. Before joining Ricoh, she led Bitcoin Depot and Cashmaster International sales initiatives. Wendy supports leading U.S. retail, manufacturing, and CPG accounts delivering thought leadership in process automation, digitization, cash management software, innovative collaboration, and cloud and infrastructure services.

Wendy Rusk

Retail Industry Services Specialist

Ricoh USA, Inc.

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  1. 1https://www.snipp.com/back-to-school-marketing-guide
  2. 2https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/out-pocket-spending-school-supplies-adds-strain-educators
  3. 3https://www.uschamber.com/workforce/understanding-americas-labor-shortage
  4. 4https://www.themarsagency.com/post/lessons-to-learn-for-back-to-school-2023
  5. 5https://waitwhile.com/blog/retail-employee-sentiment-report/
  6. 6https://www.pwc.com/us/en/advisory-services/publications/consumer-intelligence-series/pwc-consumer-intelligence-series-customer-experience.pdf
  7. 7https://nrf.com/insights/holiday-and-seasonal-trends/back-to-school