The 2022 back-to-school (BTS) season could be the most “normal” since the start of the pandemic, with even more demand than the record-setting BTS 2021 season for clothing, classroom supplies and new technology. Last year, the average family with K-12 students spent $848 on return to school items, while families of college students spent an average of $1,200, according to the National Retail Federation. To meet demand and avoid supply chain-related shortages, some major retailers are bulking up their inventories now.
This is also the ideal time to review the online customer journey, because consumer expectations for ecommerce convenience and personalization are higher than ever, based on the findings of ClearSale’s 2021 State of Consumer Attitudes on Ecommerce, Fraud & CX survey. Understanding the online shopping habits and preferences of parents and college students can help ecommerce retailers pass the back-to-school season test with flying colors.
Personalization has been held up as the gold standard for ecommerce CX across the board, but the reality of customer demand for personalized experiences appears to be more nuanced. The survey found that while 18% of Gen Z consumers — college-age adults between 18 and 24 — want to see featured items picked just for them online rather than shopping in stores, older consumers don’t care as much about personalization. Among shoppers aged 55 to 64 — a cohort that includes many parents of school-age and college-age kids — only 12% consider personalized recommendations a critical feature of their ecommerce experience.
The takeaway here is to know your customer base so you know how much to invest in personalization. If your customers are largely Gen Z students and millennial parents, accurate personalization can set you apart from competitors by making it easy for busy back-to-school shoppers to find exactly what they need.
You can also use personalization data to create bundle and subscription offers tailored for your BTS customers. For example, families with elementary-age students may appreciate the ability to buy all the required classroom supplies in one click, or to get regular deliveries of consumables like sticky notes, notebooks, pencils and tissues. College students may sign up for regular deliveries of personal care items, snacks, drinks and cleaning supplies.
Regardless of your customers’ age demographic, it’s a smart idea to offer digital wallet payment options at checkout. This alternative form of payment was popular with all age groups in the survey, although the reasons for its popularity seem to vary by generation. Altogether, 71% of consumers said they always or sometimes pay online with their digital wallet instead of entering their credit card number into a website.
For consumers under age 55, this preference may be mostly about convenience, because only 20% of them always have their card handy while they shop online. Among older shoppers, security may be more of a factor, because 44% say the possibility of online scams deters them from shopping online more often. Digital wallets address both issues by storing card data for shoppers and by shielding it from retailers at checkout. Customers who can pay easily without security fears are more likely to complete checkout.
Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) can also increase cart conversions and revenue, especially at a time when inflation is hitting many family budgets hard. As BNPL gains popularity — it will comprise nearly 25% of online transactions worldwide by 2026 — ecommerce shoppers will expect their favorite stores to provide a BNPL option, and may abandon stores that don’t.
Personalization, digital wallet options and BNPL offers can help move more back-to-school shoppers through your website to checkout. The next challenge is getting them to complete the checkout process by making it as easy as possible while maintaining security.
More than one-third — 35% — of the consumers in the survey said they have abandoned an online shopping cart because checkout took too long or was too complicated. One step many retailers can take right away is to eliminate the need for customers to key in the same information more than once. For example, rather than make shoppers type in identical data for their billing and shipping addresses, allow them to check a box if those addresses are the same. Even better, allow their digital wallet to automatically populate those checkout fields.
Another easy step: Drop account creation requirements and allow guest checkout. You can configure the guest checkout process so customers can create an account later, after they’ve had a fast and easy checkout experience with your store.
Once your back-to-school customers have placed their orders, there’s one more CX and customer retention hurdle to clear, and that’s fraud screening. Stopping fraudulent orders prevents chargebacks that can cost retailers anywhere from $2 to $100 per order in fees alone. However, mistakenly declining good orders because of fraud concerns can cost much more in the long run; 40% of consumers surveyed said they will boycott websites and stores that decline their orders, which decimates their customer lifetime value and wastes the retailer’s marketing spend.
Worse, 34% will share something negative about the retailer on social media after a decline, which can steer other potential customers away from that store and increase the amount the retailer must spend to bring in new customers.
Multilayered fraud prevention that includes AI and expert review can help retailers safely approve more good orders without increasing their fraud losses. The AI can draw in data from the customers’ online behavior, other behavioral biometrics like device and location, and history with the store to evaluate each order for fraud risk. When the AI tags an order as risky, expert review can quickly determine whether the order is really fraud or just a good customer doing something unusual, like ordering from a new phone or while on vacation. Fraud gets prevented, more orders get approved, and the review findings get fed back into the AI system so that it gets better at distinguishing between fraud and normal customer activity.
Learning never stops, whether you’re a student or an ecommerce retailer. Setting KPIs for your back-to-school website or app improvements can help you measure your progress, see which steps deliver the best ROI, and help you adjust and optimize your site over time. By tracking metrics such as completed orders, prevented fraud, approved orders and repeat purchases, you can apply the lessons from your back-to-school CX improvements year-round.