Friday, September 11, 2009

She's Leaving Home (clutching a cell phone)

What happened to make back to school shopping the second largest retail event of the year? Just six years ago, college spending on back to school (excluding textbooks), was $16.7 billion. Now in 2009, spending is estimated to almost double, $30 Billion.

One suggestion for these huge increase in numbers, is that the Back to School season speaks, not only to the practical need for items to get students through the school year, but of the emotional, and psychological need of parents, as their children leave home for the first time.

Ken Nisch with brand and design firm JGA is quoted in a recent USA Today article that "back to school has become a little bit like a Hallmark holiday". The need of parents to control the transition to college, along with a desire to share in the student's campus experience, has created this emotional need to embrace the back to school shopping experience.

This is the emotional side of shopping and purchasing. The need to be part of a major life event. Shopping calms parental anxiety as young ones head out the door, while at the same time, evoking warm fuzzy feelings of their own school or college bound experiences.

These are powerful emotional triggers. It is no surprise then that the focus at this time of year is less on the practical and more on the connectedness between parents, sons, and daughters. Communication devices such as cell phones are the primary purchases as parents adjust to the anxieties of staying in touch with their loved ones.

All this anxiety shopping speaks, as well, to Generation Y, and their relationship with home. Generation Y wants to stay connected to the family unit. Conversely, the Gen Y "helicopter" parent is more than happy to stay knitted into their children's life.

Those retailers that serve the campus back to school crowd can speak to parent's emotions by considering them as a vital and different sales channel. Supporting and speaking directly to parents when they are shopping in the campus store, opens up many possibilities to increase sales, and connect with a new customer group.

Gone is the concept that Back to School shopping is a function. Now it's role is that of emotional fulfillment. Which does, at the end of the day, means that line of Hallmark cards marking the occasion can't be far away.

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