Back-to-school shopping is big business for retailers. With sales numbers second only to the winter holidays, the back-to-school season offers stores a nice bump in revenue as families shop for K-12 and college supplies for their children.

The good news for 2020? Per-house spending has been trending upward, according to the National Retail Foundation. A 2019 study revealed that families with children in elementary through high school planned to spend $696.70, which beat the previous record in 2012 of $688.62. Families with college-age children were expected to spend even more. Their average reached $976.78, which was higher than the previous record of $969.88 set in 2017. Clothing and electronics topped the list for all of the families, although K-12 families planned to spend more on clothes, while college students planned to spend more on electronics.

If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer looking to capitalize on the back-to-school season, we’ve got a few ideas to help you make the most of the opportunity.

#1: Having the Right Items in Stock Is Critical

stocked shelves supply chain

Customer loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Consumers have become less concerned with where they shop and more focused on getting the items they’re looking for—at the right prices. In fact, 55% of K-12 back-to-school consumers will shop online, while 49% of college shoppers will look to online retailers.

So if you’re looking to compete as a brick-and-mortar store, having the right inventory is a critical factor in capturing more of the back-to-school market. If you have what your customers are looking for in stock, they’ll be less likely to go online to purchase their items.

That being said . . .

#2: Scheduling Is Critical to Your Bottom Line

scheduling supply chain optimization

It might be tempting to order a bunch of inventory to make sure you’re prepared for the back-to-school season. However, that might mean items sit on the shelf longer, raising your inventory carrying costs, which limits your available cash flow.

This is where knowing your customers will come in handy. Take a look at your sales over the past few back-to-school seasons. By analyzing past trends, you can practice good supply chain optimization, and get a better understanding of when exactly your customers do their shopping.

A surprising number of consumers tend to wait until the last minute to get their shopping done. 49% of shoppers surveyed by the National Retail Foundation say they plan to make final purchases one to two weeks before school starts.

That being said, some shoppers start as early as late July. This is especially true for families with college-age students, who might get a start in early July. In Hawaii, where many of our brick-and-mortar customers are located, public school starts in early August, which may push shopping timelines even earlier.

Knowing your numbers from past seasons will help you forecast accurately, so you have the right inventory in your store—at the right time.

This kind of precise scheduling can involve a number of moving parts, especially if you’re working with multiple suppliers. That’s where a freight forwarder can help.

#3: Establish a Strong Relationship with a Good Freight Forwarder

partnership for supply chain optimization

If you’ve been spending your time juggling multiple vendors and coordinating various modes of transportation (including rail, road, ocean and air freight), you might consider turning over some of that work to a freight forwarder.

The right freight forwarder can be a one-stop-shop to move all of your inventory from your suppliers to you. If you happen to operate in a place like Hawaii—where logistics can get a little more complex—a freight forwarder can simplify the work for you. Turning to an expert for supply chain optimization can mean big returns for your business. They can work with multiple retailers to move your inventory to a single location, such as a warehouse in California, consolidate it into a container, put it on a boat to Oahu and even deliver it straight to your location by truck. A good freight forwarder excels at handling all of these moving parts and coordinating them seamlessly.

A strong freight forwarder can also help you coordinate your inventory arrivals down to the day. So, for example, if you’ve done your research and you know that 80% of your sales will happen on the weekend before school starts, your freight forwarder can coordinate with your vendors, the steamship line and the on-island delivery service to make sure it reaches your warehouse the day before you need it. This kind of precise coordination will help you keep your inventory carrying costs low and your cash flow strong.

By the way, even though we used Hawaii for our example, the same is true if you’re located in the continental U.S. A freight forwarder can still help coordinate shipments from multiple vendors to simplify your logistics. Your inventory might be arriving by rail or truck (as opposed to a boat), but your freight forwarder can arrange for the transportation and manage the timing just the same.

No matter your location, this kind of careful scheduling can help you ensure that you have the items your customer wants while preventing you from holding on to inventory for longer than you need.

Making the Most of the Back-to-School Season

The weeks and months leading up to the start of the school year can offer a big opportunity for a brick-and-mortar business. But if you aren’t focused on supply chain optimization you may be leaving revenue on the shelves. By making sure that you have the right inventory available for your customers at the right time, you’ll give yourself the best opportunity to capture your slice of this shopping season. Additionally, you’ll establish yourself as a reliable stop that your customers can count on in the future, especially if they need an item in-hand that day.



If you’d like to talk more about how a freight forwarder can help you get your inventory to your location for your busiest seasons, we’d be happy to assist. Just schedule a free consultation with us. We’ll help you investigate your options and show you how we can help orchestrate all of your logistics seamlessly.

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