The back to school season is the second biggest shopping season of the year, touching millions of households and accounting for multiple billion dollars in sales. According to Deloitte’s 2017 back to school survey, 60% of shoppers hitting the stores before August are likely to spend on average $532 (16% higher than the remaining 40% of parents who start shopping in August or later), presenting retailers with an opportunity to capitalize and improve sales with real time insights. With the proven demand, retailers need to prepare their back-to-school strategies months in advance.
One sector where parents are spending most of their back to school budget is the high tech or consumer electronics space. The high tech electronics industry has become increasingly consumer driven in recent years as the average life of electronic goods diminishes. Peer pressure at school also drives of new electronic devices. As every parent knows there is nothing worse than your child turning up at school with an ‘uncool’ mobile phone!
Whether parents are looking to purchase new laptop PCs, tablet devices, or the very latest smartphones, ensuring that there is adequate supply of these products as the new school year approaches is a key challenge for manufacturers and distributors. Today’s high tech supply chains stretch all around the world, and to meet the back to school deadline these supply chains must be incredibly well orchestrated. They need not only to ensure that parts are being delivered to manufacturing plants in the upstream supply chain, but also that goods are being distributed to retailers in a timely manner in the downstream supply chain.
Typically, it is difficult to forecast the demand for new high tech gadgets, mainly because they tend to have a short product life cycle. As a result, obtaining meaningful forecast data from the previous year can be difficult. While, for example, a PC manufacturer may have traditionally known roughly how many laptop PCs they are likely to sell, the social media frenzy of new product launches - for example the recent Apple iPhone announcement - impacts the supply and demand as students become willing to wait for the newest product to come out and disrupt the known quantities. The unprecedented demand for Apple products in recent years has severely impacted both Apple’s and its retailer’s global supply chains.
In advance of the back to school period, high tech companies need to plan their production and often refer back to historical sales of their products from earlier years. This will provide a baseline to plan order quantities with their suppliers. However, retailers will need deeper insights to accurately forecast which products will be in demand next season, and to prevent an out-of-stock situation with low inventory. In fact, this could involve the combination of historical information with other information, such as product trend information on social media channels.
If companies can more accurately listen to social media feeds, they are better prepared to gauge market interest and optimize their supply chain accordingly. In order for retailers to leverage these real-time insights for their products, it is crucial to digitize their own operations so they can rapidly respond to the changing market environment. Being able to listen to the ‘sentiment’ of students and which products they are likely to buy can provide invaluable insights that are impossible to obtain any other way. Aggregating product sentiment and using big data analytics to determine product buying trends will allow retailers to optimize their supply chains, guaranteeing the right products are at the right store at the right time. Being able to learn and predict future buying patterns will transform the way products are sold through today’s retailers.
Now, this is only one half of the story, as retailers must ensure that their suppliers deliver the goods on time to ensure they don’t miss this key buying period. And to remain competitive in the market, retailers must ensure they have an end-to-end digital supply chain that not only removes slow paper-based processes from their business operations, but also provides end-to-end visibility of shipments to show when a batch of next generation products will be in store.
Ultimately, if retailers are equipped with better and more accessible real time data to ensure product availability over the busy back to school time, it helps improve customer satisfaction levels and contributes to improved downstream sales. It may be too late to optimize this year’s back to school season but it’s never too early to start planning for next year.