咨詢公司Customer Growth Partners LLC總裁克雷格·約翰遜說：“如今，促銷活動實在是太多，以至于人們可能都司空見慣了，而且對此感到厭煩。”
如果產品的流動速度不夠快，那么零售商可能會陷入麻煩，不斷堆積的庫存會侵蝕盈利能力，因為庫存的存儲和管理都需要費用，而且公司不得不進一步打折才能把庫存賣出去。Gap公司和 J.C. Penney Co.近些年來都遇到了積壓庫存的高成本問題，后通過減價才將其清理掉。
Gap旗下的特價服飾連鎖店Old Navy正在銷售印有8-12歲孩子畫作的T恤。American Eagle最近組建了一個年輕成年人“理事會”，部分原因是為了幫助給今年的產品選擇提供指導。在他們的推薦下，該連鎖店如今在店面增加了尺碼規格的供應范圍。與此同時， J.C. Penney正在為小學和中學學生提供10美元的理發服務
American Eagle Outfitters Inc.是一家以青少年和年輕成年人為主要目標群體的公司，其全球品牌業務總裁查德·克斯勒稱，顧客每人選擇來店的次數并非只有一次，而是多次。其中一個原因在于同伴壓力。
Customer Growth Partners的約翰遜表示，零售商成功的關鍵在于要成為顧客肚子里的蛔蟲。
“Back-to-school used to be a moment,” Bergh said, recalling the briefer periods of yore “where it was like a fistfight in the stores.” Today, “it’s morphed into five weeks.”
The prolonged back-to-school season mirrors what’s happened with other annual sales events, as retailers drag out the moments that bring shoppers in the door. Black Friday, still the kickoff for the crucial year-end period, is now followed by the online deals of Cyber Monday—but the lion’s share of holiday sales come in discount-fueled December.
Even Prime Day, the mid-summer event invented by Amazon.com Inc., has been stretched to encompass two days, with competitors extending their promotions on the front and back ends.
For apparel chains, this often means that sales bleed into each other, and companies struggle to get shoppers excited for the next round of discounting before the current one has ended.
“Everything is so over-promoted these days,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners LLC. “People can be promoted out. They get bored with it.”
The endless sales have changed shoppers’ attitudes, with many now expecting discounts available at any given moment, rather than at designated times of the year.
“Consumers are numb to all the promotional activity,” Levi’s Bergh said. “So a 20% back-to-school offer is no different than whatever is going to happen in early September, when it’s going to be 20% off anyway.”
This is forcing retailers to manage their inventories more nimbly and keep the pipeline of new products flowing so the selection feels fresh for shoppers who visit several times during any given season.
Failing to move product quick enough can be detrimental for retailers—piled up inventory erodes profitability because it costs money to store and organize it, and companies have to discount deeply to get rid of it. Both Gap Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. have gone through costly buildups of inventory in recent years that required markdowns to clear up.
“You want to get rid of it and then you want some new product coming in,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to keep selling the same stuff that you’ve been selling for two months.”
The stakes are high to get it right: This year, American parents are expected to spend $507 on average for clothing, electronics and other school-related items, according to a study from RetailMeNot. That’s up from $465 in 2018. Deloitte, meanwhile, sees back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade totaling $27.8 billion this year, a rise of 1.8% from 2018.
Keeping customers interested
To stand out amid the crowd, chains are trying new tactics—such as turning to the kids themselves for inspiration.
Old Navy, the off-price apparel chain owned by Gap, is selling T-shirts featuring drawings by 8-to-12-year-olds. American Eagle recently formed a “council” of young adults that was created, in part, to help guide its product selection this year. On their recommendation, the chain now stocks a larger range of sizes in its stores. J.C. Penney, meanwhile, is offering $10 haircuts for elementary and middle school students.
American Eagle Outfitters Inc., which caters to mostly teenagers and young adults, is seeing shoppers opt for multiple trips to the store per season instead of just one, according to Chad Kessler, the company’s global brand president. Part of it is driven by peer pressure.
“Kids go back to school, see what the other kids are wearing and come back for something new,” Kessler said.
Levi’s Bergh echoed that sentiment. “A lot of the kids want to wait until they see what’s hot on Instagram and what the cool kids are wearing when they go back to school,” he said. “They can defer that purchase and wait until they really know what they really want.”
With repeat back-to-school shopping visits becoming the norm, that means “making sure that we have delivery every month, so every time the customer comes back, they have something new,” Kessler said.
Johnson, of Customer Growth Partners, said the key to success is for retailers to have a detailed understanding of their customers.
“If you’re an apparel retailer, you want to make sure you’re in tune with the styles,” Johnson said. “If you place too big a bet and nobody’s buying it, then you can get hurt.”