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Retailers know shopping is cyclical; that it’s seasonal. The holiday season comes around like clockwork—but it’s rarely predictable and strategizing for it never truly ends. Planning meetings for the holidays start in January and brands work year-round preparing stores and store managers alike for the Olympics of shopping: The Holidays. They pour time and money into campaign strategies, data gathering, and studying habits that emerge from the preceding seasonal roll outs in order to identify and anticipate holiday trends.

Back to school, back to the drawing board

Back-to-school shopping is the pre-season to Holiday shopping, and retailers would be remiss if they didn’t take note of trends that emerge from it. Compared to holiday shopping, the spend expectations are humble—but not to go unnoticed. Retail Dive touched on this—explaining that the retail industry’s annual rite of passage (Back-to-School) is shaping up to be a jackpot for merchants. They revealed parents are expected to shell out an average $1,642 on student expenses this year, up 33% from 2015’s average of $1,239. This bump in spend is due largely to the surge in education technology. But the changes impacting the 2016 back-to-school shopping season resound far beyond how much money parents are spending and what they’re spending it on.

In short, this year’s back-to-school shopping peeled back some unexpected findings—ones that will help positively position retailers for the impending holiday season.

  1. Moms once held all the purchasing power—but now dads and kids have a say where the money goes. Purchasing habits are becoming a family affair.
  2. Discount stores are losing their luster. The culprit? The internet.
  3. Shoppers are flexing their controlling muscles. They’re patient and proactive; being more savvy with their dollars, spread over a longer period of shopping time. Last-minute shoppers are now the minority.

From first day to first snow

This back-to-school data should serve retailers as the catalyst for championing the cash cow sales days happenings this upcoming holiday season. And, as any good data scientist would tell you, retailers should aim to drive actionable change from the learnings. That said, here are 4 ways retailers can set themselves up for success for the 2016 Holiday season:

  1. Connect the dots between online and in-store. It may seem like a no-brainer, but in our Store Manager Survey performed earlier this year, we found only 45% of Store Managers believe their company’s in-store experience is consistent with the online experience.
  2. Make it your pleasure. Despite the proof that quick and agile problem-solving are keys to brand success, only 65% of Store Manager feel equipped to make decisions quickly. Ready your teams with the resources that will train them to deliver top-notch service to shoppers. An age-old concept, maybe, but real humans solving real problems will yield real customer loyalty.
  3. Feel the need for speed. Gone are the days of waiting 10 days for an ordered item. As we learned from the acquisition, the most forward-thinking brands are incorporating more instant gratification into their shipping and payment strategies. Think: mobile, mobile, mobile.
  4. Humanize yourselves. REI made a big statement last year by closing all physical stores on Black Friday – and the public loved it. Consider a social strategy that encourages the spirit of the holidays; make it less about the sale and develop campaigns that show your goodness, kindness, and creativity.

So, retailers, take courage. While change may be the only constant in this industry, there are some predictables.

In our recent Store Manager survey, we found despite store managers being on the front lines in retail they often feel disconnected from corporate and find it difficult to execute strategies like the ones listed above. Interested in what tools and support Store Managers need to be successful in their jobs? Download our Store Manager Survey report now.