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How to Appeal to the Green Back-to-School Shopper

By Jasmine Glasheen, Generational Marketer for Retail Minded.

As we soak up the last days of summer, it’s also time to start thinking about preparing for the back-to-school shopping season. Back-to-school is the second biggest shopping event of the year, and back-to-school shopping is expected to reach new heights in 2017. In fact, NRF predicts that back-to-school spending this year will be almost 8 billion dollars more than last year’s numbers. It may look look like the profits are there for the taking, but in reality it will take a competitive pricing strategy and a sustainable inventory for retailers to be privy to this year’s back-to-school spend.

We have to take into account which generations will be driving the purchases come fall.

This year, Millennials and Gen Z are doing most of the back-to-school shopping. (Except in cases of young Gen Z-ers, whose parents are doing the shopping on their behalf.) Since both Millennial and Gen Z shoppers gravitate towards sustainable apparel, you may be led to believe that these green consumers would be willing to pay a premium for eco-conscious product. But according to CNBC, back-to-school customers are only willing to spend an average of 3 to 4 percent more for sustainable goods.

This puts retailers in a sticky situation, since many types of sustainable goods cost more to make.

Equally surprising, mass retailers and discount stores will see an increase in back-to-school shoppers this year, while specialty retailers are being told prepare for a slight dip in back to school traffic. These predictions might not seem to jibe with what we’ve learned about young shoppers and their preference for sustainable, local goods. Yet if we are confused by these predictions, we are forgetting the most important characteristic about the younger generation’s buying mindset: frugality.

Young people today are growing up in an era of uncertainty, so they hold on tightly to their hard-earned cash.

Although back-to-school spending is increasing, that doesn’t mean that young customers are going to be willing to stretch their budgets for sustainable product. Low prices are still key, and mass retailers are already scrambling to offer young customers eco-conscious fashions for less than their competitors. Luckily for small business owners, a product doesn’t need to be extravagantly priced to be earth-friendly.

There’s a common misconception that sustainable goods have to break the bank.

While mass retailers such as H&M and Target are leading sustainability efforts by using plastic soda bottles in their designs and learning to manufacture denim with less water; there’s also an opportunity for small business owners to cut production costs while catering to the green customer by selling apparel made with recycled fabrics and selling locally-designed jewelry made from upcycled materials. Retailers can save money and resources by recycling fabrics and reusing materials, both with reduce the amount of virgin material that needs to be purchased for their products. After all, it will take a mixture of climate consciousness and cost consciousness to appeal to the next generation of savvy consumers.

The back-to-school spoils will go to companies which sell green products at affordable price points.

In analyzing how younger generations shop, we can’t afford to forget about their legendary frugality. Young  back-to-school shoppers are complex in the way they spend, and in order to make a profit today’s retailers have to be slightly more innovative than their competition. When it comes to offering sustainable products at affordable prices, this means locating the manufacturers and makers who are creating eco conscious merchandise with minimal resource expenditure. There are many options to choose from for retailers who are willing to do their research!

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