July 16, 2020

Tech at the Top of Back-to-School Lists


By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.

Back-to-school life for parents seemed so simple just a few short years ago. They would get a supplies list from their local school system and check off such items as Big Chief tablets and Number 2 pencils as they purchased them.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, back-to-school shopping entails shopping for technology, primarily computers, as many school districts across the country debate whether to open schools or continue with strictly online learning — or some mix of the two. Los Angeles County, a current COVID-19 hot spot, announced this week, for example, that it will not open its schools in August as planned and will continue online learning “until further notice.”

Expect the next couple of months to entail plenty of digital marketing in the technology arena as parents debate such details as whether Johnny and Susie need Chromebooks or iPads at the top of their supply lists — along with whether it’s safe to send those kids to a public-school building or to keep them at home.

Yes, All This Is Adding to the Parental Stress Level

Distance learning, as online learning also has become to be called, can inflict a financial burden on many parents.

LendingTree, a lender whose services include debt consolidation, found in April and May polling that 48% of parents said they had bought an iPad, laptop or desktop to allow distance learning for their children. Along with other purchases such as headphones (25%) and software (22%), respondents in that polling said they spent an average of $1,019 for such goods.

There also were these troubling numbers from the poll: Some 56% of parents reported they had gone into debt “directly due to the coronavirus epidemic,” and 36% said they had dipped into their kids’ college funds to cover current expenses.

“That latter item is particularly unfortunate since many parents are already worried about saving for their kids’ college,” LendingTree says.

Yes, suitable laptops can be found in the $200 to $300 range, but for families with more than one child and added expenses such as software and internet connections, the costs can add up, particularly if Mom and/or Dad is unemployed because of COVID-19.

Fortunately, there are such groups as PCs for People and more locally based charitable organizations that can help some of those families out.

What Parents Want When Shopping for Tech

In another recent survey, this one by Salesforce, shoppers indicated that when they’re looking for technology and other items at a brick-and-mortar location, they want social distancing and personal protection equipment guidelines to be in place to make them feel more at ease.

Salesforce says shoppers of all generations, particularly those in the 40-plus group, expect stores to enforce mandatory social distancing and PPE policies.

“Best Buy is a great example of a brand that has put safety and empathy front and center of its reopening strategy,” Salesforce noted. “The company offers visits by appointment only and mandates masks and gloves for employees.”

Best Buy announced in May that it has begun offering an in-store consultation service — one that other big boxes and smaller stores are sure to emulate.

Under that service, customers can schedule appointments with Best Buy’s “Blue Shirts” or agents for their tech shopping. Since each appointment is replete with a dedicated sales associate, there will be a limited number of customers in the store at any one time “to ensure appropriate social distancing takes place.”

Safety measures for the consultation service include mandatory protective gear for all employees and self-health checks by them before each shift, using a new employee app developed by Best Buy. Social distancing guidelines are outlined by signs and are enforced by employees to ensure that there’s appropriate distance between them and their customers.

Customers can schedule their appointments by phone, online or through the Best Buy app.

For product demos, the Best Buy employee will wipe the product, let the customer handle it and then wipe it down when the customer is done. Employees will clean surfaces as needed throughout the appointment.

The company also has designed a special back-to-school section on its website that includes college students’ needs, and it is promoting troubleshooting and repairs remotely through its “Geek Squad” service.

“So many Americans have been trying to create an effective office-like experience in their home or use technology to enable remote learning for their children,” Corie Barry, Best Buy’s CEO, told customers in announcing the service brought upon by COVID-19.

“No matter the challenge, we can help you.”

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