A mobile solution for back-to-school stress.

How can retailers alleviate the stress customers feel during the back-to-school season?

During the 10 years I worked at Staples I gave this question a lot of thought. Certainly, a compelling solution would provide a competitive advantage in a tough market. 

Digging beyond the obvious issues of time and budget you find a more interesting narrative; an emotional story about hope for the coming year. For both parents and students, there are a lot of aspirations fueling the desire to kick-off the new school year successfully. The true insight is that families want time to talk about their aspirations and struggle to find it. Here’s a provocative idea to address this challenge: bringing the store to the customer!

Creating a mobile pop-up store would eliminate the need for customers to leave their neighborhoods. I’m sure everyone would appreciate the convenience. Loaded with products customers want to try before they buy (think backpacks, clothing or food samples), it has the potential to provide a unique experience that online retailers can’t match. And it satisfies a very common customer desire: instant gratification.  For those products that customers don’t want to “kick the tires” before they buy, our mobile store could have a digital shopping component. Seeded with the local school supply list, smart enough to know which products are available online and which are in the mobile store, it will facilitate comparison shopping. This would be a great way to boost private label products and help families identify ways to get the most value for their money. It almost makes shopping fun. Almost.

To push the concept further, and to make this a brand building experience, our mobile store needs to facilitate a conversation about the family’s aspirations for the coming school year. Make it an ice cream social and now our mobile pop-up store is a fun way for people to tell their stories. With a little recording studio in the back and a host to interview people, their stories could be captured on video and fed to a central web site. Snippets of the videos could be shared through social media, allowing others to participate in the experience. The side of our back-to-school bus has monitors displaying video clips, providing inspiration to the gathered families. Traveling around the country, collecting stories at each stop, this becomes a great way for retail brands to connect with their customers.

The new school year is starting. What have you learned about your customer that might help you get a higher grade with them the next time back-to-school roles around. Post your ideas and innovations below.