Amy Lanzi’s Lessons Learned from Her Off to College Commerce Shopping Trip

Navigating the Off-To-College Commerce Landscape: Lessons Learned and Strategies for Success

Back-to-School Shopping: A Journey of Discovery, Supply Chain Challenges, and Timeless Consumer Lessons

It’s that exciting time of year again when everyone is busy checking off their back-to-school lists. This period marks a return to routine for most, whether you’re a parent or not. For us marketers, it’s the perfect opportunity to welcome new shoppers or keep loyal ones engaged, depending on their back-to-school goals – whether it’s a new school year, a fresh beauty or fashion routine, or the return of all things Pumpkin Spice.

This year, back-to-school took on a whole new meaning for me and my crew as we embarked on the off to college journey. We traded in our grade-specific success lists for survival guides in college dorm living. It’s been an exciting, eye-opening whirlwind of new experiences, and an exercise in balancing the thrill of this new adventure with the anxieties that come with campus life.

New Sources of Authority (aka, The University Meets Dormify)

In what feels like mere minutes after my daughter finalized her college choice, the dorm-life shopping frenzy hit us full force. Right at the outset of our college journey during the new student orientation, the university assumed the role of a retail powerhouse, making it as easy as a click of a button to buy all the essentials for the upcoming fall semester. What set our university apart was its unique partnership with my personal favorite in the fall brand category: Dormify. Dormify crafted tailored solutions, offering device chargers, bed sheets, fans, shower caddies, and everything else you could imagine at prices that fit perfectly for every dorm style at my daughter’s school. This first college shopping experience marked the beginning of Dormify’s ascent as the go-to destination for back-to-college needs, expanding from custom college sites to becoming a trusted resource for top dorm products at retailers like Macy’s and The Container Store. A previously unfamiliar brand suddenly guided our dorm decorating decisions, exemplifying the art of designing for a specific moment and mission, perhaps even embodying the concept of contextual commerce.

Discovery vs Supply Chain

As tempting as it was to go for the ultimate Dormify dorm bundle, we felt a strong urge to give my daughter’s college dorm decor a unique touch. TikTok influencers and various brands had set a high standard for what a standout dorm room should look like. We concluded that some decorations and what I dubbed “high-impact bedding” were essential. After some trusty searches and research on TikTok, the platform was all too attuned to lead us straight to the perfect bedding choice – a collaboration between Love Shack Fancy and Pottery Barn Teen. It epitomized “high-impact” and was a must-have item in our minds. However, to our dismay, it was sold out online, so we embarked on an omnichannel adventure, rushing to our local store. The associate immediately recognized our predicament and informed us, “Everything’s sold out due to a TikTok creator, and you’ll have to wait until October for it to be back in stock, hopefully.” This moment was a setback in our quest for dream bedding, but we managed to find a suitable runner-up replacement. It was an eye-opening experience for my daughter in terms of her perception of the brands, as well as a lesson in the challenges faced by associates when influencers wield such influence and set forth demand into the commerce wild. Supply chain management truly is the new frontier, and brands that can navigate this terrain while maintaining relevance and brand perception are the ones to watch. Out-of-stock items are the quickest path to long-term disloyalty, especially for the young and impressionable gen z & gen alpha consumer.

What’s Old is New Again

After successfully tackling the “high-impact comforter” challenge, we shifted our focus to decor that wouldn’t overwhelm the quintessential dorm room. My daughter prefers a subtle and understated style, and she stumbled upon a TikTok creator who seemed like her kindred spirit in her “For You” feed. What a delightful coincidence! Suddenly, I found myself handed a list of DIY projects, including a photo montage corkboard, custom monogrammed initials, and fairy light frames, accompanied by a bewildered look, as we wondered how to buy these items. These were all things we did back in the day to personalize the wall above our beds, and they could easily be picked up with a quick trip to the ever-dependable Michaels. It was a reminder that as marketers, we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel; sometimes, it’s about connecting with consumers through tried-and-true methods.

Last-Minute Fill-In, with a Twist

Despite our best efforts, we inevitably forgot a few essentials. I noticed that my daughter overlooked the option to add her final needs to her cart for curbside pickup before our journey to her college, and I soon discovered why as we entered the local big-box store. We needed to buy those last-minute, must-have dorm essentials; you know, the less exciting things like laundry detergent, toothpaste, pens, and push pins for the corkboard. This last-minute shopping trip served as a reminder for both of us that this was the last time that we’d embark on a retail therapy adventure together for a while. Whether it was when she was little and wanted to “shop it” or as she got older and needed a break from life, a trip to the store or online shopping was our way of addressing unrelated problems. It was a reminder for marketers that consumers are indeed human, and their needs aren’t always as utilitarian as they may appear when we’re trying to address their “jobs to be done.”

On-Demand Living

We put the finishing touches on her room and had nearly everything she needed. As I left her, somewhat anxious about the things we might have forgotten, she reassured me by saying, “Don’t worry Mom, if we’re missing anything, I can always order online and have it delivered to my dorm!” Feeling a sense of relief, I added her new address to our usual online ordering sites. This was a far cry from my own college drop-off experience, where you couldn’t get anything until that first trip back home. I left my new college frosh daughter feeling reassured, knowing she’d be living in a dorm that’s in our 24/7/365 shopping world, where we could send her just about anything if she ever felt a bit homesick.

As I drove back to my now emptier nest, I couldn’t help but think about our off-to-college commerce shopping mission as something more than just filling a dorm room with the essentials. It was a journey of discovery, supply chain challenges, and timeless consumer lessons. From Dormify’s rise as a college commerce authority to the power of TikTok in shaping Gen Z’s shopping preferences, it’s clear that the commerce landscape is ever evolving. As marketers, we must strike a balance between innovation and familiarity, understanding that sometimes, what’s old can become new again. There’s a cycle and pattern to all this. And in a world of on-demand living, where supply chain reliability can make or break brand loyalty, it’s crucial to cater to the ever-changing needs of our consumers, especially the young and impressionable. So, as we bid farewell to our retail therapy adventures (for now anyway, because I may send surprise packages to her dorm), we’re reminded that commerce is not just about products but also about creating meaningful connections with our customers in their unique moments and missions.


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