Kids Buy Low-Tech and Cool Going Back-to-School

Aug 02, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It was an idea that started out with making parenting easier but now a new combination lock that uses letters and words instead of numbers is being targeted to students.

WordLock is the invention of Todd Basche of Los Altos, California.

Mr. Basche told USA Today that the idea for the combination lock came to him as he tried to prevent his six-year-old son from going through any of the three gates leading
to the pool in his yard. That meant, in order to open the gates, he would either have to memorize three lock combinations or have at least one of three keys to open a gate.

“I just said, ‘That’s crazy.’ We’re human, we’re working with words all day long. A lock with words just seemed so logical to me.”

From the desire to make his own life less complicated, Mr. Basche developed the WordLock, which is now available in a variety of colors for $5.99 at Staples.

WordLock comes with a five-letter tumbler that offers up to 100,000 possible word combinations.

Kids also set it to things that aren’t words but the lexicon of e-mail, like ‘LOL’ for laugh out loud or ‘AFK’ for away from keyboard,” said Mr. Basche.

While the WordLock is decidedly low-tech, Staples believes it has sales winner with the product. “They’re (kids are) looking for innovative and easy-to-use products and we think
this product fits the bill,” said company spokesperson Sharyn Frankel.

Products such as WordLock are needed, say many in the retail industry, because this year’s back-to-school season is not expected to be as robust as past years. The National Retail
Federation (NRF) projects that consumers will spend eight percent less this year on back-to-school than they did in 2004.

The reason behind the expected drop, says NRF president Tracy Mullin, is a decline in big ticket technology items such as personal computers.

“The real windfall for electronics retailers will likely be from college students, who are continuing to spend money on computers, MP3 players and cell phones,” said Ms. Mullin.

Moderator’s Comment: Are the projections about this year’s back-to-school season an indication that consumers are cutting back on retail purchases or
is it a temporary blip before the holiday sales period begins? Are retailers, in light of projected back-to-school sales, finding alternative and unique products such as WordLock
to help make up for sales that may be lost in other areas where consumers are not spending as much this year?

– George Anderson – Moderator

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6 Comments on "Kids Buy Low-Tech and Cool Going Back-to-School"

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Mark Lilien
15 years 6 months ago

If gas prices and interest rates continue to rise, these headwinds will hold down consumer spending. The employment picture is not very strong, either. There are no major new “must have” fashions, and tech innovation is not in a “quantum leap” mode.

When Microsoft comes out with its new operating system, it will aid the pc/laptop replacement cycle, since the speed and memory required will be increased. Other than that innovation that’s on the horizon (and it appears to be several months away), what will be the stimulus for major retail purchasing?

W. Frank Dell II
15 years 6 months ago

This year’s Back-To-School season is likely to surprise retailers. While the higher price items may be down, the fundamentals are more likely to be up. In most communities there is an increase in number of students, which is a key driver. Higher oil (gasoline) prices may temper sales, but new clothes for growing children can not wait.

Don Delzell
Don Delzell
15 years 6 months ago
Back-To-School has become a fashion driven season. Shop the seasonal store sets at Target, Staples, or Wal-Mart. What you’ll find is that fashion or “trend” is a driving force in product assortment. Functional utility exists, and remains a strong foundation for this business. However, year-to-year increases are not driven by functional utility. They are driven by trends and fashion. If licensing is on an upswing, sales will probably be up over the prior year. If technology is delivering trendy new product categories or product updates (which create a “need” for product replacement faster than the useful life would otherwise), then sales will probably be up over the prior year. If one were to go back in time to the SHOPA show, you’d find very little in the way of innovative product categories, trends, or fashion. Licensing continues to be mediocre, with significant “clutter” brought on by product proliferation. Technology is delivering in the small electronics arena, but these have little or no application to the BTS season. There are no societal trends that would drive… Read more »
James Tenser
15 years 6 months ago

BTS 2005 seems like a yawn to me so far. Cute padlocks aside, there doesn’t seem to be much happening in stores worth getting excited about. Maybe it’s time for retailers to go back to school.

Seasons may provide retailers with themes or organizing principles for promotions, but shoppers don’t always live by the calendar. They expect to find a variety of goods available year ’round and they have a right to be cynical about back-to-school deals.

Yes, it’s tougher to find a big selection of school backpacks after August, but it’s easier to find them marked down then too. Shoppers seem to display less of a herd mentality every year and retail marketers act surprised about it every year. Let’s accept that consumer behaviors evolve over time – because WE train them that way – and apply some creativity toward finding the next paradigms.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 6 months ago

The projections about this year’s back-to-school season were clearly indicated in the article:

“In addition to such current spending dampers as high gasoline prices, retailers have been feeling the effects of a gradual decline in the school population ages 5 to 19. It follows from a drop in the birth rate in the 1990s.”

“A larger number of schools operating year-round also has sapped some strength from the season.”

Works for me.

Mark Burr
15 years 6 months ago

It seems to me that retailers themselves have diluted the ‘Back to School’ season to such an extent that it hardly holds the merchandising value that it once did. If they could do the same to the Holiday Season, they likely would (and they actually have to a certain extent).

Also, help me understand the connection between gas prices and ‘Back to School’? Huh? We certainly can blame just about anything on gas prices, however, it hasn’t impacted any other form of retailing to such an extent that a slow down can be attributed to that as a single factor.

It sounds like the perennial use of the weather as an excuse. But, making an excuse about projections? Excuses usually come after results.


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