The Long Haul Back to School: Student and Parent Spending Spikes Continue Well Into September
Many retailers and brands are already well over a month into back-to-school (BTS) marketing. Fortunately, there's still plenty of time to make strategic improvements to omnichannel commerce campaigns in order to take advantage of the nuanced shopping habits of both students and parents.
The BTS season, which stretches from July through September, is second in size only to the winter holiday shopping season. And, as this National Retail Federation survey shows, 2018 will be close to the highest-spending year ever, at $82.8 billion. This means BTS can be a huge revenue generator — but only if you plan like a high achiever.
The focus is on young kids, high-schoolers, and college and grad students. As certain states send kids back to classes as early as the first days of August, it’s imperative to one, be ready for last-minute shoppers and two, plan for the later surge of undergrad and graduate students.
K-12: A Shared Shopping Experience
From kindergarten through high school, kids love stocking up on fun, flashy school tools. Parents love it too, as long as the items are also functional and reasonably priced. Luckily, these days there’s plenty to choose from — at all price points. Backpacks, lunchboxes, notebooks, crayons, pens and pencils are perennial must-haves. Are you well-stocked, and are you marketing everything aggressively?
Research shows that between mid-July and mid-August, school item searches by both parents and kids dramatically increase. For example, searches for “book bags” are up 733 percent during this period. Other items have similar increases: 575 percent for pencils, 244 percent for lunch boxes. When search numbers go up like this, your targeted marketing spend should too.
Consumers may start out with one or two items on their shopping list, but a wide array of stock, beautifully displayed and at irresistible prices, has a funny way of transforming a few necessities into many must-haves.
College Students: Varying Degrees of Individuality
Undergrad and graduate students are another group of eager shoppers. However, their shopping season tends to be slightly later — mid-August to mid-September. With this group, décor and interior design purchases are important. Students want their rooms to mimic all the comforts of home, at the same time reflecting their own distinctive design tastes. Sales numbers show that during the August to September period, furniture sales for room dividers are up 916 percent over July, wall art 702 percent, and area rugs 416 percent. Keeping it all clean is important too: Swiffer sales are up 16 percent.
Interestingly, college students’ searches of supplies like binders, pencils and notebooks aren’t up nearly as high as they once were, as much of their work is now done online.
Another area that’s important for college students is socializing, and search results confirm this as well. Again, in the August to September shopping period, searches for related items show a jump over July numbers. For example, audio is up 122 percent, video game consoles are up 10 percent, and video game console accessories are up 24 percent (a clear sign that video game console owners are buying accessories to make their gaming more inclusive).
In college, going out to parties, bars and clubs is also a regular part of weekly life. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that searches for nighttime fashions and accessories enjoy a jump in interest, too: pumps are up 122 percent, boots 39 percent, and wallets and money clips 12 percent.
Finally, no college experience would be complete without the all-important caffeine factor. Between long hours in lecture halls, late-night study sessions and socializing, students love to sip and share their most beloved fuel. Coffee sales shoot up 27 percent during the BTS shopping period.
Laptops are popular with most students. These higher-ticket items are profitable, but customers are always looking for a deal. From July through September, bring your laptops front and center with super-competitive deals. Throw in at least one early or preview Black Friday sale with irresistible pricing.
Savvy marketers will keep their spend high through the end of September. Parents start shopping for young kids earlier in the summer while college and grad students rarely get started until August. You can easily win students’ and parents’ attention by marketing aggressively, creatively, and always offering competitive pricing.
BTS shoppers are out there now and will be for several more weeks. Show them what they want, help them discover additional items they didn’t know they needed but cannot go to school without, and earn the top grade on this important multi-quarter commerce season.
John Roswech is executive vice president of brand solutions at Criteo, the advertising platform for the open internet.