Ace Your Back to School Advertising Strategy

August 23, 2018 | Article written by Carly Morris

The silver lining to the end of summer is back to school shopping. In the past, back to school shopping was almost exclusively done at brick and mortar stores. It was likely you’d pass your classmates in the aisles picking up rulers, markers, and the big-ticket items like graphing calculators. Now, it’s less likely to run into fellow classmates because back to school shopping is shifting online.

Last year, we digested the annual National Retail Federation report on back to school shopping and shared the trends, projections, and best practices for the season. Now, we’re taking a look at how the 2018 NRF report compares and why you should start studying up on your digital strategy.


Why is Back to School Such a Lucrative Time for Advertisers?

Last year, back to school spending reached $83.6 billion and this year is looking to come in right on par, with projected spending estimated to reach $82.8 billion.



Within the K-12 demographic, back to school shopping brings big opportunity across a variety of categories, with an average spend per shopper running in the realm of:
● $236.90 on clothing
● $187.10 on electronics like calculators, computers, or phones
● $138.66 on shoes
● $122.13 on supplies like pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes

College shoppers, on the other hand, have a slightly different list of priorities, which includes:
● $229.21 on electronics
● $153.32 on clothing and accessories
● $109.29 on dorm/apartment decor and furniture
● $102.82 on food


Where Are People Shopping?

While brick and mortar shopping is still alive and well, many advertisers are becoming increasingly focused on how to best engage their online audiences. Here are a few of the report’s highlights on core shopper behaviors for this time of year:
● For K-12 shoppers, the top two shopping destinations are department stores (58%) and online stores (55%)
● For college shoppers, online stores come out just ahead of department stores, at 49% and 40% respectively
62% of millennials plan to do their shopping with a smartphone, and a full 80% plan to shop online
● 18% of 18-24-year-olds intend to use Apple Pay, while 10% plan to use Android Pay


Know Your Audience

With any marketing or advertising plan, it’s critical to determine your primary and secondary audiences. Most advertisers assume that parents are their target audience, but today many students are contributing to their own back to school shopping financially and using social media to discover what to buy and where.

In fact, the NRF’s survey discovered that teenagers will spend an average $35.60 of their own money for back-to-school supplies and pre-teens will contribute $25.06 to the overall costs.
As students’ involvement in the shopping process continues to increase, brands should be actively trying to open up their messaging and targeting to engage these critical young cohorts in relevant new ways.


When to Start Campaigns

Last year, we shared that timing is fairly variable, depending on your specific audience. This year, however, the trend leans toward early back to school shopping.

In 2018, 77% of shoppers plan to start at least three weeks before school starts, which is an increase from 74% in 2017 and 64% in 2008. Similarly, 67% of college shoppers will start their shopping early, which is up from 51% in the last decade.

But, that’s not to say that it’s a missed opportunity by this stage of the game. In fact, 89% of back to school shoppers still have half or more of their school needs left to buy. Better late than never!


Engaging Your Shoppers

To most effectively reach your back to school shoppers, it’s important to find a way to stand out above the crowd. Here are just a few ways that you can make some noise and get noticed:
● Offer Deals
Now that online shopping has become the norm, shoppers are trying to shop smarter and find the best deals for their back to school needs.
● Make it Easy & Affordable
Pricing and convenience are reported as two of the top incentivizing factors for back to school shopping online. Take a tip from the experts at Amazon, who have made it easy for teens to shop online with their parents’ approval, or from Walmart who also updated their app to simplify back to school shopping so kids can shop while parents to stay in control of the funds.
● Leverage Social
A whopping 80% of Gen Zers are heavily influenced by social media in their purchasing decisions. Because students themselves are becoming more engaged in the back to school shopping process, social represents a huge opportunity that brands can’t afford to miss.
● Utilize Video
Everyone knows that video is big on mobile, and the same rings true when it comes to school shopping. In fact, 85% of YouTube video views related to back to school ideas and inspiration are viewed on mobile.

As back to school shopping trends increasingly digital-centric, brands who make a concerted effort to engage their users with the right content and the most simplified online shopping experience will always come out on top.