Back-to-School Strategy: 3 Tips as Easy as ABC

August 3, 2017 | Article written by Carly Morris

Summer 2017 may be in full-swing – but so is back-to-school season.

#B2S2017 is on track to crush last year’s record-breaking sales, with back-to-school and back-to-college totals up more than 10% for a whopping $83.6 billion. That’s nearly 20% of retail sales for the entire year.



With consumers tackling their shopping lists earlier every year, this short-lived season presents a major market opportunity that you can’t afford to wait on.


Brick or Click?

Back-to-school is a traditionally brick-and-mortar shopping experience. So what share of the opportunity does digital really hold?

More and more each year.

A 2016 Retale report found that 85% of parents planned to use their smartphones for online school shopping. Of these, nearly half planned to buy directly from their devices (up from 37% the year before).



This is also true for older college-aged students, a record 40% of which will turn to digital for their shopping this year. Within this demographic, back-to-school eCommerce is projected to grow 15% to over $74 billion, or 9% of total retail sales for the season.

And when it comes to mobile, Google found that 3 in 5 back-to-school searches happened on mobile last year, up 35% from the 2015. Searches followed by a visit to a physical store also grew 20%.

Given the magnitude of the back-to-school retail opportunity, both physical and digital, we’re doling out our top three tips on making the most of the season.


1. Timing

The timing of back-to-school season often varies by region and age group. Some students get out as early as Memorial Day weekend, while others stay in session late into June. This, in response, affects when they start up again in the fall too.

This year, the majority of shoppers aim to handle their back-to-school needs between three weeks and one month before the first day of class. Meanwhile, the early birds and the late majority are almost equally matched, with 27% beginning their shopping at least two months ahead, and 21% holding back until the last two weeks of summer.



Pro tip: Don’t neglect the second wave!

There’s fall semester, and there’s spring semester. After the winter holidays, students’ pockets are lined with funds to spend on all their new tech, fashion, and dorm room needs.

In fact, Google finds a strong uptick in back-to-school searches around January each year – a trend that’s been steadily increasing since 2013.

Around this time most retailers are focused on wrapping up their holiday campaigns, not targeting back-to-school shoppers. This offers you a great, and relatively non-competitive, opportunity to reach students and parents at an all new time, in an all new way.


2. Targeting & Messaging

When it comes to targeting, back-to-school advertising is all about catering to two groups: parents and students.

On top of your basic age and education demographics, effective targeting also depends on a deeper understanding of users’ shopping habits, preferences, and needs.

Compared with other adult demographics, moms are 30% more likely to shop and 43% more likely to make purchases on mobile.

But in addition to shopping, mobile also helps moms prepare a plan of action. A 2015 survey found that a full 2/3 of mothers use their mobile devices along the path to purchase. Of this majority, 60% are comparing products, 56% are planning where to shop, 55% are brainstorming ideas, and 52% are searching for product recommendations.

Dads have similar online shopping habits, albeit with a need for speed. In fact, men are 2X more likely than women to take advantage of expedited delivery options.

And they’re not alone.

In the realm of online shopping, 14% of back-to-school shoppers plan to take advantage of expedited shipping this year. (Though this crowd pales in comparison to the 90% on the lookout for free shipping.)



Whether they’re shopping for themselves or alongside their parents, students are a key demographic to watch this season.

Last year a full 57% of college students planned to fund more than half of their back-to-school expenses. And, although younger students don’t have their own disposable income, they can be equally important to engage as well. In fact, more than half of parents in a recent Google survey reported that their children are key influencer in their back-to-school purchases.


3. Mobile Channels

Social channels are all about getting new ideas and reliable product recommendations, and that’s what makes them great for back-to-school campaigns.

Social is the ideal place to target students and parents where they’re already seeking inspiration from friends, influencers, and brands.

Pro Tip: Pinterest is a stand-out option for your campaigns because it’s literally made for sharing ideas. Whether your audience is searching for fashion, school supplies, dorm decor, or study-aiding apps, Pinterest is a prime channel for inspiring the year ahead.

Video is another source of retail inspiration that’s getting more popular each year.

In 2016, Google found that watch time for back-to-school videos was up an impressive 70% year-over-year. The most popular genres? DIYs and dorm tours.

Pro Tip: Think about adding video to your mobile strategy in a way that emulates your audience’s natural preferences. Tap into the DIY hype, or show first-hand how you can get them back to class in style.

With such a wide audience and wide range of mobile habits, omnichannel campaigns just make sense.

In fact, across the retail industry as a whole, the more you can fill in the blanks between in-store and online transactions, the more likely you are to see results.

So, don’t be afraid to dive right in with any channel where your users are active and engaged. Remember there’s no harm in prepping a small test budget to determine where you should really invest your resources.

As back-to-school shopping becomes increasingly mobile-powered, advertisers who make a lasting impression with relevant and useful content will continue to come out on top.

Just keep your audience’s needs in mind, and curate your strategy accordingly.

90% of back-to-school shoppers want free shipping? Make that offer clear in your messaging. 50% of moms use their phones for product recommendations? Show off product reviews or tutorials front and center.

There are always unique new ways to engage your shoppers, whether they’re active in-store or online. All you have to do is find them.

For more on mobile trends in eCommerce, check out our latest infographic: here.