The Peaks and Valleys of Back-to-School Shopping

Different categories, different cycles

Author: Monica Melton

August 16, 2017

It’s mid-August, the high season for back-to-school shopping. But not all back-to-school products crest at the same time.

According to Rakuten Marketing, consumer electronics sales tend to spike in the third week of July, followed by sporting goods and apparel and accessories as July comes to an end. Sales of footwear and school supplies see gains in the first week of August. School essentials such as backpacks reach a peak in the second week of August, followed by another surge for school supplies and books. Finally, software sales see the biggest gains come September.

“The back-to-school season is different from the holiday shopping season,” said eMarketer analyst Yory Wurmser. “There are several overlapping seasons, not just by product, but also type of student (college vs. high school vs. preschool, for instance). School supplies and software peaks late, when students see what they need.”

eMarketer forecasts that this year’s back-to-school sales will reach a new high, surpassing the record set in 2016. US retail sales for the months of July and August will reach an estimated $857.18 billion, accounting for 17.0% of total retail sales for the year.

“The economy is doing relatively well. Unemployment is low (4.3%), consumer confidence is high and gas is still pretty cheap,” said Wurmser. “The country as a whole is more optimistic about the economy than it was a year ago.”

Rakuten noted another shift this year—a shift to mobile. As of early August, it said, spending via mobile was up 40% over 2016, and consumers were spending 69% more per mobile order. Rakuten said it expects mobile to become the predominant shopping platform over the next two to four years.