Studying Up for Back-to-School

Consumers are spending more, shopping earlier and doing their homework

Author: Toby McKenna, Bazaarvoice

June 6, 2017

This post was contributed and sponsored by Bazaarvoice


Back-to-school is big business for retailers. How big? It’s the second most-popular shopping window of the year, behind the holidays, and for the past two years, shopper spend has increased by 10% or more. If that trend holds for 2017, back-to-school spend will surpass $80 billion.

In fact, the three biggest back-to-school categories—consumer electronics, office supplies, and clothing/apparel—have incredibly distinct seasonality trends, forcing marketers to think about their back-to-school strategy at the category or even SKU-level in some cases. 

We analyzed Bazaarvoice Network data from 2016 to uncover seasonality trends and shopper behavior across the three major back-to-school categories. Here are the top three trends to watch.

No. 1: As back-to-school spending rises, so does opportunity for advertisers.

Back-to-school is a widening market, with spend increasing year over year and spanning multiple buyer targets like parents of children in grades K-12, parents of college students, college students themselves, and teachers. In 2016, back-to-school spend rose 11% year over year to an estimated total of $75.8B.

As consumer spend increases during the summer months, so do the opportunities for smart advertisers to connect with and capture shoppers. Given the complexities with regard to personas, the often fragmented digital path to purchase, and variety in seasonality across key back-to-school categories, implementing a data-driven advertising strategy is more important than ever. In-market shoppers are leaving a trail of strong intent signals across devices and across the web.

No. 2: Timing is everything, and seasonality patterns vary by category.

The majority of back-to-school shoppers research and buy items throughout the summer, and they are beginning their search as early as July, according to a Deloitte survey. What’s more, a third of shoppers say they’re not done buying until after the school year begins.

One way to approach this wide-ranging period of time is to look at the exact window when people are shopping across the three major back-to-school categories. Back-to-school shopping for consumer electronics spikes first, then office supplies, and finally clothing/apparel finishes the season.

From July 8 to August 22 in 2016, shopper activity increased 40% over the prior month. Mondays were the biggest day for product pageviews in this category. After enjoying summer weekends, shoppers go back to their checklist at the start of the week.

Office supplies is the next category to trend. As teachers send out their supply lists, parents begin to stock up on these items in August. A second peak, in September, indicates a second, smaller rush for forgotten items.

Clothing and apparel is the last of the major back-to-school categories to spike. Shopping peaks in late August and steadies through September. Perhaps shoppers are awaiting colder temps or opt to track trends after school begins.

No. 3: Shoppers “doing their homework” demonstrate an immediate intent to buy.

When it comes to the type of data they are using for campaigns, advertisers should leverage insights from people who have a demonstrated an immediate intent to buy. It can be difficult to know which consumers are closest to the bottom of funnel, but there are indeed ways to identify them.

For example, looking at shoppers who have researched specific products online can reveal when a shopper has reached the comparison or vetting phase of the purchase cycle. Even though many back-to-school shoppers are making purchases in-store, they are still researching online in droves.

More than 61% of all back-to-school shoppers will research products online prior to purchase, according to Deloitte, and Bazaarvoice’s own ROBO study found that this percentage is higher across key categories, such as laptops (84%) and footwear (63%).

To understand shoppers’ path to purchase and hone in on the moments they are in the intent phase, advertisers should work with their data partner to understand how they source and define their audience segments.

With back-to-school budgets on the rise, retailers should be optimistic about their opportunity heading into the summer months. Check out our back-to-school advertising cheat sheet here. This infographic will help you learn more about this important season and how Bazaarvoice can help.