Did you know back-to-school shopping is the third highest-grossing sales event in the U.S.? Bested only by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A total of $80 billion is spent averaging approximately $700 per household and even during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the school year clouded with uncertainty, back-to-school sales could hit a record $100 billion. Unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday, back-to-school sales span across a few weeks, giving retailers more time to engage and convert their target audience.
Typically, parents, children, and teachers spend the last precious weeks of summer trying to enjoy the end of the season while also preparing for the fall school season. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this year’s back-to-school season. Brick and mortar stores that would usually see a boom during August and September have instead registered a 30% reduction in foot traffic. And while this is an unprecedented shopping season, marketers can still look at past behavior to help them inform their campaigns. Let’s examine how consumers have typically behaved during back-to-school.
Consumer spenders include moms, dads, grandparents, teens, young adults, teachers, nearly anyone who is going back-to-school or has a child, grandchild, brother, sister who is going back to school. While the average spend is $700 per household, the pattern of spend is interesting. The NRF estimated the average 2019 back-to-school spends:
What are they buying?
The NRF states that “a quarter of all US households send their children back with brand new supplies, clothing, accessories and gadgets.” So, what has the breakdown of spend on each of these categories been historically?
Because of the pandemic, 2020 back-to-school spending is shaping up to look different than it’s been in past years. Spend on clothing and accessories has dropped by 10 percentage points and spend on school supplies is down 13 percentage points. However, consumers are still spending. Spend on computers and electronics is up by 38 percentage points and 4 percentage points, respectively. The probability of virtual learning is driving these changes in consumer spending habits. Although spending in certain categories has decreased, consumers are still buying. For marketers to succeed in 2020, they need to adapt to the new reality and develop both products and campaigns that better resonate with their audiences’ needs. For example, a retailer which has previously relied on backpacks and back-to-school apparel to increase revenue during this season can market a comfort-forward home line that meets the needs of those who will be learning online – from loungewear and a fresh ‘home classroom’ décor, to board games and fun desk accessories, back-to-school may look different but there is still plenty of opportunity for brands to grow revenue.
In a typical year, brick and mortar department stores are where consumers are buying. Many schools have partnered with these department stores to have their back-to-school checklist easily accessible in their stores. However, online shopping is more convenient, and many buyers take advantage of the free shipping. The NRF reported that parents are saying online shopping takes away from the “school shopping experience.”2020 is an outlier. As a result of the pandemic, online sales shot up 76% in June, as shoppers prioritize safety over the in-store shopping experience. To address this shift in behavior and condition consumers to shop online for their products, brands need a digital-forward marketing and e-commerce strategy that streamlines the online shopping experience and offers attractive deals such as free shipping or BOGO.
Deloitte tells us that convenience matters. Consumers are influenced by these four things:
None of the techniques listed below will have any impact unless your company knows their digital audience. COVID-19 has changed the game for retailers. There have been demographic shifts in who is actually doing the shopping. While women are usually the buyers for the household, men are shopping more and are more likely to go for the best deal than remain loyal to a brand. Consumers who might not have worried about their budgets before, are tightening their belts and looking for greater value.
If you do not have demographic attributes for your current customer and prospect lists, you can expand your knowledge of your audience through demographic data from reputable 3rd party data providers, such as Infogroup, who can help you target your most high-value prospects. Infogroup has audiences specifically for back-to-school season.
Products that consumers would normally grab at a brick and mortar store are now being ordered online. Brands need to tighten their digital marketing strategy in order to maximize their market share.
Display ads and social media marketing are always recommended as a great place to start your back-to-school promotions. In fact, HubSpot reports that 84% of marketers were able to generate increased traffic with as little as six hours of effort spent on social media per week.
Retail’s heaviest hitters, such as Amazon, Walmart, Macy’s and Staples will all be running creative back-to-school campaigns designed to catch their target audience’s attention with promises of quality products at a fair price.
Brand Example: Jansport Offers to #lightentheload
Many parents and teachers are worried about the effects of virtual learning on the mental wellbeing of children and teens. The potential loneliness and isolation under virtual learning is something that cannot be ignored. For their 2020 back-to-school campaign, apparel company Jansport launched their #lightentheload campaign. Jansport featured real stories of real teens and their struggles with mental health. Jansport sent production kits to real customers and compiled a video that they have uploaded to Youtube and shared on their social media channels. The campaign also includes sessions with therapists held over Instagram Live.
Brand Example: TOMS Multi-Generational Approach
For their back-to-school campaign, California-based shoe company TOMS sent an eye-catching email with products for every age – from preschool to college. The email has an “S” layout to help guide viewers’ eyes down the email and products are divided by age group so that the reader could select which education level applies to them and quickly find what they need.
Brand Example: Target’s ‘Study from Home’ Delivery & Pick-up Options
Retail giant, Target, has an entire webpage devoted to back-to-school supplies for students who will be studying virtually this fall. Not only does Target tout their sales and breadth of products on this page, but they stress the safety and convenience of ordering with Target. For consumers who want their order now, they can drive to their local store and have Target employees load their order directly into their trunk. Target is also offering same-day delivery, for customers who don’t have time to jump in the car. Many parents are working from home and watching their children all day, and same-day delivery is the ultimate convenience for them. Target, who is in close competition with other big-box retailers, might be able to edge out the competition by offering quick, convenient and contactless shopping options.
Brand Example: Dick’s Sporting Goods Backpack Selector
Dick’s Sporting Goods started their back-to-school campaigns in July last year. But, one thing in particular that stood out from their normal promotions was the Backpack Selector module. The Backpack Selector is a quiz for the consumer to take to find the best backpack for them, taking some of the guesswork and anxiety over picking the best backpack for kids.