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Back-to-School Readiness

August is back-to-school month and, like most annual traditions this year, it looks a little different. The coronavirus pandemic has broadened the back-to-school yearly checklist beyond the standard notebooks, pens, and backpacks; remote learning necessitates a new study and desk setup, expanded technological connections, and new masks along with new clothes. Searches for “homeschool classroom” have skyrocketed as teachers, parents, and students prep for remote learning:

back-to-school searches for homeschool classroom overtime, via Google Trends
Searches for “Homeschool Classroom” has risen in the past few weeks. Source: Google Trends

Back-to-School Spending, 2019

Last year, eMarketer noted Amazon’s Prime Day as the unofficial kickoff to the back-to-school season, a sort of midsummer Black Friday event. Historically, back-to-school retail spending has been upwards of $24 billion, noted in the chart by eMarketer below:

back-to-school US spending
US back-to-school retail spending. Source: eMarketer

Digitalcommerce360 forecasted that 29% of the 2019 back-to-school spending would be online. In the same report, shoppers said they spent more than half of their budget on clothing and accessories, then school supplies, electronics, and computers and hardware. Mobile devices played a vital role in consumers back-to-school purchase journeys, between shopping apps, collecting coupons, and researching pricing and retailer’s websites beforehand.

In 2019, young shoppers represented a small, but significant portion of the back-to-school shoppers and held critical influence in purchasing decisions. Their influence stemmed from research into online reviews, social media, and recommendations from friends and family. Now, as digital marketing and communications at increasingly at the core of our daily lives, students are expected to discover more new brands and products through online research – especially as the younger generation helps the older generation get more comfortable with online shopping.

2020: A New Retail Curriculum

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts record-high sales for back-to-school shopping this year, as students prepare for remote learning with big ticket items like laptops and computer accessories. Consumers also plan to buy furnishings for a comfortable remote learning environment, according to the same NRF survey. Retailers in the Technology and Home Furnishing categories should expect a high influx of shoppers and searchers.

back-to-school remote learning
Back-to-school ads are changing both in placement and in content.

Total Retail recently reported that ads surrounding the back-to-school season have changed in both content and spend. There is a high shift to television ads to capture families together in their homes. Content remains sensitive, showing a hopeful message and a blend of the classic school environment and athome learning. Electronics account for a higher percentage of advertisements, reports a survey conducted by Numerator, while clothes comprise a smaller share of ad content compared to last year.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, we saw the online purchasing power of younger shoppers rise, especially among the 18-24 year olds. As many return to college, brands should focus on continually engaging these consumers to create an ongoing digital communication with messages of helpfulness and hopefulness. Sell more than just products: provide inspiration for athome classrooms and desks, tips to keep students engaged in a virtual session, and a means for them to stay in touch with others. 

This back-to-school season, don’t let students be the only ones who learn. Retailers have an opportunity to increase brand awareness and reach new demographics to help students, parents, and teachers prepare for their first day back to school. Remember to inspire through social media and reach consumers however and whenever they search. Experiment with reaching new audiences to build relationships and brand loyalty as we move into the holiday season.