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What I Hope to Learn This Year: Back-to-School Consumer Habits

Back-to-school shopping is in full swing, and everywhere you look there is another advertisement or email pushing the latest and greatest items for the upcoming school year. Marketers get caught up in communicating their products and deals, but what ultimately matters is how consumers respond. To that end, we surveyed parents and students who plan to go back-to-school shopping this year, asking about their back-to-school shopping behavior and how they changed from last year.

Back-to-school is retail’s second-largest season, and consumers are expected to spend $83.6 billion this season, a 10% increase from last year. While brands have already set their plans for this year, it’s important to understand how shoppers are behaving to inform future back-to-school campaigns, holiday campaigns, or any other seasonal campaigns and promotions. Here’s a round-up of five key takeaways from our survey:

Consumers are looking for the best deal. Even though the economy is booming, consumers are still looking for deals on back-to-school items. In fact, respondents said that a sale is the most important factor in deciding whether they make a purchase. Most shoppers are inclined to purchase from brands that offer discounts (96%), free shipping (79%), coupons (74%), and buy-one-get-one deals (58%). Although brand experience has become a key factor in purchase decisions, our results show that during the back-to-school season, consumers are still shopping around to find the best deal. Brands need to ensure their promotions and discounts are clearly communicated, so consumers know they are getting the best price.

Omnichannel is key. O40% of respondents want to hear about discounts from digital advertisements, 35% through in-store displays, 32% through direct mail, and 19% through text message. During the hectic rush of back-to-school shopping, consumers don’t want to go out of their way to hear about promotions. Brands must meet the changing needs of the omnichannel consumer, and be ready to communicate regardless of time or channel.

Leverage historical consumer data. Even with the changes we are seeing in retail, more than half of consumers have no plans to change their shopping habits this year. 60% of respondents plan to shop at the same retailer, spend the same amount, and use the same number of discounts as last year. Brands should use last year’s data, where available, to be more relevant and targeted with outreach. For those known consumers, by knowing what they purchased, what channels they purchased through, their average order value, and other data can help inform a relevant back-to-school communication strategy that helps to drive repurchase.


Create a seamless experience. Ecommerce is a growing player this back-to-school season. 64% of respondents plan to shop online this year, and 32% plan to increase how much they spend online. 51% of respondents plan to primarily make purchases online, so half of consumers are still making purchases in-store. This is key for brands; consumers are still making purchases in-store, but most people are researching and shopping online. This presents the need to create a seamless experience as consumer go from online to store. One tactic among brands is letting consumer purchase online and pick-up the item in-store. It’s important to make sure in-store associates are aware of the offers on the website and if the same offers are occurring in-store, to make the shopping experience as seamless as possible.

Big-box retailers win this season. The other key player in back-to-school this year is big box retailers. 73% of respondents plan to research and shop at a big box retailer this year, and 81% plan to purchase primarily from a big box retailer. The number of consumers that want to shop in-store proves that brick-and-mortar retail is not dying, especially during back-to-school season. Consumers want one-stop shops where they can see and try on items, and purchase most of their list in one trip. Brands that make their in-store experience easy for shoppers will reduce shopper frustration and retain consumers long beyond the back-to-school season.

In sum, our survey found that brands need to put consumers in the center when planning their marketing campaigns. Consumers want clear information about promotions, and they want to hear about that information in different ways. Brands need to use historical data, create a seamless multichannel experience, and optimize their in-store experience to win consumers during back-to-school and year-round.

Take a look at your consumer data this back-to-school season. Are your consumers similar, or different than the results we have seen? Use this information, combined with your back-to-school consumer data, to see what can be improved or changed for the next big push, the Holiday Season.