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Back-to-school shopping season starting earlier every year

October 10, 2016

The back-to-school shopping season is a critical time for retailers

The back-to-school shopping season is a critical time for retailers

Now that it is October and the school year is fully underway, brands are looking back at how the critical back-to-school season was handled, especially after researchers predicted a mobile usage rate as high as 90 percent this year.

This summer, marketers and brands made a lot of predictions about how mobile would fit into the back-to-school season. One of the most important distinctions was not just how to start marketing for back-to-school, but when.

“Back-to-school shopping is continuing to start earlier than it has in recent years,” said David Naumann, vice president of marketing at Boston Retail Partners. “This year, shoppers began their search as early as the first week of July and continued into the end of August and early September. The other shift is the increased use of mobile devices.

“According to Bing, 37 percent of back-to-school shoppers planned to use their smartphones, marking a 15 percent increase from last season.”

Back to school
Every year, the back-to-school marketing blitz begins earlier and earlier.

Along with that extended time period comes bigger sales. This year the National Retail Federation predicted $75.8 billion in back-to-school sales throughout the country.

While small compared to the holidays, back-to-school is the second biggest spending season of the year

The market for back-to-school is huge, making it the second biggest time for retailers outside of the holiday season.

A Google report retrospective on this year’s back-to-school shopping seaon found that people started searching Google for back-to-school shopping terms starting around July 11, a full week earlier than in the previous year.

In the same report, Google identifies mobile and omnichannel commerce as the keys to capitalizing on next year’s back-to-school season, as well as the smaller, but still strategically important winter back-to-school shopping season that beings to ramp up around January.

In last year’s back-to-school season, Retale found that 85 percent of customers were using their smartphones to help them shop, predicting that this year’s season would see that number go up even higher. Retale cited mobile’s ten percent year-over-year growth as a shopping tool for back-to-school consumers.

The year before, only 78 percent of consumers planned on using their phones to help their back-to-school shopping experience.

Shopping strategy
The increased use in mobile means that brands and marketers have more opportunities to connect with consumers in a digital and mobile way. To take advantage of that, brands need to make use of every extra day that the elongated back-to-school shopping season will bring.

Brands need to have a comprehensive strategy for how to take advantage of one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. That strategy has to involve the mobile channel, and others, if it is to have any chance of success.

More shoppers used smartphones to help them shop than ever before

In a highly competitive time and industry, brands would do well to learnt from this year’s back-to-school shopping season to prepare for the next.

“The back-to-school shopping season is very competitive with a lot of retailers vying for mindshare and market share,” Mr. Naumann said. “During back-to-school, retailers need to focus on doing everything right, starting with strategically timing their promotions to begin earlier.

“A few other key things successful retailers are focusing on include: engaging with customers on social media to magnify the reach and curate additional passionate followers, optimizing websites for mobile for easy navigation and viewing, driving customers to visit the physical store to inspire spontaneous purchases, and when they are in the store, ‘wow’ them with great personalized services.”

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Danny Parisi is staff writer on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York. Reach him at

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