back to school consumer trends, back-to-school marketing strategiesAccording to eMarketer, consumers are beginning to shop earlier than July, lasting through September. This makes the back-to-school shopping period longer than the holiday shopping season! With this lucrative shopping season starting earlier and earlier every year, brands need to strategize their back-to-school objectives and campaigns now to prepare for those initial shoppers in June. To help, we’ve researched four back-to-school consumer trends brands should keep in mind when developing their back-to-school marketing strategies.

1. Back-to-School Shopping Fatigue

During the months of June to September, customers fluctuate quite often in their shopping behaviors. Rakuten Marketing identified trends during back-to-school 2018 that showed shoppers heavily purchasing early in the back-to-school shopping period, then dipping around late July to mid-August, only to start buying again. That “dip” is partially caused by shopping fatigue – shoppers know they need to shop, but also recognize that they have time to get it done. Marketers should see this as an opportunity to stand out and energize consumers. Rather than accept this lull, marketers who push exciting deals and highlight better offers have a chance to reinvigorate shoppers who otherwise would have remained in stasis for weeks. This newer strategy can help not only boost sales, but beat out competitors in key verticals as well.

2. Post-Prime Effect

back to college shoppers, back-to-school marketing insightsIt’s hard to say whether Amazon’s Prime Day is a cause for this shopper fatigue, but there’s no doubt this new shopping period has contributed. The “Black Friday in July” phenomenon has motivated brands to promote hefty discounts of their own in mid-July as an attempt to compete with Amazon, and consumers have come out on top with active participation in purchasing deep-discounted products. This significant change in how consumers are approaching back-to-school shopping has demanded that marketers adapt to these new shopping behaviors, as well as change the way they shop after the deals dissipate. Marketers need to adapt to compete with the Prime Day shopping period, but also need to plan for shopping behavior changes afterwards.

3. Solving the Online Shopping Apparel Challenge

Apparel and accessories is one of the most important verticals in back-to-school and back-to-college shopping. In the Rakuten Marketing affiliate network, it was one of the highest performing categories every single week of the back-to-school shopping period. National Retail Federation (NRF) data shows that apparel is the highest spend category for back-to-school shoppers, and second highest for back-to-college. However, there’s a challenge. For back-to-college shoppers who are likely picking out their own clothes but doing so online, the clothes need to fit right. It’s very common for consumers to return online-ordered clothing that doesn’t fit, but 45% of surveyed consumers have also said they wouldn’t return to a brand if the clothing ordered didn’t fit or they received the wrong size due to the time and money spent with no gain. In a digital landscape where consumers have no shortage of options, it’s very easy and common for unsatisfied consumers to go elsewhere than to continuously try to find “the right fit.” With back-to-college apparel shopping being so critical, brands need to ensure they provide shoppers with adequate sizing solutions so they know exactly how the garment will fit. From proper sizing charts, to models, using influencers to show off how clothes fit, and even harnessing sizing tools, apparel brands will need to address this growing trend in both the short term and the long term to keep shoppers happy and loyal.

4. Smarter Tech for Smarter Shoppers

Creating marketing strategies that deliver positive experiences to consumers is an increasingly complex task because of how long the back-to-school shopping period is. With how vast and changing the needs are of back-to-school shoppers, it’s difficult to know exactly who, when, where, and how these consumers are shopping. In the past, we’ve used trends and patterns to best identify what consumers are most likely shopping for, and when. This has been helpful, but as consumers continue to demand more personal and relevant advertising experiences (as opposed to static or generic disruptions) marketers will need to adopt new tools and strategies. Rakuten Marketing has taken the approach of leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and data to offer a proprietary tool called Prospecting. Prospecting not only helps identify new customers based on similar behavioral patterns to pre-existing ones, it also leverages AI to help inform and provide insights into how marketers can reach these new customers and build a relationship. For the back-to-school shopping season, this is a game changer – this tool is the best place for brands to start when it comes to advertising during the back-to-school season. Prospecting helps eliminate guesswork and reduces the amount of “heavy lifting” marketers need to do to have the most informed, strategic and effective campaigns that provide insights and feedback needed to quickly target and create new customers for a brand. Once the perfect audience is created, brands should utilize other tools to retarget existing customers (or missed opportunities), and ensure all customers receive relevant marketing experiences that address their back-to-school needs.

These trends are only the beginning when it comes to understanding the large array of consumers that shop during the back-to-school period. Stay tuned for more back-to-school insights and marketing strategies that will help brands deliver relevant, thoughtful advertising and increase overall back-to-school performance.