Back to school marketing is being planned by marketers from all industries, and what better way to plan than look at some of the season-defining trends from last year’s back to school season? In this blog post we look back at 3 key trends marketers should know about the 2017 back to school shopping season, and explain how those trends will impact the 2018 back to school season. 

3 Back to School 2017 Trends for Marketers to Leverage in 2018

Don’t look now, but back to school is already on the horizon – and marketers need to be getting ready early in order to be ready for the longest shopping event of the year. In order to help you prepare your 2018 back to school marketing strategies, we took a look at three key trends from 2017 that were reported eMarketer, the NRF and Deloitte, and analyzed what this means for you in 2018. Read on, and if you’re looking for more information, be sure to take a look at our 2018 back to school marketing infographic as well.

1. Mobile growth was big during back to school shopping in 2017, but desktop had higher AOV

Mobile shopping during back to school took a big leap in 2017, with mobile orders jumping up by 44% compared to 2016. The increase in orders on mobile platforms resulted in a 64% increase in revenue. Average order value (AOV) on mobile platforms increased by $13, to an AOV of $109 according to eMarketer.

Desktop, meanwhile, staggered a bit during the 2017 back to school shopping season. There was a 2% decrease in total orders according to eMarketer. Revenue remained the same at 3%, and average order value saw a $5 increase. eMarketer did note that while mobile is on the rise, desktop shopping is still critical. In 2017, desktop accounted for 47.4% of total traffic share (compared to 42.3% for mobile). Additionally, desktop accounted for 68.6% of total revenue for the season (compared to 21.4% on mobile).

What this tells marketers: Mobile and desktop play critical roles in the path to purchase. Marketers need to respond by measuring the impact these devices play for their customers. Cross-device tracking can provide advertisers with data they need to identify sales that began on one device and conclude on another. Cross-device tracking can also help identify affiliate partners that help drive sales. This information can provide strategic value as well as deepen relationships between the advertiser and publisher.

2. Back to School shopping is going later because of patient parents (and college kids, too)

Back to school is the second biggest shopping period in the year, but it stretches the longest – yes, even longer than the holiday season. Part of the reason is shoppers putting off finishing their back to school shopping until later in the summer, and some waited until school began before finishing their purchases.  A 2017 NRF survey among parents found that almost one in four had not started back to school shopping by the first week of August. What’s more, only 13% had completely finished. 43% of those surveyed had only done 50% or less of their back to school shopping lists. But this doesn’t mean there were fewer early back to school shoppers. 27% of these shoppers had planned to start shopping two months before school started (up 22% from 2016).

Back to college shoppers said that 25.6% hadn’t started their shopping by the first week in August. During this same time, only 12.5% had completely finished. For both back to school and back to college shopping, most shoppers still needed to buy basic school supplies and clothing.

What this tells marketers: Consumers are savvy – they’ll start early, and they’ll be patient. That “point” where consumers are ready to make a purchase comes when they believe they’ve found a good deal. The NRF survey found that coupons were the most influential factor for parents and back to college shoppers when making a purchase, followed by in-store promotions. Try to take advantage of this trend by leveraging digital and in-store coupons or an in-store deal if you have a brick and mortar location. Shoppers from mother’s to Gen Z consumers (who love in-store shopping) will be in stores this coming back to school season, so finding in-store offer strategies may be beneficial. One strategy marketers may want to consider cashback through card-linked offers, which can help increase customer loyalty for both online and in-store shoppers.

What marketers should avoid is trying to play “chicken” with potential customers in the hopes that the customer will decide to make a purchase. If something doesn’t seem to be moving the needle, consumers are waiting to take advantage of a better offer, so be sure to give them one.

3. Apparel is the biggest back to school shopping category

Everyone can agree that classic back to school supplies such as pens and notebooks are important. But these products are not the biggest priority for back to school shoppers. Even though school supplies make up 20% of an average shopping budget, clothing and accessories more than doubled that. Deloitte found that clothing and accessories made up an average of 55% of a shopper’s back to school budget. This was an increase from 2016 by 10%. Deloitte also found that the average shopper will spend $284 on apparel and accessories alone, compared to $104 in school supplies.

That didn’t mean that shoppers spent the most money on apparel. The average amount spent on computers and hardware was $307, exceeding clothing and apparel. This was the highest category for spending, despite only making up 14% of a back to school budget.

Finally, Deloitte noted that the average back to school budget was $501 per shopper. This number will vary based on factors such as the shopper’s school year, but is a good number for marketers to be mindful of.

What this tells marketers: There are two takeaways from this information First, this tells marketers that their customers plan a back to school budget around clothes. Second, it notes that technology is a big spend for customers, but not what they plan on using most of their budget for.

Marketers should consider leveraging different types of technology and affiliate partnerships to identify and introduce new customers to their brand, as well as keep existing customers engaged and loyal. Apparel and luxury brands, for example, may want to consider finding influencer marketers they could partner with to show off their fall fashion lines and extend their reach to new potential customers. Influencers can also help by showing off why they like the product, which allows the customer to see the product on a person they follow while also learning why they might like the product. Display prospecting campaigns can also help uncover first-time visitors, customers and even new audiences. Showing off products through social advertising or finding specific audiences through prospecting efforts can make a huge impact in back to school marketing campaigns.

Keep in mind that customers will be patient for the deal that’s right for them. Don’t get caught trying to wait out back to school shoppers. Give them a reason to shop with you through a compelling offer that stands out. They’ve budgeted for back to school apparel shopping, but marketers will need to convey the value that these shoppers can take advantage of to help win them over.