As we race once again towards the holiday season, it’s important to keep in mind one of the often-overlooked shopper categories. Back-to-school, as valuable as it is, often gets overlooked in favor of Halloween. With ‘back to school’ searches growing 12% in 2015 and a forecasted $68 billion in spend, it’s an opportunity not to be missed — and it’s not too late to reach these consumers and reap big rewards.

These 5 key trends can help drive your back-to-school marketing strategy:

1. Back-to-school marketing is largely driven by localized trends and timelines. In fact, Google reports that one of the peak seasonal search terms is “when does school start” and that 80% of consumers are looking to purchase within two weeks of the first day of school. Back-to-school is a season with real opportunity to drive big results in a small (but regionally varied) timeframe. While one big national campaign is unlikely to drive consistent results, building regional campaigns around school calendars is clearly an important strategy.

2. Back-to-school shoppers are looking to narrow their experience locally. Google research suggests that consumers are looking to shop “NEAR me” in their I-want-to-go moments, suggesting that a local experience and a mobile experience are key levers for success. Google also reports that most consumers are looking to purchase items at three or fewer stores. These trends suggest that a successful localized strategy can net huge results.

google trends

3. Mobile is increasingly important in 2015. In the same blog post, Google reported 40% of searches last summer were mobile, and the 2015 trend outpaces that at 50% of searches. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that 41% of consumers are also using mobile to comparison shop, so in-store deals and price matching are likely also critical to success.

Further supporting the local-mobile experience, NRF reports only 21% of those surveyed indicated they intend to use their mobile device to make a purchase. This, paired with the 41% of mobile shoppers looking for more information online, clearly points to the importance of a local-mobile experience, both to drive consumers into your store, and to ensure their in-store mobile experience supports a purchase path. Proximity targeting, mobile ads and mobile cues in stores for targeted content (shopping lists, review pages) are easy ways to convert in-store mobile comparison shoppers. Apps are fantastic for driving loyal shoppers to the right products at the right time.

4. Deals and promotions are especially important. The back-to-school market is still largely dominated by female shoppers who tend to be more frugal and seek out deals. With 53.8% of consumers indicating ads helped them find products and deals they needed, it’s clear that ads and promotions are effective at creating those ‘I-want-to-buy-moments’.
walmart price match

Many retailers like Best Buy, Staples and Walmart are getting ahead of comparison shopping by offering price matching, or a ‘price match plus %’ model, which removes in-store comparison shopping anxiety. Having a promotional strategy that allows for in-store comparison-shopping on a mobile device and offers promotions while doing so is likely to drive big dividends in stores this year.

Best Buy

5. Reviews and social media are critical for savvy comparison shoppers. The NRF found that nearly 65% of consumers indicate that social media will play a role in their back-to-school shopping and 45% look to peer reviews for guidance. With this in mind, it’s critically important to leverage your influencers as well as branded outreach. Focus on creating opportunities for your consumers and brand teams to drive a strategy that includes reviews, influencer content and direct and consumer-to-consumer social engagement for these comparison shoppers.

The value-focused back-to-school consumer has become savvier, with a tendency towards mobile-first and mobile-also experiences, while still making the majority of purchases in a brick-and-mortar location during a short season.

In order to capitalize on this, deploy a localized and cross-platform strategy to drive these value-focused consumers to local stores. Once consumers are in your stores, offer them both content to make their decisions easier and deals/promotions to make those purchases more attractive.

By Rachel Ullstrom / Account Director, Rio SEO