9 things retailers need to consider for back-to-school 2014

The National Retail Federation estimated that back-to-school shopping in 2013 hit a record $72.5 billion, making it second only to holiday shopping for consumer spending. As with holiday, consumer research and shopping for back-to-school have been starting earlier and earlier each year.

It can be hard for marketers to keep up with the latest trends and to know the most important updates affecting the industry. That’s why we’ve created a simple list of the 9 things retailers need to consider for back-to-school 2014:

  1. Know the back-to-school timeline – Similar to 2013, we anticipate that back-to-school search volume will start to pick up with heavy research in July. Peak shopping and search volume will occur in August and will continue well into September, with some shoppers not wrapping up until October. For marketers, this means planning to get in front of consumers early to influence their purchases. 
  2. Be clear on your purchase cycles – Jeans have a shorter decision cycle than products such as consumer electronics. Make sure to take this into consideration when planning promotion periods. Also, know when the big spikes in purchasing will occur. For example, search interest goes back up for apparel in the weeks after school has started because kids are seeing what their friends are wearing.
  3. Know your audience – While it’s important to create demand and desire from young people and teens, their parents are still controlling the purse strings so you’ll need to win them over as well. According to Mintel, the generation gap is driving divergent shopping behaviors. Millennial parents, for example, are significantly more likely than Gen X or Baby Boomers to prioritize their children’s fashion and are concerned with having the latest electronic gadgets. Millennial parents are also the most avid researchers of back-to-school goods and the most receptive to online advertising.
  4. Use what you know to create compelling content – Advertisers should create content to help people navigate the complex world. Retailers can use their data to provide content that is relevant and adaptive to their consumers, particularly by responding to needs stated in search queries. Retailers can also pull up past purchase history or recommend similar items based on what they know about their consumers. When brands invest in quality, engaging content, it drives better performance across all channels.
  5. Deals drive sales – Mintel reported that 68% of consumers in 2013 searched for back-to-school deals, and 88% of consumers agreed that using coupons was a good way to save money. Retailers will need to be aggressive and compelling with their offers to stand out. They should also engage their affiliates, as consumers actively search for deals and coupons across these networks.
  6. Be aware of sales tax holidays – Many states offer tax-free shopping weekends. To capitalize on these profitable periods, marketers should leverage geo-targeted messaging for people who prefer to skip the crowds and shop online.  Additionally, retailers should determine when school starts in their key markets and back out their timelines to geo-target campaigns for local relevancy, as well as vary spend by state based on major shopping days in those locations.
  7. Mobile will play a bigger role than ever – Smartphones are the ultimate shopping companion. According to eMarketer, 97% of Gen Y and 91% of Gen X indicated using them while shopping in-store. With consumer confidence still a bit shaky, mobile has become a central tool for price and product comparison. 65% of Gen Y and 62% of Gen X indicated that they decided against a purchase based on information they found on their smartphones. The above trend highlights the importance of a competitive pricing strategy, as well as the importance of strong user reviews and product information. Mobile searches continue to increase, with users expressing annoyance when they can’t find the easy response they seek to a search. To avoid alienating consumers and to capture those on the go, make sure product information and store locations are fully up to date.
  8. Paid social plays an important role – Paid social provides a significant opportunity for brands to deliver helpful content in a visual format to connect with those considering back-to-school shopping. Paid media and earned media are converging to create more opportunities for brands to influence consumers. Back-to-school searches related to Pinterest grew 377% over the last year, according to Experian. If you are a publisher creating back-to-school content, add in a Pinterest board to accompany your brand engagement. Retailers should do the same by putting together outfits on Pinterest boards that can be shared with friends or parents on wish lists. Before you get started, define a measurement strategy.
  9. Think beyond back-to-school – The summer season is a great time for retailers to collect and beef up their CRM data to prepare for holiday.  Evaluate your data to see what holes you have and where you could take action. Consider what you can learn about your consumers that will help better inform your holiday strategy.

Retailers should note that proliferation of technology is greatly impacting how people make decisions and purchase products. As further advancements are made and consumers use their preferred devices to check price, research new products, find store locations and more, behaviors will continue to evolve. For marketers that choose to extend their back-to-school campaigns into the mobile and digital spaces, the goal should be to reach shoppers on whatever channels they engage with most.

How are you approaching back-to-school marketing at your organization? Remember, research-related searches pick up in July. Be smart and act now to drive performance during the back-to-school season.