Ready or not, back-to-school season is here


Ready or not, back-to-school season is here

Sara Hernandez


Back-to-school season means change is in the air. Consumers’ mindsets shift from the carefree attitude of summer to more regimented, time-restricted routines, earlier bed-times, and increased spending habits in order to prepare for the next several months of early mornings & extracurriculars. Consumers are looking to brands to help alleviate the anxiety through seamless omnichannel shopping experiences and deals to incentivize purchases. Tactics such as buying online & picking up in store as well as pop-up college stores will help bridge the gap between the ease & convenience of online shopping with the experience of shopping in store, saving on shipping, and interacting with the product.  

According to the National Retail Federation, parents will spend $26.5 billion on K-12 back-to-school necessities this year, up 5 percent from last year, making back-to-school the second-largest shopping time period. Even though parents are the ones spending money, children will still likely influence over $21 billion of those decisions. Industries like travel, dorm room furniture, apparel/backpacks and convenience products are likely to see an influx in August and should be prepared to be at the center of back-to-school purchases.


How They Shop

  • The back-to-school timeline has also evolved into a series of mini-seasons, impacted heavily by tax-free shopping days from July 28 to August 26 at the local level. These shopping “holidays” have created sales peaks at brick-and-mortar retailers depending on the category and state.
  • Getting in front of consumers early is imperative as 62% of shoppers plan to begin their back-to-school shopping before August, spending about $100 more than shoppers who get a later start.[1]
  • In order to capitalize on this spending mindset, discounts and offers are vital for gaining new consumers -- 80% of consumers are willing to try a new brand if they feel they are getting a good deal.
  • Since customers are mainly using their devices to access websites, look for prices, and collect coupons and discounts—instead of actually making purchases,[2] it would serve advertisers well to customize their digital messaging, and capture the consumers’ attention at the right place and right time, particularly with discount offers.

What Are They Shopping For?

  • 80% of consumers are willing to spend the same or more than the previous year during back-to-school season, according to a study by Statista.
  • Products that relate to convenience, moving and extracurriculars see the biggest increase in July & August:
    • Dorm furniture: +20% in search demand from early summer 2018 vs. late summer months
    • Convenience: cereal up 30% compared to early summer
    • Extracurriculars: instruments +18% compared to early summer
  • Back-to-school shopping means much more than school supplies & fresh new sneakers, it also means preparing for the year ahead.

How Do They Think?

  • School and Summer schedules are drastically different, and call for a period of preparation and transition prior to the school year starting up again.
  • There is a spike in anxiety within children and parents alike, calling for parents to plan for reinstating routines, and starting to put changes to sleep schedules, activities, and school responsibilities into effect ~2-3 weeks prior to the first day of school, with gradual changes having the maximum impact.
  • Clinical psychologist Rachel Busman calls out that “Any opportunity for exposure, for repetition, for mastery is going to help [children] do what we call ‘coping ahead.’” Re-introducing children to school schedules and responsibilities should help parents to mitigate any back-to-school anxiety or difficulties in adjustment for their child.
  • Brands should look to alleviate this school-related anxiety as well, and tailor their messaging to emphasize learning-positive themes within products and characters; getting kids excited to learn is sometimes an easier task than getting them excited for the regimented schedule of school itself.

How Do They Act?

  • According to a Kellogg’s survey of 2,000 working parents, parents spend an average of 10 hours a week getting their kids ready for school in the mornings.
  • On average, parents complete a total of 43 tasks (including making breakfast, packing lunches and school bags, and helping their kids get ready for school) before work.
  • As a result, parents are looking to brands to help alleviate some of this stress with guides, tips, and tricks to help them save time and maximize convenience.


Back-to-school season is an important time of year for families. There is an opportunity for brands to capitalize on messaging around offering the best products to help make customers’ lives a bit simpler and more streamlined. There are significant business implications for brands to adjust their messaging to highlight how their products can help consumers save time and add value. Whether it’s a nutritious breakfast bar that allows parents to eat a healthy, balanced breakfast on the go, a dry shampoo for busy moms, a cookbook, an email newsletter that highlights new lunch ideas, or a rewards system for children getting ready for school on time, the opportunities for brands are endless. Brands can also increase their value proposition with their customer base by capitalizing on the demonstrated needs and desires. Brands and companies alike would be wise to start planning for this influx in demand now, in order to get ahead of their customers’ needs as they enjoy summer vacation. There is no greater feeling as a consumer -- busily focused on any number of tasks -- than to be unable to remember how he/she got through life without a particular product. That should be the ultimate goal for any given brand.



Sara Hernandez

Sara Hernandez

Senior Analyst, Search Marketing


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