We are in the heat of the summer season and with it the key back-to-school shopping season. Total combined back-to-school spending this year is expected to reach $83.6 billion, a 10% increase over last year, according to NRF’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. This needs-based season is the second largest consumer spending season for retailers. The NRF annual survey also found that back-to-school shoppers plan to spend an average of $688, of which 64% will be spent on apparel and electronics.

So, how do retailers and brands capitalize on this heightened buying season? And, who should marketers tailor the message to? Leverage this study guide compilation to ace this season.

Concept 1: Further Fragmentation

It’s no surprise that Walmart, Target and Amazon remain the resident retailers for the back-to-school shopping season as demonstrated in the chart below.

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What is perhaps of more interest to note is the variety of retailers’ consumers plan to shop at during the back-to-school timeframe.

Additionally, the timing of the back-to-school season has stretched beyond the core July and August months with product and audience being the largest variable factors. College shoppers start searching as early as April (when acceptance letters begin going out) while parents of school agers may begin two months in advance of the school year starting.

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The emergence of non-traditional holidays, like Amazon Prime Day in July and tax-free back-to-school shopping holidays in specific geographic regions, are important factors that create opportunities for retailers to incorporate into their seasonal strategy. Remember to consider vernacular differences by geography as well as align media budget planning with school start dates by region to maximize reach and remain efficient during key buying times.


Concept 2: Multiple Influencers

65% of back-to-school shoppers say half or more of their purchases are a direct result of their children’s influence, per the NRF’s annual survey. The path to purchase for this season is complex given the various decision-makers involved. For example, kids have less of an influence on school supplies while teachers and schools have significant influence. A July 2016 survey of US parent digital buyers conducted by Bizrate Insights found the following influencer variance by product category.


Possibly one of the biggest influencers of all is price. While students may be more concerned with style and trends, price and promotion still reign when it comes to the final transaction.


It’s important to note that kids are no longer just influencing within the path to purchase, they are also pitching in their own money. The NRF annual survey found, on average, that teens are contributing $38 for back-to-school shopping and preteens are contributing $27, both the highest amounts in the last ten years. So, where do you reach them? Why social media of course! Instagram and Snapchat remain key channels for reaching millennials and Gen Zers.


Concept 3: The Mobile Factor

It’s no secret that mobile commerce continues to grow and the back-to-school season is no exception. While mobile’s primary role during this season is a research tool, there are multiple ways our friendly mobile assistants are driving action.


Want more great back-to-school insights? Check out the NRF’s Back-To-School Headquarters.