Commentary

Back-To-School Shopping: Bringing Up Daddy

Families with children are expected to spend over $30 billion on back-to-school merchandise this year, or an average of nearly $700 per household. With billions of sales at stake, retailers spend big on marketing at this time of year -- and many advertising and promotional programs seek to engage the valuable “mom head of household” who controls the purse strings for back-to-school purchases. Well, at least that’s the conventional wisdom.
 
But new research from Rocket Fuel shows it’s not always mom who buys the backpacks, jeans, lunchboxes, and pencil cases. In fact, dads are making just as many back-to-school purchases -- and using mobile, online, and social media to do so. Retailers who splashed out on mom-centric campaigns this year would do well to explore a new audience next year: Mr. Mom.
 
According to 2,107 responses to a non-incentivized Web survey conducted on August 1, 2012 across the Internet, dads were five times more likely than moms to consider a friend’s opinion when making back-to-school purchases, and were far more likely to use mobile devices and the Web to make back-to-school buys than moms. Dads, much more so than moms, are engaged, tech-savvy, socially influenced back-to-school shoppers -- who knew?
 
Of course, retailers have long focused on reaching moms -- seen as the CEO of their households and controllers of over $2 trillion in spending in the U.S. each year. Most marketing research aims to find out how moms shop, what influences their shopping behavior, how they use mobile and social media, whether they shop in-store or online, what type of repeat purchases they make, and how and where they share product recommendations with other moms. This research is critical, because moms still make the majority of household purchase decisions. But this new research shows dads are a rising retail force. As more dads explore stay-at-home roles and become involved with every aspect of their kids’ lives, retailers of family and household goods can no longer afford to market “only to moms.”
 
According to the research, 11% of dads shop mostly online, and another 11% shop exclusively online. Comparatively, only 2% of moms shop mostly online, and none shop exclusively online -- instead favoring the in-store shopping experience. Some 59% of moms said they shop “only in-store” and another 29% said they shop mainly in-store, and a bit online.
 
Dads were also far more likely to use a mobile device to make back-to-school purchases, with 42% of dads using their mobile devices to shop either online or in-store, compared to just 25% of moms.
 
Overall, moms and dads together made one purchase more than any other during their back-to-school shopping session: smartphones. Moms and dads were 153 times more likely than the general online population to buy a smartphone during the back-to-school season. Clothing came in at a distant second, with moms and dads being nearly 12 times as likely to buy clothes than the general population during back-to-school. Remember when kids demanded designer duds above all else? Well, it seems the smartphone is the most coveted object among kids and teens today -- and mom and dad are willing to shell out for them right before school starts (take note, kids!).

The bottom line is that retailers can never stop analyzing, changing, and adapting their marketing campaigns, because their core consumer is always changing. To make sure their campaigns are always reaching the most high-value audiences, brands would be wise to deploy in-banner surveys, big data analytics, and other sophisticated marketing tools to consistently fine-tune their campaigns. Advertising that learns from itself to become more and more relevant, and reach more and more of the right prospects, will always deliver better results than campaigns based on past assumptions. 
 
Retailers have spent billions on marketing to moms, and they should never stop finding new ways to reach these influential shoppers -- but moms aren’t the only ones who want to make smart purchase decisions for their families. Move over, mom -- dad just scored a killer deal on a lunchbox.
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