School Daze

Each year, it seems as if annual shopping seasons come earlier and earlier, whether it’s Halloween, Christmas, or back-to-school. Part of this is due to regular retail cycles— which generally run for one or two months prior to peak shopping periods—and then sharply drop off once the holiday or event has passed. Yet, it seems as if this year’s back-to-school shopping season crept up much earlier than in past years, with many TV ads airing at the beginning of August (and some even debuting in late July). Meanwhile, digital ads and sales promotions began popping up even earlier, some appearing before some students even had a chance to unpack last year’s school bags.

But why?

According to Bing’s AdCenter (formerly Microsoft Advertising), the answer may be tied to the fact that back-to-school shoppers are forecasted to increase their spending to almost $84 billion this year, up from an estimated $68.8 billion in 2011. That’s a huge increase, especially given an uncertain economy that banks on fourth quarter purchases of new clothes, accessories and electronics. In fact, parents who said they plan to invest in some sort of new electronic device jumped from 51.9% last year to nearly 60% in 2012.



With this rise in spending, marketers are looking to get their piece of increased dollars going toward back-to-school gear. To do so, they must look further than traditional TV and print ads and go where consumers go when searching for the best deals in both the physical and digital realms. Even though circulars, newspaper inserts and upbeat television ads may garner both parents’ and teens’ attention, many still want to know more in order to compare products and prices to get the best deals.

One way retailers are reaching empowered shoppers is through special events, such as Teen Vogue’s Back to School Saturday, a nationwide event “celebrated” on Aug. 11. Held across the country at stores and malls, retailers offered one-day-only discounts as well as free samples and events throughout the day. A nifty iPhone app for Teen Vogue let shoppers check-in to receive discounts. Participating retailers, which included Roxy and H&M, hope that Back to School Saturday will become as big as Black Friday or Cyber Monday already have become for the holiday shopping season, and will serve as a new marker to signal the height of the second-largest shopping season in the United States. This face-time with potential customers is important as consumers are still price sensitive—interaction between consumers and stores often leads to purchase, and for teens, a chance to create brand loyalty at an early age.

However, in-person engagement isn’t the only way marketers can get themselves a spot in the back-to-school shopping frenzy. Because of their sensitivity to price, parents are predicted to spend more time online comparing prices and brands. According to Bing, back-to-school shopping has been shifting to the online world at an increasingly rapid pace—the number of U.S. consumers shopping online for back-to-school items has almost doubled over the past five years. Not only this, back-to-school shoppers are likely to spend almost 30% more than those who shop offline. The average shopper with K–12 students plans to spend an estimated $688.62 on clothing and supplies, a significant amount.

Perhaps even more noteworthy for marketers is to whom they are marketing. Traditionally, parents make the last call in all purchase decisions because they are the ones paying for the items. However, according to an Aug. 3 article in Advertising Age, it seems that the tables have turned, and teens are more likely to pay for some portion of their back-to-school shopping hauls. Citing an NRF survey, 43% of teens will spend their own money on back-to-school shopping this year… that’s up from 38% last year.

So is it time to ignore the parents and target directly to teens? No. However, to effectively increase engagement and awareness to drive purchase, marketers must be mindful of the growing teen back-to-school segment. By utilizing digital media, as well as creating in-person engagement, marketers will be able to reach out to both groups effectively, while building equity in their brands.

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