Google, Facebook And Amazon Battle Over Back To School

Back-to-school shoppers will spend over $75 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation, and Google is planning to get a huge slice of this significant pie.

Here’s how. Starting about July 11, Google says, there was a big spike in back-to-school searches — a week before this phenomenon was noted last year. That’s because parents are increasingly shopping for their school-aged kids on mobile, and looking for bargains. Three out of five of these searches, in fact, were via mobile, and there were 35% more mobile searches than last year.

After these searches, many shoppers visited a brick-and-mortar store within a week, a rate 20% higher rate than last year. So back-to-school brands like Victoria’s Secret PINK backpacks have surged 1000% in terms of Google searches, and Birkenstock is clearly emerging as the favorite back-to-school shoe, with searches up 46%. And Google notes that they are very cognizant of regionalism, noting that in the South, for example, kids search for “bookbag” rather than “backpack,” and Google knows to target any youth typing that in.



So if Google commands so much clout at the search level, they will rule in programmatic advertising, right? Not so fast, says a seasoned executive with interests in the online retailer marketplace. He notes an increasing trend towards shopping searches originating on Facebook and Amazon, as opposed to Google.

“Google is scared to death that more and more shopping searches start at Amazon, which has done a great job growing the Marketplace side of their business. And Facebook uses close to 100 different targeting triggers to place the right ad in front of you. There's very little that Facebook and Amazon don't know about you,” observes Scott Kurnit, the founder and CEO at Keep Holdings Inc., the operator of and in particular is relevant here, as it aggregates products in fashion, home decor, accessories and design.

I checked out his thesis. When I visited Amazon, the first thing I saw on the home page is Back to School, not surprisingly, and when I clicked on that, I got scrolling ads for everything from Lysol to Avery binder to Play-Doh to Paper Mate InkJoy pens, each with a “shop now” link. I’m not sure precisely how much these brands paid to be there, but it was not insignificant, you can rest assured, and that links will keep jumping out at you as you confirm you are a back-to-school buyer.

We have a difficult time imagining Google scared to death of anything, but let’s say they’re concerned about Amazon’s point-of-purchase material. Then Facebook, with its 900 million users a day, must also be keeping Google geeks up at night.

Typical is a Facebook campaign this year from Tobi, an online fashion retailer very up on back-to-school marketing. This brand likes to argue that it “combines Los Angeles inspiration and design with Silicon Valley tech savvy.” To quote Facebook, “Tobi used the Facebook pixel to track its Web site visitors, and created a Custom Audience of its highest-value customers. The retailer then developed 1% and 2% Lookalike Audiences based on that group. Tobi also targeted its core audience of female college students aged 18–24.”

This campaign, which ended in June, achieved a 2X increase in daily revenue and a 50% decrease in cost per action, Facebook says.

Oh yeah, Google responds, you got Tobi and we got Yoobi.

Yoobi makes “colorful kids stationery,” and according to Google, search interest in Yoobi has just about doubled this year, making it a hot back-to-school brand. Yoobi observes that 99.5% of all teachers buy classroom supplies out of their own pocket (definitely a fact I didn’t know), and they spend an average of $485 a year doing so, with K-12 teacher spending at $1.7 billion this year. That adds up to a lot of Google searches. And Amazon and Facebook targeting as well.

We asked Yoobi about their marketing plans this year but had not heard back as of publication time. But if Google isn’t involved, we’d be surprised. 

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