For today’s teens, August is the new September. Schools are increasingly going back into session in mid-summer, sometimes even in late July. Mid-to-late August has become the new standard in many communities, including mine in Fort Worth. Now, the outliers are the areas where students don’t go back to school until early September, sometimes due to the political clout of the tourism industry in those regions.
There are several reasons for this recent trend. First, in many areas, students have to take statewide assessment tests in the spring, so schools need to front-load their educational programs to prepare students for those tests. Second, going back in August allows students to complete first semester before winter break, rather than going away for two weeks and coming back to take finals and write term papers. Third, finishing the school year in May allows students to take summer programs at colleges. Fourth, studies have shown that the financial and environmental costs of starting back up in mid-summer are almost a wash. And, lastly, the U.S. continues to move further away from its agrarian roots, and few teens are still needed to harvest crops in the summer and early fall.
As a result, back-to-school shopping season is now a July phenomenon, and some desperate retailers are even beginning their promotions in late June, at a time when school was just historically getting out. According to a Deloitte study, parents with school-aged kids are planning to spend $688 per child, and back-to-school sales are projected to increase by 10.3% year-over-year, to $83.6 billion. Back-to-school shopping is still an occasion when parents and kids prefer physical stores to online, and more than half plan to visit department stores and/or discount stores, with the latter continuing to grab market share from the former.
According to the Washington Post, popular items this back-to-school season include clothes and backpacks designed to accommodate phones, tablets and laptops; items in “Millennial pink,” a “muted, salmon shade” that’s considered an “ironic pink”; lightweight laptops that can be used for schoolwork during the day and gaming at night; sneakers with a lot of bling; and accessories for “everything,” including notepads and lockers. What can marketers learn from this year’s back-to-school season?
* Consider moving up other fall sales into July and August. Perhaps the new model year for cars should also be launched in the summer, so that families shopping together for school supplies can also pick out a spiffy new ride to haul home all their loot, and look good pulling up to the first day of school. And if families are now home and settled into their regular routines in August, maybe the new fall TV season should launch then, too, away from the 800-pound gorilla of NFL regular-season football.
* Design other products with tech in mind. Clothes and backpacks are being designed to better fit devices. How about other products, too? Most cars still don’t have a good place to set a smartphone, especially while it’s charging. Maybe fast-food packaging should include room for a phone, so diners can text and scroll while eating. How about chairs? Give thought to how every product can work better with popular devices.
* Add bling. There seems to be a backlash to “basic tech black and white” … even iPhones now come in gold and rose gold. Young customers are now seeking out products in unique colors, and also looking to customize their personal spaces and effects with maximalist design. Offer ways for customers to “pimp out” your product and make it reflect their true selves, to create a conversation piece that they evangelize to others.
With these approaches, teen marketers can ace their pop quizzes now that school’s back in session.