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The Back-to-School Shopping Season is Upon Us

Summer vacations are winding down as daylight dims a bit earlier in the sky. And with this absolute certainty comes the time when children and adolescents prepare to go back to school. While each locale initiates the migration on different days and weeks, most students begin to navigate to classrooms beginning in early August through the day just after the Memorial Day Holiday. The migration is as much a part of the American culture as the first day of major league baseball, backyard picnics, and annual trips with the family to the beach, the mountain lakes, or family reunions. The back to school shopping season (BTS) is the biggest and most profitable selling season of the year for many retailers.

Like other traditional observances, BTS elicits memories of bright colored pencil boxes, six-inch rulers, yellow #2 pencils and at least an eight-pack of Crayola Crayons. Spiral notepads of blue lined paper, a glue stick, a lunch bucket (often adorned with a favorite celebrity character), and an electronic calculator round out the contents of the latest backpack. New back to school clothing is also a major portion of BTS budgets for all families this season.

This year the National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting that the average family of pre-graduate students will spend $864 per child in school-related supplies. College-bound students, on average, will spend $1199.00 each. Combined back to school sales in 2022 will likely exceed $34.4 billion in the United States alone.

Leading categories will be electronics, clothing, college dorm furnishings and shoes. With rising inflation and a challenging economy, BTS 2022 is shaping up to be a very competitive environment for marketers. “Families consider back-to-school and college items as an essential category, and they are taking whatever steps they can, including cutting back on discretionary spending, shopping sales and buying store- or off-brand items, in order to purchase what they need for the upcoming school year,” says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

Brick and mortar retailers will continue to be the biggest winners in the quest for BTS shoppers with 83 percent of parents reporting they will shop local this season. More than 80 percent say they will be seeking discounts and special deals to help make purchasing decisions. Sixty-one percent say price will be the top consideration for making a purchase. Online shopping for school supplies is expected to be like last year’s experience with third-party apps, websites and store apps receiving large shares of usage. Walmart, Target, Amazon, and Dollar General are at the top of many shoppers’ lists of locations for school-related supplies.

Retailers are focusing marketing efforts on parents, not students, especially for K-12 students. Digital channels will be vital to connecting with consumers for both ecommerce and traditional retailers, particularly mobile-friendly channels. Content should focus on providing meaningful and relevant information about products, services and price that lead consumers through a frictionless shopping experience.

Brick and mortar retailers are adapting and optimizing the in-person shopping experience and implementing technologies to meet the changing desires of consumers. Digital campaigns should encourage the in-store experience with in-store photos, short videos, and local events to drive traffic to physical locations. After a decade of a predicted demise, it appears as though the physical retail experience is alive and well. Don’t forget a shiny red apple for the teacher!