Back-to-School Shopping: What Retail’s Second Season Means for Marketers

Retail sales in the US typically see a nice boost at the end of the summer, largely propelled by back-to-school shopping. This period extending from the end of July through August is known as retail’s “second season” and, according to Rubicon Project’s Consumer Pulse Survey, 56 percent of parents plan to spend more money per child this year than they did in 2014.

Turning Consumer Behavior Into Marketing Insights

Though the aforementioned trend may be the bane of children across the country not yet ready to think about their summer coming to a close, it also provides marketers with some great information to better know their audience.

The boost gives predictable insights, such as expecting that “35 percent of college student parents will shop for a new mobile plan later in the summer.” But it can also give insights that go a bit deeper—the most valuable of which can be found in the spending habits of various customer segments, which indicate future purchasing patterns and what factors influence them.

You can even go a step further by dividing these insights into spending habits and purchasing habits. Spending habits are what people spend money on and how much they spend, whereas purchasing habits are how they make those purchases. Marketers should pay close attention to both because, combined, they render a very clear picture of what brands need to focus on to maintain success and which advertising methods are most effective.

Spending Habits

It’s not unreasonable to assume that a good chunk of increased retail spending during the second season will be on back-to-school supplies. This might be true, but there is still a vast amount of detail to be gleaned from what the spending habits of consumers during retail’s second season.

For instance, parents might be less likely to buy high-end brands for supplies that aren’t expected to last long. A 100-pack of store-brand pens is much more appealing than a more expensive (and smaller) set of nicer Dr. Grip pens.

One the other end of the spectrum, parents might be much more willing to spend extra dollars on a higher-end computer. A mother sending her child off to college in the fall is not going to want to get a call two weeks into the semester to learn that her son or daughter accidentally tripped on their laptop’s cheap power cord and now need a replacement to finish their first paper. In fact, Rubicon’s Back-to-School Parent Survey found parents planned to spend a record amount on technology this year, far outpacing any other category.

You also have to take into account where these purchases are being made. Many of us remember childhood trips to big box retailers to fill the shopping cart with notebooks, backpacks, watercolors and crayons. In today’s digital age, though, more back-to-school shopping is being conducted online. And older Millennials—now in the role of young, tech-savvy parents—expect such supplies to be easily accessible online.

Of course, as much as they might want to finish their back-to-school shopping from their living room, most parents know that if you buy clothes for a growing child without trying them on, you’ll have to send them right back. This means that some back-to-school items will still warrant a visit to the store.

Purchasing Habits

The “back to school” second season also provides a plethora of information about customer purchasing habits, which many advertising companies might see as more valuable than their spending habits.

In the past year alone, mobile spending has gone up significantly, with 48 percent of parents of college students saying they’ve clicked on a mobile ad in the past week. Information about the platforms and devices that customers use to buy back-to-school supplies can not only continue to inform advertisers on this trend, but also inform them about what products people are simply not looking to buy online (e.g., the aforementioned example of clothing).

Purchasing habits can also tell marketers what kinds of ads are most effective for specific kinds of customers. For example, a banner ad for a line of Avengers-themed backpacks might get a much better engagement rate when put in a mobile app than if it were put on a non-mobile website. Similarly, a pre-roll video ad for sneakers might get a stronger response when placed before a SportsCenter highlight video.

Marketers can then take this information, which modern programmatic technology allows to be gathered in real-time, and use it to quickly optimize their campaigns to get maximized results. They can also apply these results to future campaigns as the second season ends and the early holiday season approaches.

The back-to-school second season can be a big boost for retailers’ top line, but it’s also very beneficial for marketers to gather critical consumer intelligence that can make their future advertising campaigns even more effective. In an age where consumers are ever more wary of ads that they feel don’t relate to their wants and needs, this kind of information is crucial.

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