Home  › Marketing › Strategies

Learning the 1-2-3's of Back to School in the Digital Space

  |  October 18, 2011   |  Comments

Retailers who choose not to create seamless on- and offline sales initiatives may be left behind in the 2012 back-to-school season.

Today, it's quieter during the day in homes throughout America. It's quieter because three little words made quite some impact a few weeks ago in stores and online. Those three words are "back to school," a time where teachers take on the demanding task of teaching children and adults of all ages the knowledge to make them successful. Taking a look at this past back-to-school season and the one prior, we can see some interesting changes in the marketplace, searcher behavior, and cross-visitation trends in the space.

Compared to 2010, back-to-school survey shoppers as reported by Compete's Online Shopper Intelligence Survey have stayed relatively constant, with about 40 percent of households shopping for back-to-school items for at least one person, and that person most likely a child or young adult. Even with the rollercoaster ride of a year we have had with the economy, one in four consumers say they are going to spend more this year than they did in 2010, and the same trend occurred in 2010 versus 2009.

All the "I'm going to shop for back-to-school supplies and spend more this year than last" seems rather hearsay…however, when asked about whether or not products would be purchased online for back-to-school shopping, an interesting trend occurred. On a consistent basis, 2011 shopping outpaced all products with the exception of electronics - proving that this year, more action was happening online than in stores.

See the chart below:


Additionally, by using Compete.com, I was able to see 16 percent growth year over year in the "office and school supplies" category; industry leaders being Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax.


Now that we know that the online space is becoming increasingly more important as a shopping outlet than traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, how is the online space playing a role as a tool used for back-to-school research? Of those who research prior to purchasing back-to-school items, over one-third relies on catalogs, circulars, or brochures, pushing a more traditional means of advertising. One in four researchers still head to a search engine to get quick and relevant results for their top-of-mind inquires. This means that offline promotional mailers and search term lists should be integrated, allowing for multiple touch points along the researcher path.

Finally, understanding how back-to-school shoppers are shopping online is especially important. Of those who shopped at non-school-supply-focused stores versus more traditional school supply stores, loyalty plays a large role.


Looking at average cross-shopping over the month of August, over one in three multi-product-focused e-retailers (Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Kmart) have visitors shopping back-to-school- and supply-focused sites (Staples, Office Depot, OfficeMax). Whereas, when looking at the reverse, only 1 percent of shoppers on school supply-focused sites were on e-retailers. This suggests that shoppers who visit a back-to-school product-driven site are more likely to stick to that type of retailer rather than shift gears and hit larger e-retailer sites.

The back-to-school market is changing, and it's changing fast; creating and disseminating integrated messages via search and more traditional means is important. More importantly, driving online as a source for shopping is becoming increasingly more important. Retailers who choose not to create seamless on- and offline sales initiatives may be left behind in the 2012 back-to-school season.



Pashmeena Hilal

Pashmeena is an online marketer with over six years of experience. Currently, she is a senior associate for retail and consumer goods products at Compete, and manages client relationships focusing on marketing analytics consulting. Pashmeena and her team work to conceive, lead, and perform new analysis of consumer marketing issues and business practices using large datasets of online behavior and survey responses. Additionally, Pashmeena works to manage and grow strategic account relationships pertaining to the retail vertical. Prior to joining Compete in 2010, Pashmeena worked at Studiocom and Carat holding account management roles. Pashmeena holds a B.A. in Advertising from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters in Integrated Marketing from Emerson College.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

US Consumer Device Preference Report

US Consumer Device Preference Report
Traditionally desktops have shown to convert better than mobile devices however, 2015 might be a tipping point for mobile conversions! Download this report to find why mobile users are more important then ever.

E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle

E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle
Have you ever wondered what factors influence online spending or why shoppers abandon their cart? This data-rich infogram offers actionable insight into creating a more seamless online shopping experience across the multiple devices consumers are using.




  • SEO Specialist
    SEO Specialist (Marcel Digital) - ChicagoSearch Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialist   Marcel Digital is an award winning digital marketing...
  • SEO / SEM Manager
    SEO / SEM Manager (CustomInk) - FairfaxAre you a friendly, motivated, and inquisitive individual? Are you a positive, out-going leader? Are you...
  • SEO Analyst
    SEO Analyst (XO Group) - New YorkSEO Analyst @ XO Group About this Job, You and Our Team: The XO Group SEO Team is looking for you, a passionate...