5 Tips for Engaging Back-to-School Shoppers

School may be out, but back-to-school spending is in and at the top of parents’ minds.

Consumers spent an estimated $75 billion on back-to-school purchases last year, and 2015 is shaping up to be an equally sizable season.

According to the new Consumer Pulse survey from Rubicon Project, more than half of parents expect to spend more money per child than they did last year on products for the upcoming school year. K-12 parents anticipate spending an average of $873 per student, and parents of college students plan to spend more than $1,100 per student.

Marketers who want to make the grade this season need to recognize important shifts in how, where, and when consumers plan to research and purchase products for the upcoming school year. What’s the biggest lesson for this fall?

In short, brands and retailers no longer dictate the back-to-school shopping cycle. Consumers are firmly in control. Additionally, this set of high-spending consumers are not as elusive as marketers may have once thought.

Here are five insights to help advertisers access back-to-school consumer spend this year:

1. Back-to-School Shopping is Already in Full Swing

Marketers waiting until August to kick off back-to-school campaigns will be behind the curve. One-quarter of parents with K-12 students began their back-to-school shopping in June and plan to continue shopping throughout the summer. Forty percent of parents plan to start back-to-school shopping two months or more before the new school year begins. So the smart marketers are the ones who are driving visibility and awareness throughout the summer months.

2. Discounts and Deals Drive Purchase Decisions

A big part of the reason parents have started back-to-school shopping so early is that they are patiently searching for the best deals. In fact, nearly two-thirds of parents intend to choose what they buy, where they buy, and when they buy based largely on store sales and promotions. Where pre-school store sales were once a focus of August alone, they’re now stretching out to all summer months.

And it may come as little surprise that Walmart, Target and Amazon top the list of retailers where consumers plan to spend for back-to-school items this year, and not just in-store. Consumers are equally as comfortable shopping online for deals as they are walking into a retail store. Three-quarters of parents make online purchases at least monthly, and one-third of them buy online at least weekly.

3. Mobile is on the Mind

More than seven in 10 parents expect to spend more money on mobile products and services than they did last year – $242 on cell phones and $206 on telecommunications services, on average. One-quarter of parents expect to re-evaluate their family mobile plan during this year’s back-to-school shopping period. Alongside the end-of-year holiday season, the summer months are a popular time on the calendar for consumers to re-evaluate and upgrade mobile plans and devices.

4. Back-to-School Shoppers are Increasingly Online and Not Just in Front of the TV

Advertisers looking to influence back-to-school shoppers should recognize and adapt to dramatic shifts in media consumption habits that are occurring amongst parents today. While television advertising is still crucially important, brands that focus too narrowly on TV risk missing a sizeable portion of back-to-school shoppers online.

Nearly half of all parents surveyed said they now spend more time online than they do in front of the television. Slightly more than half of all parents watch multiple online videos every week. Nearly one-third of them stream videos on Netflix, Hulu and other services, or watch online videos on YouTube or other channels every day.

In contrast, online and digital advertising plays a greater role in influencing consumer purchase decisions. Half of parents with college students said they clicked on an online ad in the past seven days and nearly half of them also clicked on a mobile ad. Two in five parents of college students reported making a purchase within the past week based on a mobile ad or an online ad they saw.

5. Time Shifts Affect Shopping, Too

Parents research and shop for back-to-school items from the moment they wake up until they go to sleep at night. Half of the parents surveyed said they mostly shop or purchase online during the regular business hours of 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Two in five parents wait to shop until the evening hours, from 5 p.m. to midnight, while one in 10 parents is a night owl or early bird that prefers to shop online from midnight to 9 a.m. So not only do marketers need to engage consumers in more places, they also need to be visible around the clock.

Advertisers that are mindful of these trends in how, when, and where consumers are planning to research and shop for products will be well-positioned to reap the benefits from this year’s back-to-school shopping season.

Homepage image via Shutterstock. 

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