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While summer break is a time of carefree relaxation for kids, parents are already thinking about how to budget for back-to-school shopping season. In a 2016 RetailMeNot survey, 28 percent of parents identified back-to-school shopping as a strain on household finances. More than ever, parents are shopping strategically and looking for great discounts, but the convenience of mobile technology means the decision-making process is happening before they ever visit a store. Stay on top of these shopping trends to create the most effective back-to-school promotions.
1) Budgets Are Increasing
On average, parents plan to spend about $273 per child, with four out of 10 estimating a cost range between $100 and $500 per child. Not only is this projected budget higher than the 2015 average, but it is also an indication that parents have a solid idea of what they plan to buy and how much it costs before following through on purchases. Shoppers are researching deals and inventories ahead of time, making it easier to complete targeted trips and save money by sticking to focused shopping lists.
2) Shopping Trends Are Regional
Approximately 45 percent of parents start shopping in August, and four out of 10 prefer to get an early start in June or July, according to RetailMeNot. However, shopping season depends on how early students return to school, and retailers can miss out on large portions of the market by concentrating promotions in the late summer. For example, online searches for backpacks usually start in the Deep South, progressing to the West, Midwest and Northeast. By tailoring back-to-school promotions to accommodate regional shopping trends, retailers can stagger inventory drops and extend one of the most profitable seasons of the year.
3) Online Searches Predict Shopping Habits
Mobile searching is the the most popular way to conduct research. In summer 2015, 40 percent of back-to-school searching happened on mobile devices, and that percentage climbed to 50 percent by mid-summer 2016. However, shoppers primarily use online browsing as a preliminary step to shopping in stores. Roughly 56 percent plan to shop primarily in stores, while 32 percent divide their time equally between physical and online stores.
Mobile technology allows parents to search efficiently during pockets of free time. They check inventory availability, price comparisons and deals to determine which stores to visit. Because these moments of intent are increasingly happening outside of stores, retailers must have a strong online presence and publicize promotions early in the season.
4) Deal Hunting Affects Shopping Times
With savings being a high priority for most parents, shopping habits manifest in four common patterns. About 26 percent of parents make purchases as items go on sale, 24 percent concentrate their shopping in one weekend, and 23 percent tackle shopping at several times throughout the summer. Another 20 percent performs year-round shopping, and a large portion of this group includes the highest spenders who plan to devote $1,000 or more per child.
Deal hunting is on every parent's mind, even in high-earning families with an annual household income above $150,000. About 56 percent of shoppers admit they often or always look for deals for back-to-school shopping, and one out of three high earners check for deals before every shopping trip. Parents start researching promotions right before they're ready to buy, so retailers should increase their marketing efforts before weekends, when working adults are most likely to hit stores.
5) Consumers Prefer Percentage Discounts
More parents are investing in big-ticket items for students, such as laptops and tablets, and they favor stores that offer the most value. While all promotions are attractive, shoppers prefer a percentage or dollar-amount discount over deals that offer a gift card or require a minimum purchase amount. They also prefer storewide sales over limited collections or discounts on a few individual items. Storewide discounts give parents the opportunity to save no matter what they buy, making it easier to stay in budget and redirect more funds toward the most expensive items.
The back-to-school season brings regular business for retailers that plan ahead and target consumer needs with smart promotions. The LA Times reaches 1.6 million families with children. Contact us today for guidance on tailoring print and digital promotions to reach an audience that is ready and eager to buy.