Believe it or not, back-to-school and back-to-college season is upon us. Spending is expected to increase this year, and many retailers are already running some great ad campaigns.
Record Spending for the Upcoming Academic Year
Since 2003, The National Retail Federation (NRF) has conducted back-to-school and back-to-college surveys to learn about family shopping habits for the coming academic year. This year, they found that spending is about to hit an all-time high.
Both school and college spending have risen since 2016. Families with school-aged kids are increasing spending by more than $2 billion, and college spending will increase by more than $5 billion. Total combined spending for 2017 is expected to reach $86.3 billion.
In terms of individual households with school-aged kids, spending will bump up from almost $674 to almost $688.
As for what those families buy, clothes and electronics are the most popular items, driving 64 percent of that $688. Electronics have always come second to clothing (in the history of this NRF survey), though they got a huge boost in the years after the iPhone was introduced. School supplies themselves actually drive the least amount of spending.
For households preparing for college, average spending is up about $80 from 2016, and now approaches $1,000.
Those getting ready for college buy a greater range of items than those going back to school. Electronics and clothing still lead the way, though electronics spending far outweighs clothing spending, which is closer to spending on food and furnishings. Personal items drive more spending than school supplies here as well, though the latter demands more money than extras like prepaid cards and collegiate gear.
Where are school- and college-aged students and families shopping for all these things? Mostly department stores, discount stores and online. Interestingly, though electronics attract a great deal of customers’ money, electronics stores see less traffic than other retailers.
As we’ve seen with the various big-spend holidays, spending is beginning earlier and earlier each year. Approximately 30 percent of school and college shoppers plan to begin two months or more before classes begin, which is a 22 percent increase over 2016. Fewer college-bound folks plan to wait until after school begins.
Advertisers should take note of how much shoppers love free shipping in this space. Approximately 90 percent of back-to-school and back-to-college shoppers will take advantage of this perk.
Buying online and picking up in the store is also a favored service, which approximately half of all shoppers will take advantage of. Women are more likely to go this route, while men are more likely to use expedited shipping.
While back-to-school and back-to-college spending differs from holiday spending in that it’s (for the most part) necessary rather than discretionary, it still ranks with holiday spending. It doesn’t come close to the spending for the winter holidays, but it does surpass Mother’s Day, Easter and Valentine’s Day by $60 billion or more.
Summer Advertising in Action
As with holiday advertising campaigns, retailers and advertisers know that the time to catch shoppers’ eyes is now – not a month from now. This season already has some great back-to-school and back-to-college campaigns running.
For example, Apple is offering free Beats headphones or earbuds to students, parents and educators who buy certain versions of Macs and iPad Pros. This promotion is in addition to other seasonal discounts and is similar to promotions Apple has run in past years.
Walmart appeals to younger school-aged kids and their parents with an ad using classic 1980s music as a backdrop to its superhero theme. Going beyond the audio and visual trends, the ad centers on kids feeling confident as they go back to class, as well as their camaraderie with friends and classmates. The use of music rather than spoken lines is intended to make the vibe really stick with consumers.
Like we mentioned earlier, advertising for school supplies and other items students might want is beginning earlier and earlier in the summer. According to reporting from AdAge, we didn’t see back-to-school ads until mid-July in 2016, but in 2017, ads were already airing in mid-June.
AdAge goes on to say that, sure, early ads might mean the dollars of the people already shopping. However, most of the spending will happen between late July and mid-August. Consumers might start researching before that, but the actual money won’t get spent until a few weeks before school begins.
Still, advertisers are working early to generate awareness by featuring products in blogs, social media, educational videos and elsewhere. The hope is that the awareness will act as an introduction, and encourage people to spend when the true shopping season hits.
We’re still very much in the summer, but class will be in session before we know it. Parents and students are already starting to think about what they need, and advertisers would do well to increase their exposure before all those dollars get spent.