Back to School 2017: An E-Commerce Crash Course (Part 1)

July 25, 2017

If ever there were a year to cash in on the second biggest shopping season of the year, 2017 would be it.

While overall back-to-school spending is expected to increase 4% compared with last year, the e-commerce component of those sales will see a jump nearly four times that amount.

By the time the final bell rings, consumers will have spent some $83.6 billion on everything from lunchboxes and backpacks to dorm room decor and the groceries college-bound students will need on campus. With consumer confidence rising and spending forecasts at record highs, there are opportunities for virtually any online seller to get in on the action.

The time to act is now.

New research from Deloitte indicates that 71% of back-to-school sales will happen between early July and late August. And the sooner families start shopping, the more they’ll ultimately spend. Early starters shell out 16% more than their procrastinating counterparts.

Last year, back-to-school related search queries on Google saw a sharp rise the week of July 11, a full week earlier than 2015.

Which means your back-to-school e-commerce strategy should be in full swing by… yesterday.

Sure, we all know that parents will be price-comparing and watching for free shipping. But there’s so much more retailers and brands can be doing to gain a greater share of those gobs of greenbacks.

Scared you’re not doing everything possible to reach the 44% of consumers going online to get ready for school? Take a deep breath and get ready to dive into our crash course on 2017 back-to-school shopping trends. The following strategies are based on proven techniques used by thousands of successful e-commerce companies.

Let’s get started…

Untapped Revenue Potential Among “Undecideds”

The trend:

Deloitte’s annual back-to-school survey revealed that one in five back-to-school shoppers have yet to decide between online and in-store shopping.

That’s a segment worth $5.4 billion of untapped revenue potential.

“Undecideds present a huge opportunity … and might be persuaded by targeted promotional efforts,” the report says. “Retailers who understand their preferences can gain their patronage this season.”

Just because they’re undecided doesn’t mean these wavering consumers are indecisive. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Some 61% are determined to research products online first before purchasing in-store, and 65% will deliberately shop at different times throughout the summer to take advantage of deals.

The strategy:

In a word, retarget! This is an ideal time for brands and retailers to focus on connecting with customers who have expressed an interest in specific products but are on the fence about where to purchase them. By targeting customers based on recent activity, you can convince families to make your site their shopping destination of choice.

Increasing Reliance on Social Media

The trend:

One in 4 Deloitte survey takers plan to use social media when shopping for back-to-school supplies. Among this group, 75% are looking for promotions, 64% want coupons and 43% will simply peruse products.

The question is:

Which social media sites will they be leveraging?

Thankfully, there are plenty of answers. We know that 60% of Instagram users discover new products on the platform, and that 75% have taken action after being inspired by a post. On Pinterest, the vast majority of users (93%) turn to the app to plan future purchases. And we’ve all witnessed the power of Facebook to influence foot traffic to 100,000+ store locations a day.

The strategy:

When it comes to social commerce, all platforms are not created equal. It pays to be laser focused on the channels proven to be most effective for e-commerce.

Pinterest Rich Pins, Facebook Carousel Ads and Instagram Dynamic Ads are all great options for reaching back-to-school shoppers where they’re actively seeking ideas, inspiration and product information.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

The trend:

The latest data from Google shows that mobile is connecting shoppers to brands and retailers more than ever before — an observation backed by eMarketer’s recent finding that nearly one in three parents makes back-to-school purchases via smartphone. Another 25% use their phones to research products or compare prices.

The strategy:

No mystery here: It’s time to optimize your mobile presence. We go over this strategy in detail in our back-to-school digital marketing study guide, but suffice it to say that a speedy and seamless mobile shopping experience is going to be essential to a successful season.

Bottom line: Don’t wait any longer to start capitalizing on these back-to-school shopping trends. Brands and retailers that hold off until late summer could be missing out on a huge chunk of back-to-school sales.

Next up in part two of this blog series: the latest need-to-know trends impacting back-to-school sales on marketplaces and multichannel venues. Stay tuned!