How Online And Mobile Are Transforming Back-to-School Shopping

August 4, 2014 Rieva Lesonsky

back-to-school shopping

It’s back-to-school time—and for retailers, that means stiff competition for parents’ and students’ dollars. This year, however, digital sales and marketing are having a bigger effect on back-to-school shopping than ever before. What does that mean to your ecommerce site and your marketing?

More consumers are shopping online. eMarketer predicts online sales for back-to-school will rise 16.0 percent this year—slightly more than the 15.5 percent overall ecommerce increase predicted for the year. Parents are still seeking bargains. More than 81 percent of parents say the economy is still affecting their purchases, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reports. Good news for ecommerce retailers: Shopping online is one strategy parents rely on to save money.

Purchasing starts early... While some start shopping in June, most families do their back-to-school buying in late July and throughout August; 96 percent of shoppers plan to finish the bulk of their shopping by the end of August, says eMarketer.

...But shopping starts even earlier. One major change NRF notes is that both students and parents begin researching back-to-school purchases before they buy. About one-fourth start back-to-school research before July 4, and almost two-thirds (65 percent) do so by the end of July—even though just 35 percent buy something in July.

Kids have more spending power than ever. Both directly and indirectly, kids are wielding the purse strings.According to the NRF, teens will spend a whopping $913 million of their own money on back-to-school items. In addition, more than one-third of parents say at least half of their back-to-school purchases are influenced by their children. Especially among teens and college students, NRF found that they are basically “shopping” for back-to-school all year long, using their phones, tablets and computers to scope out what’s new and hot for fall and beyond and then actually buying right before school starts.

Back-to-school shopping is going mobile. More than half of shoppers who own smartphones, and three in five who own tablets, will use it the device to research products or compare prices. Nearly half of tablet owners expect to purchase products on their tablets. How can you attract these back-to-school shoppers?

  • User-generated content. Posting customer photos of themselves using or wearing your products is a great way to engage. You can add links to the actual products so that other customers can easily buy.
  • Video. Vine, in particular, is a good way to reach out to younger shoppers with six-second videos.
  • Instagram. Photos of products in use should include links to your website to buy the product.
  • Market to both kids and parents. They both have a say in the purchase, so win them both over with parallel campaigns that emphasize value for parents and style or coolness for kids.

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Author information

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

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