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2014 Back to School: Mobile, Moms, and $50B in eCommerce

Written by: Juliana Casale, Director of Marketing

As Christmas marketing gets pushed further into Thanksgiving and Halloween territory, retailers are scrambling to get back to school sales campaigns underway earlier each year. A back to school study run by Nielsen this year found that 18% of respondents had already started shopping in August, vs. 7% at the same time last year. Good news for retailers still waiting to see revenue numbers go up: The majority (75%) of Nielsen study respondents say they will begin their shopping in the next few weeks, so now is the time for advertisers to run their best promotions and creative assets.

The back to school season has become the second biggest revenue generator for retail companies, and eCommerce companies are steadily grabbing a bigger slice of the pie. AOL’s 2014 Back to School Season Preview reveals that 68% of consumers aged 18-34 plan to purchase more items from their back to school shopping lists online this year, and eMarketer forecasts that back to school season digital sales will cross $50 billion for the first time in 2014. The growing trend of omnichannel retailing means that eCommerce companies can compete in the same arena as department stores, with the advantage of already living in the digital space and understanding online customer behavior.

What will sales look like in 2014?

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back to School Survey, the typical family with school-age children will spend an average of $669.28 on supplies, shoes, apparel, and electronics this year, up 5% from last year. To drill down further into purchasing behavior, 2013 shoppers picking up items for college spent nearly double the amount ($614) that shoppers for high school supplies ($347) did.

Facebook recently released a back to school themed analysis of its US-based users, revealing that 42.7% of the women who participate in back to school conversations are moms. An additional 25% comes from college-age adults, ages 18-24. Main topics of conversation in 2013 were stores, clothing, and school supplies, with shirts, backpacks, sweaters, and jeans topping the fashion chatter and laptops and iPads dominating tech conversations. These hot ticket items are reflected in Google’s analysis of last year’s search frequencies:


Purchase clothing or apparel


Purchase classroom supplies


Purchase books or magazines


Purchase electronics (75% computer, 46% tablet)

Social influence

While savings, convenience and product quality remain important factors in online purchasing decisions, social media has crept up as a secondary reinforcement of customer behavior. According to Nielsen, 28% of respondents say they’re very likely to post on Facebook about their back-to-school shopping, and 15% plan to do the same on Twitter (up 9% and 3% from 2013).

On the subject of mobile

Shopping platform Retale released a new study last week based on a survey of 1K parents with school-aged children. Results show that mobile has become the go-to resource for deal-hunting adults:

Using mobile to buy items directly

Using smartphones to compare prices

When it comes to Gen X shopping habits, eMarketer points out that skyrocketing mobile use has gotten millennials comfortable with the idea of shopping anytime, anywhere; therefore, they are less likely to buy all their school supplies in one burst, preferring to spread out purchases over the year.

Labor Day falls on September 1st, and with each passing year it becomes more like Black Friday for eCommerce. In 2013, sales on Labor Day in back to school categories increased 24% over the average daily sales of the prior week. Don’t forget to promote your offers to shoppers who’ve been holding out for the long weekend and the deals it brings.

Free eCommerce Back to School eBook

Learn how to reach high-value back to school shoppers in Marketing to Moms & Millennials: A Back to School Guide.

Download the eBook

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