Could Back to School 2021 be the year that kids rejoice MORE than their parents? While families around North America gear up for what could hopefully be a “normal” or close-to-normal school year, retailers and advertisers are eager to jump at the chance to be the first to catch their dollars.

These are the trends advertisers and brands should keep in mind to reach students (and parents) navigating back to school shopping this year.

High Spending Predicted Thanks to Combined Excitement and ‘Back Log’

That’s right. Rightfully so, retailers like Gap are predicting “customer exuberance” and subsequent high spending as students and their grown ups look forward to returning to school in person. Students are looking to make a splash amongst their peers with new outfits, snazzy office supplies, and in-person activities like sports. Combine this with – in some cases – nearly two years of school at home, and retail sales will likely boom as shoppers play catch up. Deloitte predicts back-to-school spending will hit its highest level in recent years and NRF predicts 13.5% growth in retail sales YoY this year, expecting back to school to carry a heavy portion of the spend.

The Stats:

    • 2021 back-to-school spending will hit its highest level in recent years: $32.5 billion for K-12 students, or $612 per student, according to Deloitte. Back-to-college consumers will shell out $26.7 billion, or $1,459 per student (Deloitte).
    • The NRF predicts that retail sales will range from $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion in 2021, growing between 10.5% and 13.5% YoY.
    • Thanks to COVID, back-to-school cleaning services are even more in demand than ever before with schools investing up to 50% more budget in cleaning efforts in an attempt to keep students and staff healthy.
    • New estimates from Mastercard SpendingPulse show back-to-school sales jumping 5.5% YoY this year, with categories that cater to in-person activities seeing spikes.
    • Target is planning for “one of its biggest back-to-school seasons ever,” and smaller retailers like Gap are already feeling “customer exuberance” that is likely to bode well for back-to-school sales. (DMS Insights)

Happy,Little,Girl,Holding,Digital,Tablet,Ipad back to school shopping advertising digital trends

Back-to-school spending on computers, smartphones, and tablets is expected to reach a whopping $11.8 billion this year.

Where Will Back-to-School Shoppers Spend Their Budgets? Tech & Clothes

According to the latest reports, consumers will spend the most on apparel and back to school supplies, but technology is not far behind (and likely will grow in popularity each year). A year of virtual classrooms has led to a 37% increase in tech spending for K-12 students, and a 16% jump for college students. Back-to-school spending on computers, smartphones, and tablets is expected to reach a whopping $11.8 billion, with wearable tech seeing the most money (MorningBrew). And don’t forget the newest category: personal hygiene products.

The Stats:

  • 44% of surveyed households plan to purchase fewer “traditional” back-to-school supplies due to a renewed emphasis on tech (Deloitte).
  • Even as schools open for in-person learning, 58% of respondents said they plan to spend on online resources (Deloitte).
  • 37% increase in tech spending for K-12 students (Deloitte).
  • 42% increase in spend YoY in COVID-19-related personal hygiene products like wet wipes, hand sanitizers, and at home work stations (Deloitte).

Product Categories on Which US Back-to-School Shoppers Expect to Spend Most of Their Budgets (eMarketer)

  • 60% Apparel
  • 24% Back to School Supplies
  • 10% Technology
  • 4% Dorm Furnishing
  • 3% Books

Types of Digital Retailers Where US Back-to-School Shoppers Plan to Shop (eMarketer)

  • 85% Amazon
  • 69% Big-box retail sites
  • 27% Office Supply Sites
  • 25% Apparel and accessories sites
  • 15% Off-price retail sites
  • 15% Tech Sites
  • 14% Drugstore Site
  • 9% Home Essentials sites
  • 7% Digital grocer
  • 3% Other

Multichannel is the Move, Thanks to Ecommerce

Consumers became more comfortable with e-commerce (necessity breeds skill) during the pandemic, and so e-commerce sellers were able to generate massive revenue from selling products during the pandemic. The truth is, there has been such a massive increase in sales during the pandemic that the sellers might have needed the services of a firm like Seller Accountants (which is known for providing professional accounting for ecommerce businesses) to keep track of sales records and understand the profitability of their business. Anyway, this shows that shoppers are accustomed to online ordering like never before, and are also utilizing more of a multichannel approach like never before: they’re researching online, checking out products in store, returning to online sites, and more. Young shoppers and young parents will be the most savvy in this area, so advertisers need to appeal to their multi-channel habits and offer cross-promotions, inspiring content, online activations, and targeted strategies potentially involving user centered design methods to possibly embrace the excitement of going back to school.

Not only that, new parents might also be excited at the thought of one child going back to school, as they welcome another one into the family. The allure for new parents looking for things like old fashioned girl names, whilst in the middle of back-to-school season, although exciting, could affect them in many ways. Advertising with compassion and taking a helpful angle when it comes to reducing all the burdens on them could be seen as helpful as well.

“When it comes to shopping, it’s apparent now that the consumer does not recognize any lines of demarcation at all [between in-person and online]. Shopping is all one thing to them now, no matter where it happens.” (Matt Powell, senior sports industry advisor for NPD, DMS Insights)

The Stats:

  • US ecommerce sales are expected to grow 17.9% this year to reach $933.30 billion. Ecommerce is now on track to surpass 20% of total retail by 2024 (eMarketer)
  • 34% of consumers plan to use “buy online, pickup in store” and curbside pickup (Deloitte).
  • parents of K-12 students are twice as likely as those of college students to use emerging tech to buy supplies (Deloitte via MorningBrew).

Keep an Eye on Start Dates

We found conflicting research on back-to-school shopping, with some reports predicting earlier shopping and others predicting later-than-ever trips. WWD predicts that back-to-school will probably be starting off in August versus July, with retailers expecting a return to normal spending levels. Deloitte predicts an earlier wrap up of shopping as consumers worry about lingering COVID-19 disruptions, expecting 59% of total shopping to be completed by the end of July. A 2020 Deloitte study reported that 80% of back-to-school shoppers are the most active from late July to early August.

Either way, July is the time to start planning back-to-school promotions, since parents, caregivers, kids, and teachers will be on the lookout for products to make the new school year more exciting and memorable after a year of uncertainty and hybrid learning.

The Stats:

  • 59% of total shopping will be completed by the end of July (Deloitte).
  • WWD predicts later back-to-school shopping, in August (WWD).
  • Around 80% of back-to-school shoppers are the most active from late July to early August (Deloitte, 2020)

Here’s when school starts:

  • United States-from mid-July to mid-September, depending on the state
    • Generally, the Northeast, East North Central, and West Coast start beginning of September or later
    • The Southern, Mountain and Central regions start mid to late August
  • Canada-early September
  • Mexico-end of August

Back to School Discounts and Deals

Offer deals, discounts, incentives, and reward programs. Most importantly, include those discounts in your creative assets! Bidtellect’s [b]+studio consistently sees highest performance for headlines including a discount. Combine promotions (discounts or a special offer) with the shipping deadlines to incentivize your customers to start shopping.

Some ideas:

  • % or $ discount
  • bundle deals
  • free shipping
  • flash sale
  • week-long sales event
  • giveaway
  • contest
  • promo code
  • loyal customer discount
  • loyal customer pre-sale

5 Creative Best Practices

  1. Capture the excitement of returning to school with bright colors, happy students, and excited copy.
  2. Feature your product in relevant settings based on your target audience. For example: with college students on a college campus, or elementary kids on playground, etc. What applies to one age group may not necessarily apply to another.
  3. Students of all ages are more comfortable and reliant on tech than ever before, so feature tech devices in your images. If you’re selling them, even better.
  4. Like we mentioned: PROMOTIONS. Include deals, discounts, incentives, and reward programs in your copy. Bidtellect’s [b]+studio consistently sees highest performance for headlines including a discount. Examples: promo codes, flash sales, bundle deals, free shipping, etc.
  5. Offer to educate or solve problems in your copy. New hygiene protocols? Uncertainty about in-person classes? Choosing the right notebook? Help your students out.

We hope these Back to School 2021 trends and tips help you plan your back to school advertising! Download our onesheet below!

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