Back-to-school ecommerce cheat sheet: tips for top marks in Q4 - Yieldify | Customer Journey Tools

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Back-to-school ecommerce cheat sheet: tips for top marks in Q4

With Amazon Prime Day behind us, the next big e-commerce peak as we move into August is back-to-school…

So we’ve done a bit of homework on the numbers behind this shopping season to bring you this cheat sheet, answering all your burning back-to-school e-commerce questions, and providing tips on tailoring the customer journey for these shoppers. So with that, let’s jump right in!

1) How has Prime Day impacted back-to-school shopping?

As we discovered in our analysis of last year’s data, Black Friday has stretched out the winter holiday shopping season, with shoppers kicking off as early as September. It’s been claimed that Amazon Prime Day is now bigger and better than Black Friday, so is it impacting back-to-school buying?

In short, yes. Prime Day is fast becoming the Cyber Monday of the back-to-school season with:

  • 66% of parents planning to make a purchase during Prime Day
  • 91% planning to browse for back-to-school products
  • An average family spending $70 on back-to-school supplies

So is it time to just throw in the towel against Amazon? Not just yet, as our next stat shows…

2) How much will consumers spend this year?


While back-to-school may be a way behind the winter holidays when it comes to total spend, second place isn’t too shabby. The National Retail Federation places back-to-school within the top five shopping periods in the US, with consumers predicted to spend $82.8 billion this year, up from $75.8 billion in 2016:

Source: 2016 NRF Back-to-School Spending Survey

Source: 2016 NRF Back-to-School Spending Survey

So while we can thank Amazon for those early back-to-school ads, there is still plenty of opportunity out there for savvy retailers. But when should you start marketing your promotions and offers?

3) When will shoppers buy back-to-school items?


When it comes to marketing back-to-school, know that most shopping behaviour will still be dictated by school and college timelines. Around 68% of parents will receive back to school supply lists at least one month before school starts, so keep this in mind as you kick off your marketing campaigns.

Google Trends data shows that searches start early, and peak toward the end of August as the new term approaches:

Google Trends Back to School searches

Source: Google Trends Back to School searches

But, don’t despair if, like your 6th-grade science project, you’ve left things to the last minute. As the NRF data below shows, there’s still a good quarter of consumers who will shop nearer the time, so be ready for them. Drawing attention to shipping deadlines, so they’re all set for that first day back, is a great way to convert unsure shoppers.

Back to school shopping timelines

Source: NRF Back to School Survey 2018

4) What will back-to-school shoppers buy?

Traditionally back-to-school shopping might conjure images of uniforms (if you’re in the UK) or more typical products such as pencils and lunch boxes – not exactly high-ticket items. So what are consumers buying when it comes to back-to-school?

Estimated market share

Source: Deloitte Back to School Survey 2018

Think outside the (lunch) box when it comes to the product ranges you promote. Remember that it’s not just back-to-school time, but college and university students will also be readying themselves for a return to campus. As the data above shows, clothing and accessories make up a big piece of the back-to-school pie. Retailers like Topshop and Boohoo are serving up inspirational look-books and curated product categories to cater to their high-school and college-age audiences.

Topshop back to school styling

5) Where do consumers shop for back-to-school items?

So how big a deal is back-to-school for e-commerce anyway? Looking at where shoppers plan to make their purchases, e-commerce is definitely a top destination, with 45% of consumers planning to buy back-to-school supplies from an online retailer.

where back to school shoppers buy

Source: NRF Back to School survey 2018

As you might expect for back-to-college buyers as a slightly younger demographic, making their own purchasing decisions rather than relying on parents, e-commerce comes out top:


Where back to college shoppers buy

Source: NRF Back to School survey 2018

A study by Deloitte demonstrates that there’s a lot of opportunity for e-commerce brands when it comes to ‘undecided’ shoppers, with 22% who haven’t yet decided whether they’d be spending their back-to-school dollars online or in-store.

Where consumers will spend their back to school dollars

Source: Deloitte Back to School survey 2018


Based on this, Deloitte offers the following advice:

 “Retailers should aggressively pursue the ‘undecided’ consumer because they collectively represent nearly $5.5 billion this back-to-school shopping season.

This segment is up for grabs but likely to goto retailers that draw them in early with promotion and digital experiences that make store visits even more attractive like inventory visibility or buy online / pick up in-store”

6) Which channels & devices make the grade?


When it comes to promoting back to school, the focus is on digital, and especially social media. The number of retailers planning to increase spend on non-digital channels for back-to-school is down to 44% from 74% last year, while 72% plan to increase investment in social media in 2018.

Interestingly, this goes against the trend somewhat when it comes to how shoppers claim they are going to use different devices and channels to shop, with social media as a shopping aide actually seeing a decline. Mobile reflects the wider industry trend, surpassing desktop, with 53% of consumers planning to use this device for back-to-school shopping, so ensure the customer journey here is smooth and efficient.

How back to school shoppers use desktop, mobile and social media

Source: Deloitte Back-to-School Spending Survey 2019

7) What type of promotions are top of the class?


So with all the above in mind, how can you ensure back-to-school shoppers pay you a visit and convert? Retailers are betting on promotions, with 90% backing deals and discounts as the easiest way to reach this segment. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, consumers agree – 80% would make a first-time purchase with a new brand if they found an offer, while 93% would make a repeat purchase with those a retailer who offers a good deal.

Whatever you choose to offer, ensuring it is front and centre at the right moment in the customer journey is paramount. Free shipping is one of the top ways to reduce abandonment, as well as increase AOV if tied in with a spend threshold. While a Progress Bar is a great way to showcase all the available offers, and how far away customers are from unlocking them.

According to RetailMeNot the promotions consumers rate highest are those that offer money off both online and in-store. It makes sense – consumers will be researching purchases across various touch points along their journey with you, so ensuring the experience is consistent is key.


Hopefully, we’ve answered a few of your back-to-school questions and provided some inspiration for the new retail term. If you’re based in New York, then make sure to join us and our friends at Dotmailer for a final summer blow-out before Q4 gets into full swing – sign up for a ticket here.

And if you need a little more help to ensure your website heads back-to-school in style, then why not get some extra-credit with one of our free customer journey optimization (CJO) consultations?