5 Things You Need to Know About Back-to-School Shoppers in 2014


September may be several weeks away, but it’s high time for retailers to prep for the back-to-school shopping season. Considered the second biggest shopping event of the year (right after the holidays), merchants should expect a surge in spend in several categories, especially when it comes to clothes, supplies, and electronics.

To help make sure that you’re able to deliver awesome customer experiences this coming back-to-school season, here are five things about shoppers you should know and what you can do to convert them:


Families with children will likely spend more this year

According to the NRF’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, US families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies, and electronics. Up 5% from last year, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay stated that “slow improvements in the economy may have contributed to the growth in confidence among back-to-school shoppers.”

Now this doesn’t mean that consumers won’t be conscious of their budgets this year. As Shay put it, “While we are encouraged by the overall tone of the results and expect to see continued improvement in consumer spending through the year, we know Americans are still grappling with their purchase decisions every day.”

Retailers would still need to work hard to provide great products, value, and convenience to shoppers. Find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors, come up with enticing offers, and make sure your store associates bring their A-game.

Also check out our action steps below for more info and ideas on how to win in this year’s back-to-school season.


Shoppers are busier

Unlike recreational shoppers, back-to-school customers enter your store with the mission to find what need in the most convenient way possible. This is a busy time for parents and kids alike. People have schedules to fix, orientations to attend, and a whole array of errands to run, so efficiency is key. See to it that shoppers are able to find the items they need quickly and easily.

Some of the things you can do towards this effect are:

  • Have a special back-to-school area in your store – Consider dedicating a specific corner or section in your store for back-to-school items so shoppers can find everything they need in one place.
  • Bundle specific items – Do some research on items that are frequently bought together then sell all-in-one bundles so shoppers can pick up multiple products in one swoop.
  • Re-train your staff – You may also want give a little extra training to your associates. Make sure they know your back-to-school selection inside and out so they can give fast and accurate answers to customers.
  • Help customers be more productive – Busy people are naturally looking to be more efficient, so if you can offer anything that can help shoppers save time or be productive, then by all means, give it to them.

Why not hand out checklists or anything else that can streamline their shopping experience? You can also work on educating customers by giving productivity tips on your blog and social media accounts.

Or better yet, hold in-store events about back-to-school and productivity to engage them further. That’s what The Polka Dot Press did. The gift shop in Tallahassee, FL has conducted “meals in minutes” workshops as well as back-to-school photo sessions for its customers.


They start back-to-school research in July

According to a study conducted by Google, while most back-to-school consumers do their shopping in August, their research actually starts in July. “By the end of July most of their back to school research will already be complete,” stated the search giant on its blog.

Apparently, in 2013, searches for the keyword “Back to School Sales” started trending two weeks earlier than the year before. And as people become savvier when it comes to using the web and their devices to conduct research, we expect this trend to continue this year.

That’s why it’s essential that you put yourself in back-to-school shoppers’ radar as early as this month. If you’re optimizing your website for search, start creating relevant content. Perhaps you can publish blog posts about back-to-school tips or a roundup of recommended items for students and families.

Running promotions? Announce them early on; mention them in your emails and newsletters, and remind your fans, followers, and visitors about the back-to-school items that you sell.

A lot of retailers have already taken these steps. Stores such as Target, Office Depot, FazeClan, for example, recently tweeted about their back-to-school offers.


And Staples now has a link on its homepage linking to its special Back-to-School Center, while lingerie and apparel retailer Aerie even created a back-to-school Pinterest board and invited its customers to pin their favorite items.


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Take a cue from these merchants and start spreading the word about your back-to-school offers and products to reel in researching consumers and early birds.


More millennials will spend their own money in 2014

The NRF’s back-to-school study is also predicting millennials to spend $913 million of their own money on school items.

For retailers, this could mean you need to improve your sales, marketing, and customer service to cater to millennials. Remember, this is a generation that’s techie, self-expressive, liberal, and impatient. Keep these things in mind when you’re selling to them.

The speedy delivery of information and customer service is critical to keeping millennials in your store. Again, proper training of your staff is key here. You may also want to arm them with devices that can streamline the shopping experience. Why not give them tablets so they can provide product details from anywhere in the store, or so they can ring up shoppers or accept mobile payments on the spot?


They’ll use their smartphones… a lot

Another key (but kind of unsurprising) finding in the NRF’s survey is the big role that mobile will play in this year’s back-to-school shopping journey.

According to the NRF:

The survey found 36.7 percent of smartphone owners shopping for school items will research products using their mobile device, up from 34.7 percent last year and the highest since NRF started asking in 2011; one in five (21.8%) will make a purchase via their smartphone, up from 18.2 percent last year and another survey high. And while many will simply shop online directly through their smartphone, one-quarter (25.1%) will use their device to find information about a physical store.

Needless to say, increasing your presence in the small screen is essential to thriving in the back-to-school shopping season. Like we mentioned in our previous blog posts, you should get yourself in front of mobile users by listing your business in search directories (Google, Bing, Foursquare), review sites (Yelp), and deal apps/services (Collect, Yowza!!, Red Laser).

Also note that about a quarter of back-to-school shoppers will use their smartphone to find information about a physical store, so having an easy-to-navigate mobile website with a user-friendly store locator is a must.


Bottom line: Shoppers are gearing up for the back-to-school season and so should you

The numbers surrounding this year’s back-to-school shoppers are very optimistic, and we want you to make the most out of this upcoming shopping season and be as awesome as possible. Hopefully these tips and examples were able to give you some ideas on how to do just that.

Also remember that there’s plenty more where that came from, so if you need more retail insights, check out other articles on the Vend blog or swing by Vend U. And if you have some back-to-school tips of your own, share them with us and the rest of the community by leaving a comment below.


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.