With back-to-school shopping beginning as early as June, it’s crucial for marketers to understand overall and month-to-month trends to properly optimize and execute their marketing strategies. Examining 2018 back-to-school (June to September) performance, Rakuten Marketing uncovered monthly back-to-school consumer shopping trends to help brands capitalize on the insights to engage with the right consumer, at the right time.
June: Father’s Day and Early Back-to-School Shoppers
While majority of back-to-school shopping happens at the tail-end of the season, early-bird shoppers are already looking for deals to kick off their shopping season. According to eMarketer, 10% of consumers last year planned to shop earlier than July for the back-to-school season. These consumers also tend to spend more since they start earlier, spending $532 on average. This is a great opportunity for marketers to effectively target these shoppers by highlighting deals and products that stand out!
Because the back-to-school shopping season is so long, Father’s Day trends are typically included with all June insights. However, just because most consumers’ minds are on Father’s Day gifts doesn’t mean brands should ignore their back-to-school strategies. Focus on Father’s Day efforts during the end of May and beginning of June, but still allocate budget towards finding new customers for when back-to-school shopping starts. In the meantime, Rakuten Marketing has identified the following top five verticals peaking during the month of June:
- Software: This vertical peaks the second week of June through the end of June. This includes items like computer programs, which could be a gift for Father’s Day but also a product for students.
- Travel & Vacations: This vertical begins to peak the second week of June, but really increases the last two weeks of June. This is most likely due to families treating their dad to a fun trip.
- Food & Drink: This peaks the second week of June as consumers are shopping for steaks to be grilled over the Father’s Day weekend.
- Sporting Goods: What better way to show appreciation for Dad then to get him excited to play his favorite sport! This vertical peaks the second and third week of June.
- Apparel & Accessories/Telecommunications: There’s a bit of a toss-up on which vertical has more of a peak, but apparel & accessories tend to peak the last two weeks of June. Telecommunications peak the second and third week.
July: Summer Fun and Back-to-School Research
Last July, about 50% of consumers said they shopped for back-to-school products. Whether it’s researching or making an actual purchase, it’s critical for brands to make sure their back-to-school advertising is ready by the time July begins. According to Rakuten Marketing data, brands last year shifted their budgets during July to focus on social advertising, with a month-over-month (MoM) increase of 13%. Utilizing social is a great way to reach consumers in a natural, uninterrupted manner. This approach can boost brand awareness, as it creates a cohesive experience for consumers while online that will likely lead to more engagement and conversions.
The purchases made during this month have summertime adventure and back-to-school research themes at the forefront:
- Software: Peaks throughout the entire month of July
- Video Games: First week of July – This is most likely due to school being out for the summer, but brands working within this vertical should recognize this peak to ensure sales are increased all around.
- Travel and Vacations: Second week of July to the end – Again, more of a school’s out treat for most students.
- Department Stores: High peaks the first two weeks of July but remains higher than average through to the end of July – Let the back-to-school shopping season officially begin!
- Education: End of July through to the beginning of August
- Honorable Mention – Financial Services: Above average the entire month of July
With these insights, we suggest marketers tailor their messaging to be school-oriented. Whether it’s a “School’s out! Let’s have some fun!” messaging later shifting to “Summer sales for back-to-school items,” July is a time to engage with consumers. No one is ready to think about actually heading back to school, but using a message that focuses on the positive aspect of summer time and sales is a surefire way to keep consumers engaged.
August: Back-to-School Strategies in Full Force
According to eMarketer, 37% of consumers were shopping in August for back-to-school. Rakuten Marketing data revealed that budgets during the month of August increased throughout all marketing efforts. MoM, brands increased their marketing budgets in retargeting (1%), social (7%), prospecting (31%), and mobile (9%), for a total increase in ad spend of 10% MoM. Brands that increased their spend during the month of August still saw great results, but with so many consumers beginning their back-to-school shopping in June, we advise upping those budgets sooner!
The top five August vertical peak trends were very back-to-school themed:
- Footwear: Begins its peak the first week of July through to the end of August
- Houseware/Small Appliances: Peaks the entire month of August – many are going to college and moving out, which requires a lot of new house essentials.
- Software & Consumer Electronics: Peaks the first two weeks of August. Again, many college and high school students need computers or tablets.
- Books and Magazine Stores: This vertical recognizes peaks from mid to the end of August.
- Office Products: Biggest peak begins the last two weeks of August.
September: Last-Minute Back-to-School Shoppers
Now that most back-to-school shopping has slowed down, it’s not a surprise that Rakuten Marketing data revealed decreasing marketing budgets from August to September. However, college students are still shopping around this time as this group tends to procrastinate due to the uncertainty of their course load and class requirements. Brands should still be offering deals and sales on items for those who still are shopping for back-to-school. Also, keep in mind that holiday shopping is beginning earlier and earlier as well, and this would be a great time to increase prospecting budgets again to get ahead and gain new customers for when holiday spend starts in October.
All top five September vertical peaks began towards the beginning of September, where Rakuten Marketing still saw some trickling back-to-school shoppers:
- Home improvement
- Houseware/Small Appliances
- Books & Magazine Stores
- Entertainment Stores
- Office Products
Some Quick Back-to-School Marketing Tips
Overall, the back-to-school season last year was a success! From June to September, brands increased their marketing budgets by 20% year-over-year (YOY) and in doing so, drove an overall YOY increase in revenue by 29% and conversions by 31%. For the most part, brands relied on retargeting and social advertising for the season last year and increased their budgets by 34% and 37% YOY, respectively. We are thrilled to see this success year-over-year for brands, and know that this year will be even better!
By understanding when important verticals peak, brands can better strategize their affiliate efforts to keep their publishers aware of the best time to push content (such as back-to-school shopping guides), product sales, social posts, etc. A holistic approach that utilizes multiple marketing channels and products is always the best way to ensure a successful selling season for not only a brand, but for consumers looking for the best items and deals!
Acknowledging and understanding these insights enables marketers to utilize their marketing tools and fully optimize their strategies during the right times of the season. This way, advertising is delivered authentically to consumers, ultimately leading to increased sales and conversions.