The Business of Back-to-School: Retail and Digital Marketing in 2014

Examining data from Deloitte’s 2014 Back-to-School survey, we see new and continuing trends in Americans’ spending habits. Here we highlight the increasingly important role of technology and online advertising in attracting consumer traffic, engagement, and both online and in-store purchases.

Yes, online shopping is increasing. According to Deloitte’s survey, the percentage of respondents who will shop at “online sites” hiked from 19% in 2011 to 38% in 2014. As seen in Deloitte’s graph, below, “online sites” made a move into the No.2 spot for preferred back-to-school shopping destinations for the first time in the survey’s history, gaining ground on the historic No.1: discount/value department stores.


Shoppers value options and convenience: 40% of all respondents prefer to purchase from retailers that offer an option to buy online/pick-up in-store or buy online/return to store compared to 33% in 2013. 66% of all respondents are likely to buy from retailers offering free shipping.

This alone is incentive for retailers to gain and grow their online store-fronts, and a promising sign for the growing e-commerce industry. However, some retailers should not be discouraged if online purchases don’t skyrocket: don’t overlook the value of an online site or a digital marketing campaign in capturing the business of customers who will buy later in-store. In fact, 57% of respondents intended to do research online first before purchasing back-to-school items in the physical location.

“57% of respondents intend to do research online first before purchasing back-to-school items in the physical location.”

Deloitte’s survey illustrates the growing phenomenon of shoppers using online resources and social media to scout prices, discounts, and reviews. Online (retailer websites, blogs etc.) is theNo.1 source of information on back-to-school items among parents. Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) respondents plan to use social media sites in their back-to-school shopping. Among these 68% plan to use social media to find out about promotions, 60% to read reviews/recommendations, 55% to browse products, 41% to visit retailers’ pages on social networking sites, and 30% to post comments review or feedback to retailers or other consumers.

“Nearly 1 in 5 respondents plan to use social media sites in their back-to-school shopping.”

The asset value of mobile and tablet optimized sites and advertising for retail companies is growing as well: 84% of respondents own a smart phone today (up from 40% in 2011), among these nearly 3 in 4 plan to use their smart phone to assist with back-to-school shopping; 66% of respondents own tablets and 60% of those tablet owners will use it to shop for back-to-school.

One of the principal reasons for using social media or smartphones is to download or get discounts or coupon sales information. As shoppers increasingly embark on a digital research expedition before they click “check-out” or make the physical trek to the store, a great digital advertising campaign for sales or discounts can be the catalyst for action.

Post-click engagement could make a company’s digital advertising campaign not only more alluring, but also amplify the brand’s story to a willing audience. The incentive is obvious, the reward instantaneous, and the method involves real one-on-one interaction between customer and brand. With Jebbit, the questions and rewards are molded by your hands. Spark customer interest with your reward offer– perhaps bundling products, a free trial, coupons, free shipping or a yearly membership card — and start a meaningful conversation. To retrieve the reward, customers answer your tailored questions — questions that could be targeted towards your value proposition, designed to get data-supported insight into what your customers value, or perhaps spread awareness of a new campaign, offer, breakthrough in your technology, or an expansion.

In a season characterized by sales across all retail segments and one that is lengthening from early summer to a month into school, gaining and retaining customer attention is a challenge. Post-click engagement differentiates you from the herd of retailers and makes a quality connection that lasts longer than a quick glance.

Other than the winter holiday season, back-to-school is the largest slice of total consumer yearly spending. The expected spending for this season varies slightly among sources: The National Retail Federation’s annual survey says total spending on back-to-school and college is expected to reach $74.9 billion — up about 3 percent from $72.5 billion in 2013. A 5% increase is expected for spending by the average family with kids in grades kindergarten through high school ($669.28). The average back-to-school spending for a college student is expected to rise 10% to $916.48. However, Deloitte predicts spending by families with children k-12 will decline, with an average of $543 per family this season. College family spending is also expected to decline, with an average $1,223 this season.

Regardless, back-to-school spending remains a crucial season for the retail industry, one that increasingly is affected by online forces and strategy. We might not see as many rushed purchases or frenzied deal hunts from storefront to storefront, but these frenzied dashes could be replaced by frenzied clicks.