How Do You Stack Up Against the Competition With Your Back-to-School Promotions?
Last year consumers spent more than $55 billion on back-to-school shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. With such a large revenue opportunity at hand, retailers are naturally trying to capture consumer spending as early as possible. That explains why several back-to-school campaigns have already launched, even though we're still over a month before most students go back to school.
One measure of how successful retailers may be in terms of getting shoppers in the mind-set for back-to-school shopping is to monitor search activity. As retailers start promotions earlier, consumers will start to seek them out.
Last year, queries that included "back to school" began right after the July 4th holiday, peaked during the first two weeks of August and continued through mid-September. Search accounted for 34 percent of all traffic to retail websites, followed by email and social networks (each 8 percent).
Each year consumers broaden their variety of back-to-school-related searches. During the 12 weeks ending Sept. 25, 2010, there were over 3,700 search variations that included the phrase "back to school" in the query, up 38 percent from the year-ago period. Searches around back-to-school sales and deals experienced the highest growth compared to the previous year.
Searchers often add the year into their queries to ensure they receive the most relevant and current results. This is especially true with fashion trends for clothing and hairstyles. Beyond variations for "back to school," another way to target shoppers is through other keywords such as "student" and "college," where searches tend to peak later in August and early September.
Reflecting the trend seen with search activity, the volume of back-to-school email campaigns is highest in August. Also like search, back-to-school email campaigns started earlier in 2010, with 34 percent sent in July versus 28 percent in July 2009. The highest open rates for back-to-school emails last year took place in July, during which retailers sent less volume than August but more than September.
These higher open rates indicate consumers are interested in browsing for products and deals offered via email. Interestingly, transaction rates are highest in July for supplies, while highest in September for apparel. Back-to-school shoppers are typically well-prepared with supplies before the start of the school year, but tend to wait and see which clothing trends are popular before making apparel choices.
It may be worthwhile for apparel retailers to test sending additional emails in September, while school supply retailers should ramp up volume in July. Another key point to remember is that back-to-school email campaigns with an offer tend to drive higher transaction rates.
There are plenty of ways to entice early back-to-school shopping — e.g., consumers love deals and coupons — but to encourage repeat purchases later in the back-to-school season try offering gift cards as a gift with purchase. Gift cards can help give shoppers a reason to come back later for any additional back-to-school needs.