While the upcoming July 4th holiday serves as a celebration of America’s independence, the day also signals the official start of the back-to-school shopping season as online search interest in apparel, backpacks and electronics accelerates, according to PMX Agency’s Back-to-School Trend Report.

The agency’s latest analysis, which serves as a guide for retail and brand marketers, showed that the number of students enrolled in school this year will be flat year-over-year. The pre-kindergarten through high school segment is poised to grow while the college-aged segment is expected to decline due to low birth rates. The data also showed that since 2014, the number of students enrolled swelled by 1.8 percent to an estimated 68.6 million this year. Pre-K through high school totaled 56 million students this year.

Last year, b-t-s spending totaled $83.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. On average, families doled out more than $687 on supplies, apparel, footwear and electronics. The bulk of expenditures went toward clothing and accessories. PMX noted in the report that 45.5 percent of consumers plan to shop online for b-t-s.

Some of the key findings of the report include that b-t-s online search interest “accelerates rapidly after July 4th, peaks in early August, and stretches to Labor Day,” researchers at PMX said in the report who added that “early messaging and in-place search and content strategies remain essential to gain share.”

Authors of the report also said a wide range of school starting dates has an impact on interest and purchasing of products. “Public school start dates range from mid-late July to early September, with local search interest skewing earlier or later accordingly,” PMX said. “Sales tax holidays also impact regional back-to-school interest. [Fifteen] states, many in the South, promote a tax-free sales period. Several of these coincide with back-to-school’s typical August peak.”

Researchers at the firm said Amazon as well as “big-box” and department store retailers “continue to dominate both paid and organic search.” The authors of the report also said content sites such as “Pinterest, YouTube and Real Simple help searchers find ideas for back-to-school shopping, and compete alongside retailers for organic click share.”

PMX researchers said Amazon Prime Day, which is expected to occur sometime in July, is a draw due to free shipping and “deep discounts.” Authors of the report said while Amazon is a key competitive concern, “past search activity indicates that top Prime Day products are of interest to all consumers and not specific to back-to-school.”

Regarding free shipping, shoppers expect the perk year-round, and PMX said in the report that it “remains the number one incentive for back-to-school shoppers. Nearly half also expect flexible fulfillment options like buy online, pick up in store.”

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