Chris Hodgson

Google Canada search data reveals what’s in and out for back-to-school shoppers, as well as a greater move towards consolidating shopping time as more consumers go mobile.

TORONTO, Canada — Thanks to their growing reliance on mobile devices, Canadians are changing the way they shop and are becoming more purposeful, goal-oriented consumers.

That message, more than any other, rang out loud and clear at a breakfast here hosted by Google Canada, where the focus centered on back-to-school shopping and consumer behavior in the age of digital disruption.

“Almost as soon as school is over parents and teenagers today are relying on mobile devices to do their back-to-school shopping and their homework on getting the best deals,” said Chris Hodgson, head of retail and tech at Google Canada.

According to Google’s data from January 2013 to March 2015, search interest for “back to school” grew 35 percent in Canada in 2014. That search interest is already up 10 percent in 2015 compared to the same time last year.

Top rising searches are also pin-pointing what’s “in” and “out” for university and college students looking for b-t-s fashions.

“Think of these rising searches as a flash in the pan of fashion trends,” Rafe Petkovic, head of industry, retail for Google Canada, said.

Nike Roshe running shoes, Chukka boots, Chelsea boots, Zanerobe pants and Fjallraven backpacks are all among the top rising searches for what’s “in,” according to Google’s shopping data in Canada from January 2014 to June 2015.

Moreover, the top five items on this list, in ascending order, include: the midiskirt; boho chic; ripped jeans; the shirtdress.and the bralette.

What’s “out” in Canada is also reflected in top declining searches, where interest in oversized sweaters, jean vests, high-waisted skirts, maxiskirts and muscle shirts has dwindled.

What’s still “in” is also on Google’s radar in terms of seasonal search growth, with Birkenstocks topping that list for b-t-s shoppers, followed in descending order by ankle boots; faux leather; the grey suit, and the trenchcoat.

Beyond this focus on fashion, Google’s data also point to other key trends that have emerged in terms of consumer behavior.

“From a macro-trend perspective, back-to-school shopping in Canada is happening earlier. People are also shopping in fewer stores because of their smartphones,” said Petkovic.

Indeed, 80 percent of b-t-s shoppers say that their purchasing happens within two weeks or less according to Google consumer surveys from March 2015. As well, 36 percent of college and university students plan on shopping at two or fewer stores this b-t-s season.

This trend to purchase earlier and faster is “a function of these personal assistant devices which are now sitting in our pockets and save us time,” said Petkovic.

Yet searches aren’t the only story behind Google’s new data.

Canadians in growing numbers are turning to YouTube videos for inspiration, information on products to buy, and how to use them. “Like searches, watching YouTube videos can be a powerful moment of intent in terms of when you can connect with your audience. That’s why it’s essential for Canadian retailers to be on YouTube,” said Petkovic.

In 2014 b-t-s videos were viewed more than 236 million times, according to YouTube’s global data. These watch times have grown 120 percent in 2015.

In 2015, YouTube videos on b-t-s hairstyles were watched more than 119 million times.

More remarkable still, between January 2014 and now two million hours were viewed globally on how to create b-t-s nail art.

CutePolish, a Windsor, Ontario-based company operated by Sandi Ball, is now the number-one nail art channel on YouTube, boasting 2.5 million subscribers and 300-plus million views. “People watch these nail art videos and hang on this woman’s every word,” said Petkovic. “That kind of passionate engagement is something retailers cannot ignore.”

Consolidating actual shopping time has also emerged as another key trend. “Broadly speaking, people are getting stuff and getting the job done faster than ever,” said Hodgson.

To that end, consumers are researching online in small bursts of digital engagement called micro-moments. These short snaps allow consumers to snack on digital information as needed throughout a busy day. Moreover, these micro-moments impact the way consumers address four key shopping needs: “I want to know,” “I want to do,” “I want to go” and “I want to buy.”

Finally, as Canadians continue to make shopping decisions in their kitchens (38 percent), cars (24 percent) and other unusual places with the help of their smartphones, digital devices will be absolutely critical in driving consumers to brands in the future. “When we look at the Canadian market, 94 percent of purchases still happen in stores and 6 percent takes place online. But what is important here is the share of growth,” said Hodgson. “Forty percent of the growth in Canada’s retail market is coming from online channels. As retailers move forward, mobile will show more growth than bricks-and-mortar location.”

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