A Preview of Back to School ‘18: The Annual PMX Agency Report

As we swing into the prime Summertime months, there are only a few things on the minds of students: sunshine, beach time and summer vacation. But as consumers shift into relaxation mode, the work is kicking into high gear for marketers and retailers gearing up for the second most critical time of year in retail. It’s that time again – Back to School – and the 2018-19 season is already well underway for clients across the retail space. But don’t worry, because we’ve got you covered with last year’s trends, statistics and performance from a variety of key product categories that complete the season.

Celebrating our eighth year of publication, PMX Agency’s annual Back to School Report has been designed to enlighten changes in consumer preferences and online behaviors during their back-to-school shopping journeys. We’ve also identified several trends that have stayed relatively the same, or grown throughout the past several years, as consumers sway back into their typical shopping habits, whether they be the earliest of early birds, or last-second purchasers of back-to-school gear. Above all, Back to School represents a crucial opportunity for brands and markers to hone their strategy, from content and messaging across channels, to budget levels throughout the different peaks and valleys of search interest, to promotional tactics that stay competitive with big box retailers and Amazon. Our goal through this installment of research is to provide marketers with a sense of how the season may pan out this year, and how they can stay ahead with new opportunities to get in front of consumers in interesting and creative ways.

A Brief Overview of the Market

In 2017, Back to School consumer spending (comprising of K-12 and college) totaled $83.6 billion, a 10% increase from 2016, and the highest in five years – great news for marketers hoping for a successful 2018-19 season.

Enrollment is projected to grow for PK-12, with spending by this group growing over 8% YoY. In contrast, enrollment for college is down, likely due in part to declining birth rates; nonetheless, 65% of Back to School dollars were spent on, or by college students, despite them compromising just 19% of total enrollment.

The modern-day consumer is better-informed and more aware of their options, making them more selective, and even hyper-critical about who they purchase from, and the type of experience they want to receive. Convenience is key, with free shipping remaining the number one incentive for not just Back to School shoppers, but shoppers in general. Flexible fulfillment options such as in-store pick up closely follow, giving retailers the opportunity to take advantage of additional last-minute purchases and promotions.

Some other important findings in the report include:

  • Back to school interest accelerates rapidly in July, peaks in early August, and stretches to Labor Day.
  • Shoppers plan to get a jump on the season, with a large majority beginning at least 3 weeks ahead, and some starting as early as 2 months before.
  • Back to School search traffic remains overwhelmingly organic, pointing to the urgency of a strong seasonal content strategy. There is however a growing role for SEM, as competition within this space heats up.
  • As schools begin to alter their classroom experience to incorporate more technology, parents, more specifically Millennials, are taking advantage of the Back to School season to maximize their budget.
  • Mobile is transforming the traditional customer journey, with most of e-commerce transactions taking place via mobile app
  • Amazon continues to be a starting point for many consumers, with Prime Day being a catalyst for Back to School shopping.
  • Social media touch points continue to influence Back to School marketing messages.

Get your copy of the full PMX Agency Back to School Study here!

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