Naomi Sleeper Category Manager Natural & Green Living Imperial Distributors

Naomi Sleeper
Director, Business Development 
Imperial Distributors



According to Google Trends, the search terms “back to school” and “school supplies” spike in August and have been increasing every year since 2011 (increasing over 8% and 13%, respectively, from August 2014 to August 2015). Back-to-school (BTS) shoppers are increasingly looking to social media platforms and (video) blogs for back-to-school supply ideas, and then to digital retailer tools to help them execute the BTS shopping experience in store. Supermarkets can make the most of their back-to-school selling season by capitalizing on these online BTS pre-shopping trends and in-store shopping enhancement tools.

Back-to-School Pre-shopping
When it comes to back-to-school shopping, two digital media sharing platforms dominate consumer influence:

Pinterest: Pinterest reigns as a source of inspiration for shoppers, and back-to-school is no exception. A recent Crowdtap study on shopping trends for the 2016 back-to-school season reported that 27% of surveyed BTS consumers planned to use Pinterest boards to organize their school supply shopping list this year. To benefit from this trend, retailers can feature BTS product on their websites and partner with Pinterest content creators to help draw attention to their product and where to get it.

YouTube: YouTube has become the stage for teen’s most influential cultural icons. The annual “back-to-school haul” is a must-do episode for young lifestyle YouTube stars (like Bethany Mota, who earned the #1 “back to school” YouTube ranking last August). These video blogs (vlogs), often attracting millions of views, feature vloggers’ favorite picks from their recent school-supply shopping spree (sometimes with product giveaways and BTS organizational tips). Not surprisingly, Google Trends shows the search term “back to school haul” peaking in August with a steep incline in recent years, increasing by 35% between August 2014 and August 2015.

While teen video bloggers often cite big box stores as their source for collecting their favored back-to-school items (and some big box retailers pay to sponsor or advertise on these YouTube episodes), supermarket retailers can also capitalize on this cultural trend for capturing BTS sales. Creating a YouTube presence (through a branded retailer channel or partnering with an existing popular channel) and calling out new BTS store offerings can help supermarkets profit from young shoppers’ reliance on YouTube for identifying BTS trends and shopping locations.

Enhancing the Back-to-School Shopping Experience
While online platforms may be a key advertising approach for targeting today’s teen and millennial shoppers, retail stores still remain the preferred avenue for the actual back-to-school shopping experience. According to the Crowdtap study, 70% of 2016 BTS shoppers plan to buy school supplies in person rather than online. Consumers’ preference to see and touch product before purchasing attributes to 42% of shoppers’ preference for in-store BTS shopping, according to an ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) survey. Shoppers’ preference to examine BTS merchandise suggests the importance of quality for this seasonal category. While studies report price as the greatest driver for directing overall BTS shopping to specific retailers (and for some BTS sub-categories, like clothing), Crowdtap survey respondents prioritized “value/quality” over sales and promotions for school supplies, specifically.

Another reason for shoppers’ preference to buy school supplies in stores rather than via ecommerce: the tradition of back-to-school shopping. As much as students may dread the end of summer, many still enjoy the annual ritual of shopping for new back-to-school supplies. Supermarkets can be a part of this consumer custom by enhancing the in-store shopping experience for BTS product in their retail stores.

Two key approaches can help retailers enhance the BTS shopping experience for their customers:

Creating the one-stop shop: The convenience of one-stop shopping accounted for 37% of ICSC surveyed respondents’ preference for in-store BTS purchases. Promoting and cross-merchandising school supplies with school snacks, another key segment of BTS sales, helps shoppers identify supermarkets as an easy one-stop shop for BTS shopping.

Developing retailer apps: Store apps for mobile devices can also enhance the BTS shopping experience. According to Retail Customer Experience, 80% of shoppers plan to use their cell phones to facilitate their BTS shopping. Retailer apps that integrate back-to-school shopping lists with suggested new related items and interactive store maps that direct shoppers to these items help shoppers find what they need faster.

“Back to school” remains as relevant to retail as ever. By taking a new look at consumers’ approach to back-to-school shopping, supermarkets can maximize this annual sales event.