As the days grow hotter, and summer holidays pass, there is a familiar event just around the corner – the spending blitz that is back to school. College students will be heading off to school as early as mid August and as late as mid September. These students spent nearly $306 billion last year shopping for back to school. The real trick is to find out when these students actually start thinking about what they need and when to buy it.
When a brand markets itself for back to school, the timing can vary widely based on the product or service being offered. Let’s take a look at a few different product categories and how back to school timing can vary for each.
Shopping for new apparel is a category that has a special timing. Percentages below come from the National Retail Federation. Anyone who has worked retail can tell you stores start receiving and selling their back-to-school inventory in late spring or early summer. This means that the 20.2% who go shopping nearly two months in advance will likely find the sizes and styles they are looking for, because the stores have probably not started advertising their back to school apparel. However, it looks like the sweet spot for retailers lies in the month of August, with a combination of 56.1% of students starting their back to school shopping between 2 weeks and one month before school starts.
One essential item usually purchased for college is a laptop. What sets this product apart is the higher price point and the fact that the student is committing to use the product for an extended period time. If a laptop can avoid spilled beverages and the occasional tumble off the foot of the bed, it could be the hub of a college student’s world for their whole college experience. In mid July brands like Sony, HP, Apple and Lenovo all have student-specific sites up and prominently displayed. Best Buy’s weekly ads during this time are all about back to school needs. This is because laptops are not really bought on impulse, like this seasons cutest sweater. The student needs to find out what a laptop has to offer, what it is capable of and what they will use it for. Also, since it is a higher priced item, parents are likely to be involved in this decision. So making sure the brand and the information is out there and ready to find as soon as early summer can mean the difference between a sold laptop and one that is left sitting on the shelf.
On the other hand if you are a beverage, food or restaurant brand, your timing might be much different. Students are unlikely to purchase these items in advance, and will make nearly daily decisions on what brands to buy. This means that these kind of brands need to become part of the college experience. Sampling on campus or at events held for college students can help new users discover and try your product. Many of these students will be going grocery shopping for the first time (albeit maybe with their parent’s credit card). Becoming their brand of choice in college could lead to a valuable lifetime customer. Most of these touch points happen after students are back at school, but still need to be planned carefully to make the biggest impact.
When does your brand execute back to school? Need help executing your back to school campaign? Contact us for help with online and offline promotions.