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How Retailers Are Reaching Back-to-School Shoppers

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It’s that time of the year. As summertime comes to an end, parents around the country have started filling up shopping carts with pencils, notebooks, and binders. Families in the U.S. are expected to spend an average of $696 on back-to-school supplies this year, the highest amount ever recorded by the National Retail Federation.

Back-to-school shopping has become an important event for retailers like Target, Walmart, and Office Depot. While ecommerce is king at other times of the year, parents shopping for their kids’ back-to-school supplies are just as likely to shop in-store as they are online.

According to research conducted by the mobile video ad network AdColony, the most popular place for consumers to shop for back-to-school supplies is general big box stores, like Target and Walmart. Sixty-eight percent of shoppers say they prefer to shop at general big box stores, while 44% plan to shop at office supply stores like Staples, and 36% plan to shop at electronics stores like Best Buy and Fry’s.

“A surprising insight gleaned from our first Back to School Survey was that online shopping was not the dominant preference for shoppers. Despite the boom of e-commerce, a slight majority of respondents choose to shop both in-store and online,” says Jonathan Harrop, AdColony’s senior director of global marketing and communications.

Looking at foot traffic trends during the back-to-school shopping season, Foursquare found a 16.5% lift in foot traffic to brick-and-mortar retailers amongst back-to-school shoppers between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Big box stores see a 26% increase in foot-traffic from back-to-school shoppers during the late summer season, while office supply stores see a 17% increase.

Although back-to-school shopping starts as early as July, data from the advertising platform Criteo shows that Labor Day is the big school shopping weekend.

Among the other interesting tidbits from this year’s crop of back-to-school shopping research was AdColony’s finding that 20% of consumers who are planning to buy a smartphone for this school year will be buying for preschool or elementary students.

“With busy school and extracurricular schedules, families are always on-the-go and need to stay in touch,” Harrop says. “Children are learning to use smartphones at a younger age than the previous generation.”

Retailers are working overtime in their effort to capture a greater share of the back-to-school shopping market, whether in-store or online. The local-first ad platform ZypMedia found that over-the-top (OTT) advertising is going to become even more popular than digital display advertising for back-to-school campaigns. ZypMedia found that OTT represents 40% of back-to-school campaigns this year, only slightly less than digital display campaigns at 44%.

AdColony’s Harrop says retailers shouldn’t be overlooking the importance of mobile advertising to promote back-to-school sales and events this year. Seventy-five percent of back-to-school shoppers in AdColony’s survey said they would make a purchase directly from a mobile ad if the product was relevant to them, creating a clear advantage for retailers who serve targeted in-app ads.

AdColony’s survey found that smartphones are just as crucial for in-store shopping as they are for online. More than half of respondents (55%) said they use mobile devices to research competitor prices, and 47% said they use mobile devices to look for discounts and promotions while they’re shopping.

“Retailers will benefit from having accurate and up-to-date product info on their websites and apps to keep up with competitors,” Harrop says.

Smartphones are by far the preferred devices to shop for school supplies, much more so than desktop. With increasing time spent on smartphones, retailers should strongly consider that the leap users will take from seeing an ad to purchasing that item will be a shorter leap than before.

“Because of shoppers’ high mobile usage, retailers should optimize their mobile sites and apps to include in-store coupons, best-sellers, and suggested products to increase sales,” Harrop says. “Also, if the retailer has the capability, they can include an option to buy online and pickup in-store.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.