Back-to-School Shopping Is Happening Earlier Than Ever — Retailers Prepare

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As kids across the country empty their desks and prepare for a long summer break, brand marketers are working overtime to solidify their 2023 back-to-school campaigns.

With back-to-school sales seeming to start earlier and earlier each year, researchers at the digital insights firm Cint recently conducted a survey to gauge consumer interest around back to school shopping. They found that a whopping 96% of consumers will either be shopping for themselves or for their kids this year, and 33% plan to spend anywhere from $50 to $200 on supplies.

“Some might think that May and June is too early to start thinking about back-to-school shopping when, in fact, it’s exactly the right time and is a huge moment for retailers and marketers,” says Cint Senior Director of Measurement Kathryn Failon.

Failon says it’s critical that retail marketers have this data as they enter the planning season, so they can understand how much consumers are comfortable spending, in addition to what they are planning to shop for and where. 

“They need to be informed in order to get their ad noticed by consumers and best reach their audience,” Failon says. “This data will help brands and marketers maximize their campaigns and increase ROI.”

When it comes to sharing — a necessary component to any campaign going viral — Cint found that Facebook is the No. 1 place. Thirty-percent of consumers said they watch back-to-school ads on the social network, followed by TV (19%) and YouTube (16%). 

Cint’s survey suggests that the best back-to-school campaigns use humor to bring customers back in-store. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said a catchy song is the No. 1 reason they remember a back to school shopping ad, and 49% said humor was the reason they would share a back to school ad.

“Consumers are inundated with ads, and brands and marketers need to better understand how to break through that noise,” Failon says. “It’s extremely important that marketers and brands analyze these trends so they can incorporate those learnings into future campaigns.”

Trends to Watch

One of the more surprising findings in Cint’s 2023 survey has to do with where consumers plan to do their back-to-school shopping. Researchers found that 59% of consumers say they will be shopping at stores like Target and Walmart, and just 39% plan to shop at online marketplaces like Amazon.

Failon says that while online shopping is clearly still popular, and easy, data shows that more consumers are going out to local stores — and that’s a good thing for retail brands looking to regain market share post-pandemic. 

“We are also seeing that Facebook is the No. 1 place consumers are noticing back-to-school ads,” she says. “Also surprising is the number of adults who shop for themselves as well as their kids during the back-to-school season.”

As far as the trends to watch in 2023, Failon predicts that more marketers will focus on social media and TV as a vehicle for their ads this year, since that’s where consumers today are spending the majority of their time.

“I think we’ll also see a higher volume of ads for retailers like Target and Walmart, drawing even more consumers out of their homes and into stores,” Failon says. “With 37% of consumers reporting that they’re looking to spend more this year than they did last year and the average amount being spent going up this year, this back to school shopping season is going to be big for retailers, brands and marketers alike.”

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.