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Back-to-School is Going Mobile: What Marketers Need to Know

Not only are more people buying back-to-school necessities online – they’re also using mobile devices to do it. Let’s take a look at consumer behavior during this year’s back-to-school shopping season and how mobile is playing a larger role than ever before.

Reading Time:10 mins August 25, 2016

With the summer quickly (and sadly) coming to an end, students across the country are starting to head back to school. Whether you’re in elementary school or college, there’s always a lengthy list of items to buy for the impending school year, from pens and notebooks to bedding and a mini-fridge. Consumers are starting to rely heavily on their mobile devices to stay organized and get everything they need during the hectic back-to-school season.

In previous years, you’d find the majority of students heading to the nearest Target or Staples with their family to stock up on supplies. But with ecommerce becoming the shopping method of choice for a larger number of consumers, even back-to-school shopping is seeing a transition towards more online purchases. The increasing need for technology in the classroom is a major factor, as kids of all ages are using laptops and tablets to complete their assignments.

Not only are more people buying back-to-school necessities online – they’re also using mobile devices to do it. Let’s take a look at consumer behavior during this year’s back-to-school shopping season and how mobile is playing a larger role than ever before.

Back-To-School Shopping Trends

Not surprisingly, the back-to-school season is the second-largest shopping season of the year, behind the December holidays. The National Retail Federation conducted a survey of consumers and estimates that over $75 billion will be spent on back-to-school shopping for kindergarten to college-age students this year. You can see more of their findings in the SlideShare below.

There’s an interesting trend regarding the amount of research being done prior to purchasing school supplies. This too is due in part to the increasing need for technology in the classroom (you obviously need more information to decide what type of tablet you want than if Five Star brand notebooks are the best). According to Google Trends, there was a 48% increase in search interest around the phrase “back to school” from June-September 2014 in comparison to the same timeframe in 2013. In addition, 70% of shoppers said that they will buy their back-to-school items from only 1-3 stores, so it’s evident that convenience has a major influence on purchase behavior.

In terms of what consumers are buying, apparel continues to account for the majority of spend, with electronics close behind. There’s also been some changes to who is doing the spending, with more students pitching in to buy supplies. In light of the economic challenges many families have faced over the past few years, parents are no longer the only spenders during this season and more people are relying on coupons and discounts to get what they need. It’s essential for marketers and retailers to understand the greater diversity of their buyers and to offer them a variety of special sales that they can take advantage of.

Consumers Are Becoming Increasingly Mobile First

With mobile internet usage growing at a faster rate than overall internet usage, this creates a major opportunity for ecommerce. We spend an average of 7 hours per day looking at digital screens, with 3 of these hours dedicated solely to mobile devices. That’s a lot of potential time people could be looking at and buying something on your website.

Back to School

For the back-to-school shopping season, half of searches are being conducted on mobile devices, up from 40% just last year. There’s also been a spike in locally-focused mobile searches for retail store location and contact information.

And not only are more searches happening on mobile – purchases are, too. This year, 85% of parents said they would use a mobile device to shop for back-to-school items, up 10% from the 2015-2016 school year. And 89% of shoppers would be influenced on where to shop based on the availability of mobile coupons.

Consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of purchasing something on mobile devices because brands are acknowledging the importance of creating a personalized experience and ensuring security. It’s also a more time-friendly way to shop because you can complete all stages of a purchase, from initial search to placing an order, in one place.

This makes having a mobile-focused marketing strategy crucial for back-to-school success. It’s all about taking advantage of micro-moments, or those sporadic “I want to buy” moments consumers have throughout the day. You not only have to ensure that your business is found when shoppers are searching for something you offer on a mobile device, but you need to establish that you’re a trustworthy and safe place to purchase from and have a variety of deals and discounts to encourage one-stop shopping.

Marketing Takeaways for Any Time of Year

While the back-to-school shopping season is concentrated on just a few industries, there are several marketing lessons that any brand in any industry can learn from and relate to. The most important thing to keep in mind is that consumer behavior is and will continue to trend towards being mobile-dominant, so an optimized user experience is a must.

Having a website that’s responsive to devices of any screen size isn’t just for the big brands anymore. Consumers will quickly leave a site that doesn’t accommodate their device for one that does, leading to missed sales opportunities for that company. Today, one-third of all online purchases are made on mobile devices, and purchases were up 38.7% from 2014 with over $104 billion in sales in 2015.

Back to School

Whether you’re targeting an audience of back-to-school shoppers or your day-to-day customers throughout the year, it’s important to understand how purchase behavior varies based on the device you’re using. On mobile specifically, micro-moments are key. People are still getting behind the idea of using a mobile device for extensive research, so being able to create a quick and painless search and purchase experience should be your main focus.

It’s also important to remember that not all consumers are comfortable with shopping on their phone or tablet. There are concerns about privacy and security, unfamiliarity with using mobile pay options (like Apple Pay), and a lot of consumers still value an in-store experience. It can be hard to create as personal of an experience online, especially with items that people want to touch and hold in their hand before purchasing – so that’s where things like a mobile-friendly website, high-quality visuals, and the presence of user reviews can bridge the gap.

We’re certainly still in the early stages of mobile when it comes to search and purchase behavior, but if the back-to-school season is any indication, we’re going to keep seeing more and more consumers turn to their mobile devices to get what they need.

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