Back-to-School Shopping 101: What Retailers Should Know

By Julia Burnett


Just when school lets out, back-to-school advertising begins. Already on July 14, AdvertisingAge published an article on Target’s back-to-school campaign. There’s no such thing as “too early” when, in Target’s case, back-to-school is your second-largest selling season.

Indeed, “‘tis the season” applies to these mid-summer months. School supplies, apparel, eyeglasses, shoes, backpacks and electronics are all on consumers’ lists. Consumers have a lot to buy and a lot of places where they can spend their money. Add online retailers into the fold, and the options for scoring deals are seemingly endless.

Customers win in this kind of competitive environment, but where does that leave your retail business?

Take a page from Target’s playbook. The retailer is combining the power of social media and “School List Assist” on This new tool provides a curated list of school supplies, which parents can order online for home delivery or in-store pickup.

“Parents are on a budget, and they’re trying to get all the things on their list,” said Rick Gomez, senior vice president, marketing. “We will have a steady drum beat of promotional offers throughout the season.”

Back-to-School Shopping: The Perennial American Pastime

Think of back-to-school shopping like it’s the lengthy Major League Baseball season. The players need to condition and prepare. Baseball teams see what’s working on their rosters and make cuts and additions as necessary. The lineup that takes the field in April can look like a lot different than the team in September.

Similarly, the merchandise mix you have set up now is likely to change come September for the simple reason that consumer preferences change each year. According to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, 70 percent of consumers plan to spend more time this year on back-to-school items, including wardrobes that keep up with the latest fashion trends and supplies that satisfy new school requirements.

Consumers Prefer the In-Store Experience

Importantly, the ICSC survey revealed that consumers still prefer physical stores for back-to-school shopping. An overwhelming 83 percent of their purchases involve physical stores, including 7 percent of purchases that will be made online and picked up in-store.

Two other important findings from the survey are that 42 percent of respondents prefer to physically examine merchandise before they purchase it, while 37 percent like the convenience of one-stop shopping.

It’s more reason why retailers should audit their stores during these busy months. It really comes down to two goals:

  1. Making sure retail promotions are displayed and priced correctly.
  2. Maintaining a neat and orderly environment during the back-to-school rush.

Execute these two objectives, and you’ll be the cool kid in school. And if you’re not cool, at least you’ll be rich!

Sample Retail Inspection Form

Sample Retail Store Evaluation Form

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