The past several years have seen shifts in retail as shoppers are doing more of their purchasing online and specifically, on their smartphones. COVID-19 is changing the way students are learning, whether that’s in-person or at home, and has subsequently changed back to school shopping. Back to school is the second-biggest shopping event for retailers in the United States after the holidays, and usually sets the tone for year-end shopping. A different kind of school year has affected not only what consumers are buying but also how they are buying. To better understand the changing school year, AdColony conducted its annual Back to School Shopping Survey. The study provides insights into what consumers are buying during back to school shopping, online shopping preferences, and how people are preparing for a new school year during a pandemic.
ADM: What are some of the most noticeable ways that mobile has played a role in this year’s back to school shopping and why?
Ortiz-Luis: Over the past few years, mobile phones have been an integral part of back to school shopping. More than half (59%) of back to school shoppers prefer to do shopping on their smartphones rather than computers and tablets. Even when they’re shopping in-store, consumers use their smartphones to guide their purchasing decisions. Most shoppers are researching competitor prices and looking up product reviews while shopping in-store.
ADM: How effective are mobile ads for back to school shoppers?
Ortiz-Luis: Back to school shoppers can be receptive to mobile ads so long as the content is relevant. 55% of respondents said they have purchased something directly from a mobile ad which has gone up slightly since our 2019 edition of the survey. However, 76% of respondents said they would purchase from a mobile ad if the product were relevant. Advertisers should keep in mind that mobile ads can be really effective with the right targeting and placed in the right context.
ADM: What are some of the ways that COVID-19 has affected schooling plans this year?
Ortiz-Luis: The ongoing pandemic has had major impacts on school year plans. Only 19% of students are expected to attend school in-person full time. Additionally, 28% said the start of the school year has been delayed. This could affect the timeline of back to school shopping which started in mid-summer for most consumers.
ADM: With so many students switching to virtual learning, how has this affected parents’ plans and work situations?
Ortiz-Luis: While some have already been dealing with this for months, parents face the challenge of adjusting to a new lifestyle that includes becoming much more hands-on with their children’s education. Survey results have shown that a majority of parents (69%) are making significant changes to their work situations to adapt to a different kind of school year. 71% of this group have had to change their work schedule to help their kids with virtual learning. Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) indicated that they were laid off due to COVID-19 and did not have plans to return to work so they can attend school or educate someone in their household.
ADM: Are there any unexpected purchasing trends that marketers should be aware of given that school looks different this year for most?
Ortiz-Luis: Whether students will be learning at home or at school, many of them will be needing different kinds of supplies for this school year. Traditional school supplies (notebooks, pens, and pencils) and clothing still top the list for shoppers but there are some significant additions. More than half of respondents (57%) plan to buy PPE and sanitation products for the upcoming school year. 21% have also added study/office furniture to their lists that will be used exclusively for educational uses. Retailers and advertisers should be prepared to expand their definitions of what “school supplies” are when it comes to promotions and ads.
ADM: How will consumers’ preferred shopping experience change this year when it comes to both in-store and online purchasing?
Ortiz-Luis: The majority of back to school shoppers (66%) prefer to do their shopping primarily online. While most U.S. residents are staying home because of the pandemic, many back to school shoppers still prefer to shop in-person if possible. Since last year, the share of shoppers that prefer in-store dropped only slightly by 3%. Although many retailers have adopted curbside delivery recently, most online shoppers prefer to have their purchases delivered directly to their homes.
ADM: How has COVID-19 affected consumers’ spending this year?
Ortiz-Luis: With many people losing their jobs and an uncertain economic situation in the U.S., there are some indications that consumers will be more price-conscious this year. Compared to 2019, 10% more shoppers plan to spend less than $500. The survey also revealed that 10% more shoppers will be visiting dollar stores for this upcoming school year. Messaging around discounts and savings could be very effective in ads for this year.
About Jean Ortiz-Louis
Jean Ortiz-Luis is the Marketing Communications Specialist at AdColony, one of the largest mobile advertising and monetization platforms in the world with a reach of more than 1.5 billion users globally. Jean is responsible for the company’s blog content, research studies, and award submissions. She holds a B.S. in Business Marketing from California State University, Long Beach, and has over 10 years of experience as a marketer and writer.