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Back-to-school 2019: Are you missing out on the second biggest holiday of the year?

Back view of elementary students raising their arms in a classroom.

We all know about the end-of-the-year holiday shopping bonanza, but do you know about the one that happens from July through September? 

You may not realize it, but the back-to-school season is the largest retail event of the year after the winter holidays, according to data from the National Retail Federation.

It represents a great opportunity for businesses of all types to run back-to-school campaigns and drive up e-commerce sales.

The back-to-school shopping bonanza

Students, from kindergarten to college, are projected to spend a staggering $80.7 billion by the time school doors open in 2019, the NRF states. 

“Consumers are in a strong position given the nation’s growing economy, and we see this reflected in what they say they will spend on back-to-class items this year,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

What makes back-to-school expenditure different to spending during other retail holidays is that it’s viewed as essential spend. If you need a science textbook or a new backpack to replace the outdated one from last year, there’s no easy way to avoid the purchase. When you take into account the sheer number of students who are making that mental calculation, the cumulative effect is incredibly powerful.

Who’s spending on back to school?

Just about everybody is spending, in some way or other, during the back-to-school season.

Parents, obviously, are the biggest spenders. But kids are also influencing purchases and spending more themselves. Teens will be spending an average of $36.71 of their own money, while pre-teens expect to shell out $26.40 on back-to-school purchases, according to the NRF survey. Separate polling data from Deloitte suggests that children will influence about 70% of total back-to-school spending.

Even if you don’t have kids, the end of summer means a return to routine. With it comes an opportunity to promote items like vitamins and meal prep ingredients that mark the making of fresh commitments to healthy living and wellness.

Meanwhile, teachers and small businesses will use the back-to-school sales to stock up on essentials. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of all the discounted printer paper and yellow highlighters on sale?

Shoppers are feeling generous too, with about one-third of consumers planning to donate additional school supplies for those in need, the Deloitte survey found.

So just about everyone will be shopping for one reason or another during back-to-school 2019. As an e-tailer, think about how to appeal not only to parents (who primarily look for convenience and price) but to kids, educators, small businesses, and anyone who might be looking to take advantage of this time of year.

What’s on the back-to-school shopping list?

It’s pretty much everything you would expect, and more, ranging from the usual back-to-school supplies, such as notebooks and lunchboxes, to more expensive items like laptops and tablets.

According to the NRF, the vast majority of items purchased during back to school will be classroom supplies, clothing and accessories, and shoes. In addition, 54% of shoppers surveyed expected to buy electronic devices of some form, such as computers, calculators, and phones.

The data from Deloitte on back-to-school 2019 confirms the widespread demand for school supplies. It also highlights the potentially lucrative nature of spending on electronic gadgets for K-12 students. Average spending on this category surpassed everything else at $305 per head.

If you want to see where even bigger spending is taking place, look no further than back to college. Here, Deloitte pegs the average spend per student at $1,362, with a cool $6.1 billion earmarked for purchases of computers and hardware. 

Household appliances, clothing and accessories, and dorm furniture all also make it on the list. It’s not just the companies making crayons who see this seasonal spike in back-to-school retail spending.

Even if you don’t sell into one of these categories, there are plenty of opportunities to tie your products or services to the back-to-school bonanza:

  • If you’re licensed to sell (and ship) wine, consider a specialty wine promotion for parents marking the end of the school holidays.
  • For hair salons, cut to the chase and offer back-to-school promotions for children and adults alike.
  • Likewise, tour companies and vacation resorts may want to lure child-free adults and empty nesters with “beat the crowd” deals once school is back in session.

Where are back to schoolers shopping?

Mass merchants remain favored destinations, with nearly nine in 10 shoppers (88%) expecting to visit one during the back-to-school season. In addition, 45% of back-to-schoolers plan to shop at online only sites, according to Deloitte. Dollar stores and department stores are popular choices too, dependent on budget.

As a rule of thumb, shoppers are headed wherever the price is right and the shopping experience is easy. According to the Deloitte survey of 1,200 parents of school-aged children, discounts (69%) and competitive prices (57%) are top factors driving purchase decisions.

Timing is another consideration. Although back-to-school shopping tends to peak mid-summer, retail activity continues right through Labor Day and beyond. More than half of back-to-school shoppers plan their purchases around sales-related holidays such as Prime Day, Fourth of July, and even Labor Day. Take advantage of this trend and fold this into your retail planning. 

“Back-to-class shoppers still have the bulk of their shopping to do and are waiting to see what the best deals and promotions will be at a variety of different retailers,” explains Phil Rist of Prosper Insights, the research company that helped conduct the NRF survey.

As an e-tailer, it’s never too late to run a back-to-school promotion. In fact, your strongest sales yet might be around the corner.

How to ace your back-to-school sales

There are so many great ways to give your back-to-school marketing a leg up on the competition, but are you prepared for handling a spike in orders?

Here are some marketing considerations when planning your back-to-school campaigns:

  • How are you tying your product and services to back to school? Exactly who are you targeting in your different campaigns: parents, pre-teens, college students, etc.? What about extended family members such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents? Will your messaging connect with them?
  • Decide on your pricing strategy and what level of promotional discounting you can afford. Remember parents are primarily looking for value when it comes to back-to-school shopping.
  • What’s the strategy for promoting your back-to-school deals? How will your social media channels and website support the promotion?
  • Look further ahead. Consider partnering with a non-competing business to cross-promote products and services. Reach out to local teachers and schools to suggest partnering on school branded goods. Teaming up with college campuses can boost brand visibility too.

Consider offering online-only shopping events, or special pricing for students and educators. Remember back-to-school shopping is also a great chance to promote your customer loyalty program.

Once your marketing plan is lined up, make sure your back-to-school shipping strategy is clearly laid out:

UPS Access Point locations, which are a great option for out-of-state college students, and UPS My Choice® service are options that make it easy for your customers to receive orders.

Get your back to school on

Back to school is more than just a retail event, it’s a change of pace. Summer is coming to an end, Labor Day is looming, and we’re all thinking about sharpening up our routines.

Tap into this sentiment. Ace your back-to-school sales, and then get planning for the next holiday. Because before you know it, Halloween will be in the rear-view mirror and the winter season will be upon us.

Back to school is a great time of year to be a retailer. Get in touch today and find out how UPS can help you pass back-to-school 2019 with flying colors.

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