The Small Business Guide to Back to School Shopping

The Small Business Guide to Back to School Shopping

Content Writer: Heather Burnett Heather Burnett Blog Contributor
Every day, more consumers are using the Internet to find local businesses by searching for the service they need in the area that they live. With the prominence of local search results continuing to grow, businesses can instantly validate their products and services in the eyes of these consumers at the most critical point in their buying cycle. These consumers are already looking for your products and services – are they finding your businesses while searching?

Back-to-school season is officially underway for many consumers, much to parents’ delight and students’ dismay. Every time a Staples commercial is shown on TV you can hear the collective sigh from the neighborhood children as the days until the first day of school continue to dwindle. Back-to-school season is the second largest shopping time of the year, second only to winter holidays like Christmas. Retailers are taking note of new online shopping trends. This year, over one third of back-to-school (BTS) shoppers expect to make at least a portion of their purchases online. This isn’t including the overwhelming number of shoppers who perform preliminary research online before deciding which businesses to visit in person.

BTS shopping isn’t just limited to your typical retailers like clothing, electronics and school supplies. BTS season entails all aspects of a child’s needs, including physicals, annual doctor visits, eye glasses and contacts, dental checkups, and much more. Parents of teenagers attempting to get their driver’s license this fall will soon be looking to update their insurance policy, find a driving school and invest in a used car. Coaches and parents of youth soccer programs travel each week to a new locale for games, often stopping for ice cream and other snacks along the way. With each passing year a child’s BTS needs continue to change as does the way consumers are shopping. Do you still shop the way you did 20 years ago? Do you still dig the phone book out from under a pile of newspapers to scan through countless pages looking for an optometrist that sounds reliable? Or do you jump on Google and search “optometrist near me” and start reading reviews to make sure you aren’t going to a quack who may or may not have had his license revoked last year after claiming he could heal the blind. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1990 or you’re still using dial-up, I’m assuming it’s the latter.

The rise of the "locavore" generation.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that consumers continue to spend billions of dollars annually on BTS shopping. According to National Retail Foundation President and CEO Matthew Shay in 2013, “…the good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind.” With the rise of the “locavore” generation (for those of you not hip to millennial lingo, this means people who prefer to eat locally grown and raised food, rather than food moved long distances to market), many consumers are turning to local products and businesses to meet their needs. In the past, consumers wanted to travel to the closest city and shop at the trendiest stores for what they needed. Now, consumers are searching for items that are practical, reliable and, most importantly, local. They want to give their hard-earned money to someone they trust, someone they can think of as their neighbor, or someone who might actually be their neighbor. Consumers want their money to stay in their community as they work to build a better place to raise their children.

BTS Spending
Consumers know they have options and now, more than ever before, they have the ability to find these options with ease. Just a simple Google search for “back to school sale” results in over 51 million organic results. In regards to local businesses only, the options are endless. According to, “In 2011, there were 28,128 family clothing stores, 7,093 children and infants clothing stores, 25,448 shoe stores, 8,144 office supply and stationery stores, 21,227 sporting goods stores, 8,407 bookstores and 8,625 department stores.” Consumers are able to use the abounding options to their advantage, taking more time to price shop and compare one business to another. For daycare and childcare options, 92% of searchers who are undecided upon which business to choose when searching look at an average of 6.6 options, according to the Local Search Association.

Smartphones mean smarter consumers.

Smartphones and tablets are only increasing the number of consumers doing preliminary research online.
  • More than half of BTS shoppers who own a smartphone plan to use it to research products and compare prices. Four in 10 will look up a retailer’s information and 37 percent will redeem coupons to purchase products.
  • Tablet usage is similar. For tablet owners, three out of five online BTS shoppers anticipate researching products and comparing prices for the 2014 BTS season, according to the National Retail Foundation.
  • Mobile usage isn’t limited to just searching. 48% of emails are now opened on a mobile device vs. a desktop or other type of computer. Are your emails reaching those 48% of consumers? Maybe not, since 69% of mobile users delete emails that aren’t optimized for mobile usage. Even if you present quality and engaging information to consumers in an email, if it isn’t easy for them to open and quickly skim on their mobile device, chances are they’re going to delete it without even batting an eye.
When searching online, consumers are looking for three things:
  • Locality: They want to support local businesses and give back to their communities.
  • Price: While the economy is still recovering, consumers are looking to continue saving money and cut back expenses wherever they can, including BTS shopping.
  • Practicality: In the past, consumers could purchase frivolous items without veering from the family budget. This is no longer the case and as a result, consumers are looking to purchase quality items that can stand the test of time - or at least last more than a month in their child’s black hole of a backpack
How is your business combating the changing BTS shopping trends? With the majority of businesses affected by BTS shopping, many retailers are missing a prime opportunity to appeal to new customers as searchers hunt for the best prices and options online. Make sure your business is where they’re looking.