Back-To-School Season Stretches Beyond August, Hitwise Says

Online visits for back-to-school items are already up compared to last year. But there’s plenty of road ahead for brick-and-mortars.

The weather is still painfully hot, but back-to-school season is indeed upon us — and spending is set to see a marked increase from previous years, according to a report from Hitwise, a division of Connexity.

Hitwise’s projection about increased school shopping is based on visits to the “Hitwise Retail 500,” a collection of top retailers’ shopping sites. Visits to these retailers — which include the likes of Apple, Lands’ End, and more — were up 2.6 percent during the four weeks ending August 13th, versus the same period a year ago.

What does that mean? Well, it equates to approximately 100 million more online shopping visits in just the early part of back-to-school season. But there’s still plenty of road ahead for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Settle In For The Season

Firstly, the “back-to-school” season may actually be longer than we think — and retailers would do well to pace their promotions and efforts.

“There’s always that desire to see what’s actually going to play out in class and on campus before going all-in on any trends or styles,” said John Fetto, senior analyst at Hitwise, explaining why not all of the shopping occurs in August. The bulk of the shopping takes place then, of course, but Fetto’s advice is not to dump the trend-savvy back-to-school displays the moment school starts.

Plus, “online search is perhaps the best way to identify trends even before they manifest themselves in the real world,” Fetto added. “Marketers should keep a constant eye on what shoppers are searching for so that they are one step ahead.”

In other words, both e-tailers and brick-and-mortars can identify key trends based on online searches. So what’s trending now in Hitwise’s search analysis? Adidas sneakers, particularly the Ultra Boost, which are up 1,485 places in Hitwise’s rankings year-over-year. And, unsurprisingly, Pokémon-themed backpacks are also viewed online drastically more than this time last year.

It’s common sense, but the proof is there: Marketers would do well to craft social messages and in-store displays around products that are trending or have a topical tie-in, like the Pokémon-themed backpacks following the explosive success of Pokémon Go.

Finally, “while [stores’] buying teams may have wrapped up the back-to-school season months ago, there’s always opportunity to reposition (both online and in-store) the merchandise on hand to take advantage of any fast moving trends,” Fetto said. And at the end of the day, “understanding your audience is key year-round. So make sure that your messaging and products resonate with the shopper and what’s of interest to them whether that’s the elementary school set, high school or college-bound.”