Back-to-School Shopping Gets Back in Session

8/10/2009 09:21:00 AM


Depending on which state you live in, school is starting somewhere between 2 weeks to 4 weeks from today--which according to marketers' calendar typically signals the end of the back-to-school retail season. But in this not so typical year, we're noticing that the 2009 back-to-school retail season is just getting back in session as we enter August. Sure, shoppers are expected to spend a little less this season than the economy would like, but as much as they're stretching their shopping dollars, students and parents are also stretching their shopping cycle. In a recently released NRF back-to-school survey, we've found that up to 82% of shoppers are expected to still be shopping for back-to-school items this week, or have not even begun shopping yet. [1] If surveys aren't enough indication, real-time data is showing signs that marketers really should amp up their back to school campaigns now, instead of pulling back or completely pulling off their campaigns.

Back to school searches have been steadily rising in popularity the past month, to nobody's surprise. As we closed out the month of July, we saw various keywords rising especially fast this year compared to the same back to school time frame last year. Users around this time are showing much stronger interest in 'college laptops,' 'school shoes,' and 'backpacks' among other things than 2008: [2]

What struck me as most interesting about these searches was the idea of using these trends as a starting guide to dig into keywords that uncover what may be on students' and parents' shopping lists this year. New keywords that surface in back to school categories can reflect new or popular items everyone is looking to stock up for the back to school season. In that case, we can expect more boys and girls donning North Face backpacks and Jessica Simpson 'Carsi' sandals this year, while accessorizing their cell phones with new faceplates and skins, and parents and college students decorating new rooms with zebra bedding and hip barstools. [3]

Historical trends on Google Insights for Search show us that the back to school shopping season is just approaching its height and expected to reach its peak online in the next two weeks. So even for those who haven't had a chance yet to run their back to school campaigns, there's still time to capture many of these shoppers online now.

[1] NRF's "2009 Back-to-School and Back-to-College Surveys," released July 14, 2009. Percentage total of those who begin shopping 1 month (4 weeks) before school starts, to those who begin to shop after school starts, based on all Adults 18+ respondents from Back-to-School survey.
[2] Google Insights of Search in US. Query Volume Index growth refers to year-over-year growth based on Week of 7/19-7/25 in 2009 compared against corresponding week in 2008. **Growth rates are indexed to the highest point of search volume and are expected to vary as active searches increase. Please use for directional purposes only.**
[3] Hitwise, Industry Search Terms Comparison Report. New search terms driving traffic to 'Apparel & Accessories,' 'Appliances & Electronics,' and 'House & Garden' category sites during 4 weeks ending 7/25/09 compared against 4 weeks ending 6/6/09.


D.Y. said...

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D.Y. said...

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Dennisy said...

I am surprised to see the percentage of consumers who intend to purchase back-to-school items online drop from 24.8% in 2008 to 22.2% in 2009. ["where will you purchase back-to-school items this year?" page. 5 of NRF 2009 Report].

As mentioned in earlier posts in the Google Retail Blog, most consumers are researching online but purchasing in-store. It would be interesting to learn if consumers are leveraging online resources of brick-and-mortar locations ( or using other online retailers/resources for their data gathering (, while ultimately completing purchases in-store at offline competitor (i.e. where is majority of research happening at the consumer level?).

In either case, I am surprised the data set by NRF is showing a decline in the intent of consumers to purchase online.

Julia said...

As retailers increase in-store or last-minute sales and promotions and as consumers continue to search for the best and biggest bargains around major holidays, we're definitely seeing more consumers using online to do their shopping and research and making their purchases at the actual store locations.

That said, we continue to see year-over-year online sales growth. More and more consumers are in fact purchasing online these days, but like we mentioned in previous blog posts, are taking longer and clicking more before they make that purchase online.

We'd love to share what we learned about consumers leveraging various online resources and their online vs. in-store purchasing patterns. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post!

The Google Retail Team

Dennisy said...

Thanks Julia. If your seeing more online sales volume -"we're definitely seeing more consumers using online to do their shopping . . . " - why is NRF report showing y/y decrease in intent to purchase online?

Could this be related to economic macro trends or perhaps intent varies greatly from actual activity? We might have to wait until the 'real' data is available before coming to a conclusion.

Thanks again and look forward to future info re: consumer use of online resources.