Back to School 2014 is on Fire (So Don’t Be Too Cool for School)


The Back to School season is one of the biggest periods for retail, second only to the holiday season in terms of sales. With holiday 2014 around the corner (115 days until Black Friday 2014!), it’s not a huge leap to assume that some of the “B2S” trends we’re seeing now will play out even further in the coming months.

Whether or not you’re buried in B2S now or planning Holiday 2014, read on for some B2S findings from Deloitte, the NRF, and AOL pulled from just-released B2S consumer surveys!

B2S Spending is Up! No it’s Down!

Deloitte, AOL/InternetRetailer, and the NRF all have updated surveys around the 2014 Back to School/College season. As far as spend expectations, there’s not much of a consensus:

  • Deloitte says that average B2S spending is expected to be down 19.2% from $672 to $543.
  • The NRF says that average B2S spending is expected to be up 5% from $635 to $669

Who is to believe? It may not really matter — what matters is that you get as much of that spend as possible.  And to do that, what may matter most is where the spend is happening.

Both the NRF and Deloitte found that nearly 2 out of 5 (38%) will be shopping online.  What more, Deloitte found that 57% say they’ll do research online first before purchasing B2S products in the physical store.


Below is Deloitte’s 2011-2014 trended data on where the shopping is happening — note that Deloitte pegged online shopping as just ever-so-much higher than office supply/technology store shopping (The NRF, on the other hand, has office supply stores higher in their survey at 42%).

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While there are a few trends in play above, it’s worth calling out that in four years (2011-2014), Online sites have gone from last place in this list to second, doubling in popularity as a B2S destination.

Why online? Because it’s magically convenient.

AOL’s B2S survey found that the top reasons customers are going to shop online in 2014 are for better prices, quicker shopping, and avoiding crowds. I have two princesses at home—that is, one (The 5 year old) fancies herself Ninjago and will be starting Kindergarten in about a week. (The other—the 2.5 year old—she’s just a ham.)

As you might guess, these girls are a handful. Sure enough, I just talked to my exasperated wife and found that her plans to grab my up-and-coming Kindergartner’s school supplies today were thwarted. Apparently, my kids had other things in mind than taking advantage of the tax free weekend in Georgia to score 20 glue sticks (yes, the list requests twenty) and a host of other supplies.

So why are parents flocking to the online channel? AOL’s survey found 72% said online resources made shopping faster and another 72% of respondents said they gave them more choice. A further 1 out of 2 said they made it more fun.

As a parent, I see shopping online as the path of least resistance. No kids climbing on the shopping cart or playing with fragile items within reach. No arguing about toys or candy they want but can’t have. For parents of kids — at least young kids — stores are a lot of work.

Shopping online is just … easier.

And by online, I mean mobile.


​Mobile is on everyone’s mind this B2S season. 84% of Deloitte’s survey respondents have smartphones and a full 3 out of 4 of these people (62% of the population) plan to use their smartphone to assist with back-to-school shopping.

As for what they’ll be doing with their devices, the NRF says about 37% will be researching products, 25% will find info about a physical store, and 22% will actually make a purchase (up 18% year over year).

As for when smartphone shoppers are actually in a store, AOL found they plan to do more product research (73%), find coupons (66%), look up customer reviews (61%), and compare prices (55%). Sounds about right.

When is all this B2S shopping going down?

Now, yes. But also there’s still more to come. As luck would have it, the two ways to answer this question were provided one each from Deloitte and the NRF.

The NRF’s answer focuses on when shoppers start. And on that front, they found about 1 in 4 will take advantage of late summer deals and shop one to two weeks before school. This compares to about 1 in 5 shopping at least two months before school starts. However, the sweet spot for when to start seems to be about three weeks to a month before school starts—grabbing about 45% of B2S shoppers.

But when will they be done? Deloitte has the answer! Here, only about 16% expect to be done with B2S shopping a month before the school year. Meanwhile, over half—54%—expect to complete B2S shopping inside the month before school begins. Another 26% will finish shopping after school begins.

Here the big takeaway is simple: back to school shopping is happening now but it won’t be over for many weeks yet. If I had to pick a date, I’d say September 15th.

(As you might have noticed, none of the above gets at Back to College. For that, just hop over to the NRF and Deloitte reports!)

So there you have it! Back to School Season is ON!

(Now go stock up on glue sticks and Trapper Keepers!)


Snack Shopping in the Mobile Margins

Two recent reports — one from LiveIntent and the other from Custora — look at emerging trends in mobile shopping behavior.  LiveIntent’s report is email-focused (e.g. 14 minutes of every hour on mobile is spent with email) but, I believe, still illuminates mobile behavior in general.  Take a look at this shot from their report:


As Cynthia pointed out, and what’s interesting about the data above, is that while smartphone and tablets have the highest conversions during the middle of the day (similar to desktops), clicks on these devices are happening the most in the evening, boosting conversions via the mobile channel at a time when desktop conversions are on a steady decline.

What’s going on in the evening that’s driving this behavior?

Separately, we’ve got data from Custora that indicates almost 37% of e-commerce visits are coming from smartphones (24.5%) and tablets (12.4%).  However, only about 23% of orders are coming in via this channel, and even less revenue (18.2%), proportionately:


What’s the takeaway?  I think it has to do with how mobile devices are most used in the margins of our lives.  Mind, we have a lot of “marginal” time — the two minute commercial break, the grocery store line, the trip from upstairs to downstairs in our homes, the lull in conversation at a meal, etc. These moments which happen throughout the day — we fill them with an email check, a Facebook update, a hop into an app, a quick message to a friend, whatever.

Smartphones fill in these margins.  (For good or for bad).

Small increments of interaction mean we must get in and get out.   Just because we are on our phones doesn’t mean we can spend 15-30 minutes on them in a single session.  Think about how digital and technology improvements are affecting our patience.  We expect sites to load fast or we are gone.

As the Custora report puts it, we snack on mobile.


Or how about when we see an email from a friend (or for work) that requires a lengthy response: how likely are you to take the time to respond at length?  I save those emails for my PC because it’s way, way too taxing for me to type on my smartphone or tablet.

That said, if I’m snacking on a minute of mobile distraction and hop onto a retail site, well, if that experience is fairly seamless and quick, I can be in and out, purchase made, and on with my day in a flash.  The key is that it’s painless and easy.

For that reason, while mobile interactions may often be “local” in intent (e.g. we are looking for a local store to buy some product), it’s often the case we’re just filling marginal time — time in front of the TV or relaxing around the house.  Interest piqued and a few minutes to spare glued to our phones, we’re apt to shop right then and there.

But retail sites need to be efficient in getting us in and out of the e-commerce experience.  Because our mobile device time is innately a snack—not a meal.

Retailers best take advantage.

Mobile Time is Spent on Marginal Distractions (like Email and Social)

If you see someone on their smartphone, chances are they are either checking email or checking Facebook.

You.  With the smartphone.  You on Facebook?  Yeah.
You. With the smartphone. On Facebook? Likin’ it like it’s your job.

That’s according to a couple different sources of data.  A report from LiveIntent which found that a whopping 14 minutes out of every hour spent with mobile was spent in email (23%).  Separately, comScore found that 24% of all mobile time was spent with Facebook.

Note that comScore’s definition of “mobile” here includes tablets and smartphones whereas LiveIntent’s data … not sure.

Further note that LiveIntent found that time spent on social on mobile was only about nine minutes for every hour, which obviously conflicts with comScore’s findings.

Regardless of the actual figure, I think of mobile time as marginal time.  When we have a moment to ourselves, our minds seek information, activity, or distraction.  What easier way to scratch that mental itch than with our mobile device?

But a minute here and a minute there also demands we constrain our activities to things we can do quickly.  Catching up on an email or two (so long as you aren’t drafting a response) is something that can be done with marginal time. Checking your Facebook feed is an easy distraction.

It’s filler behavior.  It’s passive distraction.

So these stats don’t surprise me.


comScore: Online Shoppers Shop Offline-Only 21% of the Time

A recent comScore / UPS study titled Consumers Demand More Flexibility When Shopping Online has a slew of interesting omnichannel data nuggets, not the least of which is this—online shoppers complete a shopping experience exclusively online about 39% of the time which is nearly 2X more than they do all their shopping “offline” or in-store — 21% of the time.  Meanwhile, the other 40% of their shopping is cross-channel.  Parse it:

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Separately, there was a one finding in the report that I’m still wrapping my head around:

When shopping on mobile devices, 41% of respondents said they prefer a retailer’s full website vs. a mobile website (34%) or mobile app (25%).

I read that and I’m at least a little like …

Why bother with a mobile site or app if consumers don’t want that experience?  Or perhaps the question is: why don’t consumers like your mobile-optimized site?  Why don’t they want your app?  And while I’m a little aghast at this finding, I reflect on my own behavior and find that I frequently request desktop site on my Nexus 5 when I’m handed a mobile site.


Other findings in the comScore report of note:

  • 58% have added items to their shopping carts to qualify for free shipping
  • 83% are willing to wait an additional two days for delivery if shipping is free
  • 74% of consumers prefer most of their packages delivered to their home
  • 53% of online shoppers have had items shipped to a store; 43% made additional purchases in store
  • 82% respondents saying they would complete the purchase if they could return the item to a store or have free return shipping (66% said they view a retailer’s returns policy before making a purchase)

Do you open emails on mobile but save them for later?


A report from Knotice on email open rates across phones, tablets, and desktop/laptops for 2013 was released that finds that as of the second half of 2013, about 52% of emails were being opened via traditional platforms—desktops and laptops—with the remainder being opened on phones (31%) and tablets (17%).

While I think many of us open work emails on our smartphones only to reply to them later when we’ve got a full-fledged typing apparatus at hand, apparently this behavior isn’t common relative to total email opens. Knotice specifically addressed this “myth.”  Per their report only 2.5% of emails are being cross-opened or shared between devices.  Check it out (highlighting mine):

Mind that the above is for retail (the only category they broke out for this data).  I wonder:

  • How would the cross-device open rates change for work emails?
  • What is the engagement when emails are cross-opened between devices?

I’d theorize that while cross-device emails are uncommon, the engagement on those emails is likely huge—for retail it’d be the need to spend some time clicking through, shopping, etc., or for work, sending off a reply that is more than a couple sentences long.

Related, further reading: Mobile Share of Email Opens and Clicks Varies Widely by Industry (data via Experian)