Search Trends

Back to school shopping trends: doing your homework online

08 Aug 2018

As parents eagerly await the start of a new school year, secretly so do their kids for one single reason; new pens. New pencil case. NEW SHINY BLACK SHOES.

August and September for retail are all about the back to school rush. Discounts and deals are in abundance during this time, as retailers hope to boost their sales. According to figures by the British Retail Consortium and KPMG, in 2017 retail sales rose by 1.3pc on a like-for-like basis in August compared to a 0.9pc drop the year before.

Apparently, the average cost of sending a child back to school is £186. Suffice to say, there is major opportunity for revenue.

Back to school shopping trends online

Back to school shopping terms have been growing year on year, with parents researching and purchasing online rather than in store.

Pi Market Intelligence

Chart taken from Pi Market Intelligence

In particular, ‘Bags’ and ‘Footwear & socks’ have grown significantly since 2015, with footwear seeing an increase of 92% in search volume. It can be assumed that parents would be using ecommerce sites to locate the right kind of shoes and then going in-store to try on. Kids grow fast, ya know.

Whereas bags are more likely to be purchased online, with no risk of outgrowing a backpack...unless you go full Hello, Kitty. Then you might be regretting that halfway through the year when everyone else has gone for a sophisticated block colour.

‘Stationery’ sees dramatic peaks in October and November, rather than during the August/September back to school shopping rush. Whilst ‘Stationery’ terms are almost as searched as ‘Footwear & socks’ in the first half of 2017, they see most search volume later in the year, completely surpassing ‘Footwear & Socks’ and ‘Bags’.

‘School uniform’ terms are surprisingly one of the lowest searched categories across the back to school market. Although it has seen similar growth YOY as the other term categories. Again, this may be due to the need for trying on in-store.

There is very little volume for generic ‘Back to school’ terms, even though these are the terms that many retail sites theme their landing pages around. This indicates that sites should perhaps optimise for more specific back to school shopping terms.

Top of the class

Using our Market Intelligence tool, we’ve identified the top players for back to school terms.

Pi Market Intelligence

Chart taken from Pi Market Intelligence

Debenhams is stealing most share of voice overall, and performs well for ‘Bags’, ‘Footwear & socks’ and ‘School uniform’ search term groups.

If we break down the search term groups, we can see that Schuh has the most SoV for ‘Footwear & socks’, even more so than the traditional go-to back to school shoe shop, Clarks. This could be due to the developing secondary school trend of students opting to wear all-black trainers as school shoes; Schuh has a wider selections of branded black trainers, allowing for a degree of individualism and obviously, coolness.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 10.42.07

Sites that aren’t typical clothing retailers, such as supermarkets like Asda and Sainsbury’s, are also capitalising on the back to school shopping terms. Asda in particular does well, in 3rd place with 6.74% of the market

It’s no surprise that the *great* selection at Paperchase has them winning the stationery share of voice.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 10.41.05

The opportunity

Back to school shopping clearly offers a lot of opportunity, with fierce competition from a range of retailers. It’s as much about having the coolest products as it is about practicality, and all at the right price.

There's opportunity for non-typical back to school retailers to capitalise here, with quick turn around campaigns that focus on the ‘individualism’ angle in a uniformed environment, as Schuh has.

As more kids are doing their own online searching for back to school, brands will have to be savvy about communicating with the younger generations as well as their parents.


If you want to see further insight about seasonal trends, download our search trends report. Alternatively, sign up for a demo of the software that informed this post.


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