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Oh, and there’s a new BTS Sheriff in town and the 23rd annual Brand Keys (, back-to-School survey for households indicates that according to the 8,082 parents polled, they plan to spend more this year, a combination of rising consumer confidence and consumer smarts. Six percent more, or an average of $716.

Smart, connected consumers have gotten smarter. They’re on to 21st century retail strategies Retailers taught – and consumers learned – four things that now govern purchase behavior generally, and specifically for back-to-school buying:

  1. Retailers have started marketing for occasions like back-to-school earlier and earlier.
  2. Prices start at very low levels, increase over time, and then drop down to lowest prices available.
  3. Deals are always available if you look hard enough.
  4. These days it makes sense to holiday shop very early and then as late as possible.

This year Brand Keys used a longitudinal sample with survey results gathered for the same respondents twice over the period of time from June 19th through August 11th to monitor back-to-school spending, revealing two, distinct waves of anticipated consumer purchases.

First, early consumer spending focused generally on supplies, e.g., copy paper, notebooks, writing implements, printer cartridges, ink and toner, computers, electronics, and calculators, accounting for an estimated 41% of this year’s anticipated average spend.

The second wave of later spending is anticipated to take place this month through the start of the school year, with 59% of 2017’s average anticipated spend predominantly budgeted for clothing, shoes (athletic and dress), books and study aids. And where are consumers shopping, early and later in the season? Glad you asked.

Wave 1: Early

  2. Walmart
  3. Staples
  4. Target
  5. Apple/Best Buy

Wave 2: Later

  4. Nike
  5. TJ Maxx/

While the past few years have proved this finding, this year’s BTS marketplace confirms that has become consumers’ default shopping platform – early or late in the season. Amazon will likely end up with 9% of the total $80 billion BTS spend this year, so a lot of money!

Average spending in all major back-to-school categories is up compared to last year, representing a 6% increase YOY, with online (99% of consumers will be using that) the consumer’s shopping platform default mode. Online is followed by closely Discount Stores (98%) and – at a distant third – Department Stores (69%). And if you think platform choice is just about pricing, think again, folks.

Pricing isn’t the only thing that consumers equate with “value.” It’s about brand differentiation and brand engagement, and retail brands that can emotionally engage consumers will be seen as surrogates for added-value, and the ones that can do that will be the brands that benefit most over the three-and-a-half months that now make up the back-to-school marketplace. These days, providing more than just low-lower-lowest prices is a fundamental lesson all back-to-school retailers need to cram for if they hope to pass courses like “Same-Store Sales” and “Accounting” with flying colors.


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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