Back-to-School Vertical Trends Every Marketer Should Know

The back-to-school season has already begun but there are still two full months of shopping to prepare for. From basic school essentials like pens, pencils and backpacks to shopping for bigger items like iPad’s and laptops, there are still peak times for all back-to-school products. Based on Rakuten Marketing data and insights driven by Display […]

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The back-to-school season has already begun but there are still two full months of shopping to prepare for. From basic school essentials like pens, pencils and backpacks to shopping for bigger items like iPad’s and laptops, there are still peak times for all back-to-school products. Based on Rakuten Marketing data and insights driven by Display and Affiliate clients, we have looked at when the typical seasonal product verticals peak to give advertisers and publishers a head start on what product deals and campaigns they should be prioritizing and when.

Apparel and Accessories

Everyone needs new clothes to go back to school. Whether it’s elementary students or college students, almost all consumers will be shopping this vertical. This point, paired with the fact that the back-to-school season is the longest shopping period of the year, consumers will consistently be shopping for clothes for months on end. This is why the vast vertical of apparel and accessories remains the consistent high seller throughout the entire back-to-school season. This is supported by our consumer shopping data that shows conversions for this vertical remain high week-over-week. By the time September comes, school has officially begun for everyone and is also why the vertical reaches its highest peaks during the month of September. Since the selling period is quickly coming to an end, more consumers are in a hurry to take action.

September brings back two kinds of shoppers; those who have been searching, browsing and possibly purchasing throughout the entire season, and those who haven’t done any kind of shopping, maybe even starting late. As the end of the season brings back such a large range of consumers, marketers should prioritize efforts across all channels. Through increasing retargeting and awareness efforts in your display channels, you’ll engage the consumers who like to shop throughout the entire season. Also, offering competitive coupons and cashback deals will compel those late back-to-school shoppers to purchase. By spreading techniques and campaigns across multiple channels you can stand out amongst the competition and engage all types of consumers across multiple shopping stages.


Like apparel and accessories, footwear is an item that consumers are generally going to be shopping for year-round because it’s a necessity outside of just the back-to-school season, which is why purchases for footwear remains relatively high week-over-week. However, shoes are an item that typically lasts a long time, meaning when a consumer purchases a pair of shoes, they’ll likely not buy another pair similar to that any time soon. For students, the best time to buy new shoes would be for the school year – since they’ll be spending most of their time at school and it’s an opportunity to show off their style with some new kicks. With most students going back to school by the end of August, it makes sense that purchases are much higher during the entire month of August than the rest of the season as back-to-school shoppers are looking to get their new shoes picked out for the year. Then, for the next back-to-school season, these students will be ready to purchase their new shoes for the year!

Office Products

As far as office products go, most consumers shop this vertical right before school is in session. School usually begins mid to late August and most students should need their office supplies beforehand, unlike other products that aren’t as necessary to have on the first day. Our data indicates that with this being the typical time frame of when school begins, consumers are shopping for office products from the beginning of August through the first week of September. Since school supplies are pretty generic and can fit all consumers’ tastes and preferences, marketers should hone in on creative ways to stand out against their competitors. Prioritizing coupons and cash back is a good way to get people to buy your brand over another. But also making sure your brand name is recognized amongst all the other similar competitors is crucial. Specifically getting your name brand on platforms that both kids and parents uses. To ensure your brand isn’t forgotten, increase mobile and social advertising spend during this time as many of the consumers, students and parents alike, will be on their mobiles and social media. This way when they go to actually purchase an office product, your brand will be top of mind and recognizable from the multiple touchpoints your brand name was able to make with them via places they often go online.

Department Stores

Some consumers are looking to get as much of their shopping done in one place as possible to avoid having multiple stops and checkouts, which is why department stores are another vertical that is popular during the back-to-school season. These types of consumers that want to get a lot accomplished all at once are also typically wanting to get it all done before the school season is in full-fledge. This is why a lot of department stores typically remain high week-over-week, according to our consumer data, during this season but there is a very large increase in purchases during the last week of August with the number of purchases decreasing a lot the following weeks of September. A lot of the reason the last week of August attracts shoppers could be because of the big end-of-summer sales department stores typically have. This indicates consumers are always looking for a good sale and marketers can always benefit by increasing their coupon and cashback opportunities.

Consumer Electronics

As many students are going back to school and purchasing from verticals like above, there are still a large group of students purchasing electronics for the back to school season. This group of consumers will typically be a smaller amount of students within the large scope of consumers shopping during this season because not all ages of students are going to be shopping for electronics. Most likely, it will be back-to-college students that will be shopping for consumer electronics. Transitioning from a high school student to a college student, there are a lot of differences that call for more flexibility in a college student’s life — things like on and off-campus classes, a heavier homework load, and balancing a full-time school schedule with a full-time or part-time job require school. With these changes, portability becomes crucial for a back-to-college student’s life. Since they’re always on the run, they’ll be looking to buy laptops, tablets, new phones and more to prepare for the high paced, demanding schedule that is inevitable as a college student. Having these portable platforms, they’re able to do school work anywhere at any time. Consumer electronics become a hot ticket item about two weeks before college starts, which is usually the last weeks of August. When marketing to those shopping for needs like this, tailor messaging around how easy-to-use and convenient your brand’s electronics are. Since these students will be on the older end of the spectrum (as far as students go), it’s important to meet them where they are. Social and mobile advertising is a great way to reach these consumers and to get them to choose you over a competitor. Be sure to offer some sort of money saving deal because not only are college students extremely busy, they’re also extremely broke – even if it’s their parents making the purchases for their student, they’ll be grateful to have their pockets feel a little lighter.

There are plenty more that back-to-school consumers are looking for besides just these verticals during this massive shopping season. However, by looking at the most popular it’s clear to see just how much consumers vary, despite them all being students. With the elementary students who want to have very individualized, colorful, superhero-ed out backpacks; middle school and high school-aged students that may be more focused on fitting in by having “cool” clothes and shoes; and college students who are just trying to survive life and make something of themselves, it’s important to cater and reach all types of students during this season. As a marketer, focus on putting your consumer first, what it is they need, and how they will benefit from by purchasing your brand’s product over another. It’s important to have a strategy that includes a multitude of efforts. This way you reach and gain more consumers to expand brand recognition, re-engage consumers who like to browse now but shop later, and entice late shoppers all while offering great incentives. Through these techniques, you begin to create loyal consumers by continually providing a seamless experience that will make your brand hard to forget…which is perfect with the holiday season coming up so quickly after back-to-school ends.

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