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Every summer, millions of dollars are spent preparing for back-to-school. And this year, back-to-school spending looks like it’s going to be stronger than ever. This is great news for vendors — if you can break through all of the back-to-school messaging to reach your target audience and snag your market share.

Back-to-School Spending

The late-summer and early-fall months not only usher in a new school year, but they also encompass the second-largest consumer spending season, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). It’s second only to Christmas!

According to the NRF’s 2017 Back-to-School and Back-to-College survey, spending is on track to reach the second-highest level in history. Combined, money spent on preparing for grades K-12 and college is expected to reach a staggering $83.6 billion, with school spending accounting for $29.5 billion of that sum. Shoppers with children in elementary and high school are planning to spend nearly $700 ($688, to be exact) just for back-to-school gear and supplies.

These numbers are about on par with Deloitte’s findings in its 2017 Back-to-School Survey of parents with children in grades K-12. Respondents to that survey said they expect to spend an average of $501 per student this school year, and total spending is projected to reach $27 billion.

No matter how you crunch the numbers, that’s a lot of money being spent on back-to-school.

So, what are people buying? The NRF survey reports that most of the money will be spent on two items in particular: clothing and electronics. (The latter is not surprising as more districts adopt BYOD and 1:1 initiatives, and technology continues to play a larger role in learning inside and outside the classroom.) Forty-seven percent of shoppers will start buying around three weeks to one month before the first school bell rings, and they plan to do a mix of in-store and online shopping.

Who to Market To

This summer, parents and teachers alike will be spending money to prepare their kids and their classrooms for back-to-school.

  1. Parents
  2. Parents, particularly moms, are the obvious consumer for back-to-school shopping. They’re often put in charge of shopping school supply lists — and for footing the bill. Their shopping carts can overflow with everything from clothing, shoes and accessories to electronics and notebooks and pencils. They also shop for items such as books and magazines, at-home educational resources and even after-school snacks.

    In addition to buying items specifically for their kids, parents have a strong influence over education purchasing, and they sometimes even make purchases directly for schools and classrooms. Individual parents might come together to lobby for new technology and curriculum, and organized groups such as parent teacher associations fundraise money to supplement school budgets. And we’re not talking small bake sale change — contributions reach the billions every year!

    Don’t overlook parents when planning your back-to-school marketing strategy. Agile can help you connect with them through our partnership with Use us as a resource for reaching this highly lucrative audience (50 percent have household incomes in the $100,000+ range) with an integrated marketing strategy that maximizes your brand exposure through digital marketing, email, social media, and more.

  3. Teachers
  4. Back-to-school also is a major buying season for teachers, and in more ways than one. Parents may influence education spending, but teachers hold sway when it comes to parents’ education-related purchases, and many of their recommendations take place during the back-to-school season of August – September.

    According to Agile data:
    • 73 percent of teachers recommend online programs to parents (53 percent say they actually request or require that students have access to these programs for learning)
    • 64 percent recommend apps
    • 63 percent recommend supplies (64 percent say they request or require that students have specific supplies)
    • 61 percent recommend tutors
    • Almost 50 percent recommend devices

    Teacher influence over education purchasing doesn’t stop with parents, either. Many teachers have a bottom-up influence over administration-level purchases. Teachers also do their own shopping for the items administrators won’t cover — such as classroom supplies. Most teachers are given a small budget for purchasing items they’ll need for their classes each school year. When that’s not enough — and it rarely is — they dip into their personal funds for shopping. In fact, year-over-year, teachers’ personal spending for school has reached the hundreds of dollars.
    And finally, don’t forget: Teachers are parents, too. Not only do they purchase items for their classrooms, but they also purchase items for their own school-age children. In fact, according to the 2014 Simmons National Consumer Survey, 50 percent of teachers also are parents or guardians to at least one child. Plus, they have a mean household income of $88,000 — $23,000 more than the general population.

    Agile can help you reach teachers wherever they’re at — at work or at home — and in whatever role they’re in — educator or parent. Our database includes more than 3.7 million email addresses for K-12 personnel and contact information for 130,000+ K-12 schools. That doesn’t even count the nearly 1.9 million educators we can help you reach at home, too.

How to Market to Teachers and Parents

Successful back-to-school marketing comes down to timing and targeting. You need to reach the right audience with the right messaging on the right platforms at the right time.

The months of July and September bookend the back-to-school shopping season. Agile can help you time and target your back-to-school marketing perfectly. We’ll help you build an integrated marketing campaign that expands across channels (email, digital advertising, direct mail, and more), and personalize your messaging to specific audience segments to get their attention, generate response and leads, and achieve sales.

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About Agile Education Marketing

We're the go-to people to build brand recognition and generate leads. Using our comprehensive EdConnect™ database of early childhood, K-12 and higher education institutions and personnel, Agile Education Marketing helps you reach educators at school, at home and online.