Insights Insights | September 9, 2016

Making Use of Programmatic to Reach Back to School Shoppers

It’s already back to school shopping season, and while some parents are busy heading to malls or searching online for the best products and deals, it’s also time for marketers to start planning their back-to-school campaigns. Back to school and back to college shopping is the largest seasonal event for retailers and consumers, with a significant amount being spent on school/ college supplies, second only to winter holidays.

Consumers are relying  on their mobile phones more than ever before as our analysis suggests that in the US, 51% of all back to school supply searches are done on mobile on an average, followed by 48% of back to school searches on mobile in Canada. In the UK, however, mobile accounts for 41% of all back to school searches.

We also found that back to school searches peaked at different times across different regions. While in the US, it peaked in the first week of August, in Canada and the UK, it peaked during the third and fourth week of August respectively. To understand what the most searched items were, which devices they shopped on, and which brands were most sought after etc., we dug deep into the data to see what back to school trends emerged in the US, UK, and Canada.

Back to School: Insights for Marketers

August is the most popular month for back to school shopping

Back to school search trends

In the US, back to school searches peak in the first week of August, while in Canada and the UK, it peaks in the third and fourth week of August  respectively.

The regional trends are mostly because of local school calendars, with schools opening at different times for each region. The earlier the kids go back to school, the sooner the search begins. Therefore, instead of creating one national back to school campaign, triggering ads when the local demand peaks, would have a greater impact in reaching the right audience.

School holiday schedule by region


England & Wales: 16th July-5th September

Scotland: late June-17th August

Northern Ireland: Late June-beginning of September


Northern States: Early June-Early September

Southern/Western states: Late May-Late August


June End-7th September

School shoes are the most searched item

In the UK, searches for school shoes peak at different times of the month, with 41% of the searches coming from mobile. In Scotland and Northern Ireland consumers search for school shoes early with Scotland seeing a peak during the last week of July (27th July) and searches peaking in the first week of August (7th August) in Northern Ireland. In Wales (26th August) and England (24th August), however, consumers search for school shoes in the latter half of August, with searches for school shoe peaking during the last week of August.

In Canada and US, searches for school shoes peaks in August and September, with Nike being the top brand in both regions. 54% of the searches for school shoes in the US comes from mobiles, while in Canada, mobile accounts for 48% of the searches.

School shoes trends in Uk

School shoes trends in USA

School shoes trends in USA-2

School shoes trends in CA

Other school supplies peak at different times for each region


Back to school searches are consistent across the US, Canada, and the UK, however, it’s the time of the month that they search on that matters the most.  

In the UK, searches for school uniforms and school shoes are more rampant, with searches for school uniforms peaking on the first of September, while searches for shoes peaking towards the end of September (24th August).

Search for school supplies in UK

In the US, searches for items such as school uniform, school shoes, school bags, and lunch boxes see a significant peak during the first week of September, while pencil cases peak a week after this period.

Search for school supplies in USA

In Canada, search interest for school uniforms, school bags, and school shoes peaks during the end of August, while searches for lunch boxes and pencil cases see a significant peak in the first week of September (8th September).

Search for school supplies in CA

Mobile dominates search behaviour

Before they purchase, consumers go on a searching spree for the best deals and offers. Search for school supplies went up by 39% (year-on-year) in the US in August last year in comparison to 2014 , followed by Canada, which saw a 38% (year-on-year) increase in back to school searches.

Lunch boxes and school shoes are searched for the most in the UK, accounting for 42 percent, followed by school uniforms, which accounts for 41% of the searches on mobile. In the US, school uniform tops the most searched item, with 60% of the searches done on mobile, while in Canada, school bags and shoes account for 49% of the searches.

Search percentage by device UK

Search percentage by device USA

Search percentage by device CA

Brands searched for more in the UK than the US

Consumers in the UK search for branded school supplies in comparison to the US. For school bags, the most preferred brands are Roxy and Vans, Lelli Kelly and Kickers for shoes, and when it comes to uniforms they prefer Aldi and SWI the most. Although the preference for pencil boxes and lunch boxes is similar in both US and the UK, theme based supplies like burrito pencil cases and minion lunch boxes take an upper seat. In brands, Disney is the most preferred one.

In the US, however, shoppers do not have a brand preference when it comes to school bags, but the search for book bags and tote bags are very high. But they prefer brands in case of school uniforms and shoes.   Brands like Old Navy, JC Penney are popular searches for uniform, while brands like Mary Jane and Clarks are popular for shoes.

Brand Searched for more in UK

Brand Searched for more in USA

What else are they searching for?

Products that help in customization are on the rise. Consumers are constantly looking for easy-to-use, economical items, such as washi tape, which is becoming more popular during the back-to-school period. According to Google data, consumers searching for dorm room-related topics are about 100x more likely to be searching for washi tape than the average Google user and are about 150x more likely to be searching for wall decals. Searches for “back to school haul” also peak in the first week of August on YouTube.

What it means for marketers

  • Start early– With more and more consumers using the web and mobile to research before they purchase, marketers should start their campaigns sooner and capture their audience’s interest during this browsing window.
  • Use hyper-local –  Mobile-specific ads, or targeting them hyper-locally with creative messages can bridge the gap from research to purchase (whether in store or online), thereby making this transition a quick and seamless one.
  •  Capture search intent– While searching for back to school supplies online, users generally search in varied ways. Some may search using generic keywords like school bags, lunch boxes, etc., others may use specific keywords like burrito pencil case or Disney school bags, showing interest in that particular brand or theme. Therefore, targeting audiences with specific interests can result in broader reach.
  • Take a local approach– Since the demand for different school supplies varies across geographies, planning campaigns accordingly can ensure that you reach the right audience at the right time, and on the channels that they are most active.


With inputs from Priyanshu Gupta, Insights Specialist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *