Back-to-School Marketing Trends: It’s All About Gen Z

While the heat of summer draws us to the beach, marketing campaigns pull us in another direction – back-to-school season. Yes, it’s that time of year again, and today’s marketing campaigns must work with the expectations of parents — and students – to be successful.  

The back to school shopping season is a big deal for retailers. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates the spending for back-to-school shopping to hit $82.8 billion this year. That’s one of the highest on record.

According to a recent JLL Retail survey, low costs and wide selection are important factors to the majority (70 percent) of parents. They favor stores associated with low prices, ranking Walmart (50 percent) and Target (47 percent) among their top picks, and far ahead of Amazon (16 percent). Kids have substantial influence on purchases. More than 57 percent are involved in deciding which store to shop at, and specific items to buy.

Related: Debunking Retail’s ‘New Normal’

Sometimes, students are the buyer. The NRF found the average teen will shell out $35.60 from their own pocket, $10.54 more than younger students.

“Now, with influencers on social media, kids already well aware of what brands and items they want to buy before getting to the store, which is why they’re guiding their parents in the purchase decisions,” James Cook, head of retail research, JLL Retail, said.

Direct student involvement shifts some of the marketing attention away from traditional channels, like television, to social media.

“This shouldn’t come as a surprise when social media tools like Pinterest and Instagram have allowed Gen Zers to be more selective in the items they want,” Phil Rist, EVP, strategy, Prosper Insights, said.

With social media of growing importance, retailers must pay attention to direct communication. Kyle Henderick, senior director of client services, Yes Lifecycle Marketing, recommends keeping communication concise.

Related: Instagram Stories – Shopping for Gen Z

Personalization is also important when competing for attention, particularly on mobile devices, Henderick said.

“These are especially important to cut through the noise, and engage busy parents, as they sift through their crowded inboxes,” he added.

Jeff Cheal, director of product strategy, personalization suite, Episerver, agreed that personalization should be a priority for getting current messages delivered, and nurturing customer relationships.

“We’ve found that when a brand personalizes and customizes the shopping experience, 20 percent of consumers are more loyal to that same brand, and 25 percent are more likely to make another purchase with the company,” Cheal said.

When it comes to back-to-school shopping for college students, brands have an opportunity to build a foundation for ongoing relationships with student buyers.

“College is a blank slate for brands, and for students. For brands, it’s the first time they’re developing a relationship with a whole new generation of consumers,” Alex Kronman CEO/founder, Flytedesk, said. “Students entering college are redefining who they are, and who they want to become. It’s only natural for them to be highly involved in back-to-college purchases that serve as a signal to their peers.”

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