Jul 19, 2016

2016 Back-to-School Shopping Signals

People around the country may still be washing sand out of their hair and nursing sunburn from 4th of July vacations, but the next time they walk into a major national retailer, they’re likely to see signs of the summer’s end.
Back-to-school displays are showing up in stores earlier and earlier. Many retailers reset for the season the week after or even the week before Independence Day. It’s common to see retail displays for things like sunscreen and charcoal right next to pencils and notebooks.
34%25 of Shoppers Start Before JulyIt might seem like pushing out back-to-school (BTS) displays so soon would be a bummer for shoppers who still want to enjoy the summer. However, there’s evidence that consumers are helping drive this trend of an early BTS shopping season.
Back to School by the Numbers
Research from the Rubicon Project, an online advertising automation platform, indicates many parents and students started their back-to-school shopping in June. The survey found more than one third of parents (34 percent) and nearly half of college freshmen (49 percent) have begun making BTS purchases. Extreme early bird shoppers have even been looking for deals since May.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) confirms this trend. It’s 2015 back-to-school survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics found around 25 percent of families started shopping at least two months before the start of school.
Parents are Spending More
It looks like Americans will be opening up their pocketbooks, too. The Rubicon Project says 61 percent of parents plan to spend more in 2016 than they did last year, shelling out an average of $917 per child. Parents with freshmen college students are spending more than $1,300 per child.
A unique aspect of the BTS shopping season is that it lasts from the start of summer through the first two months of school. An Adweek article suggests shoppers start making purchases around June 15th, then the bulk of shoppers are active from mid-July through the end of August. However, purchasing picks up again for electronics and office supplies in September and October as consumers return to stores to pick up purchases they missed.
70%25 of Shoppers Favor Physical StoresLast year, NRF President and CEO, Matthew Shay, pointed out the impact of late summer promotions and sales tax holidays, which bring shoppers into stores closer to the start of the school year.
Online shopping continues to grow, but a significant majority (70 percent) of shoppers still want to purchase school supplies in a physical store. That’s according to a CrowdTap study on back-to-school consumer trends conducted in April of 2016.

Percentage of Physical Shoppers
Success during the BTS shopping season requires the right packaging and retail display strategy. Brands need to find a way to grab the attention of both store managers as well as consumers. Then, they need to stay top of mind as shoppers slowly cross back-to-school items off their lists.
Hop on the Magic Bus – Choosing the Right Shopping Trigger
The first step in the customer buying cycle is awareness. And, the first part of raising awareness among shoppers is dropping the hint that the school year is coming soon.
The right retail display and packaging can make your target audience aware of the need to get back-to-school shopping done ASAP. That’s why some of the most effective displays feature a theme that coincides with the season.
These visual cues get consumers in the appropriate mood, create a sense of urgency, and can help cement a brand in a shopper’s mind. That way, when they’re ready to make a purchase, the product, the display, and even its location in the store are easily recalled.

During the back-to-school shopping season, there’s one popular seasonal theme that stands out from the rest … the school bus display. That bright yellow bus says “school is coming,” loud and clear. It may even create a subconscious sense of urgency, suggesting shoppers “don’t want to miss the bus!” A variety of major brands use this seasonal icon to stand out in stores.
The school bus theme also lends itself well to creating a functional display. Its size and shape are ideal for creating temporary shelving.
Besides the consumer, merchandising displays should also make store managers happy, especially if you want your products to end up in a desirable location. Retail displays for school shopping are typically shipped to stores in early spring and sit in storage until things kick off. Thinking strategically about design and functionality is crucial if a brand wants to be first on the floor.
Menasha’s own survey of store managers following the 2015 BTS season provided some reasons why the school bus has been so prevalent.
Interviews revealed these are some of the biggest factors making displays favorable among store managers:


  • Strong and sturdy
  • Easy to assemble
  • Colorful and attractive
  • Size and shape work well in the space
The school bus lives up to all of these standards quite well.
However, could jumping on the school bus bandwagon be a mistake? If a brand’s retail display becomes just another yellow box in a fleet of school busses, it may defeat the purpose of developing an eye-catching setup in the first place.
Consider other types of seasonal icons that fit the back-to-school theme and could be developed into a retail display:
  • Crayons and pencils
  • Chalkboards
  • Backpacks
  • School lockers
  • Lunchboxes and thermoses
Whether you’re looking for something traditional that’s tried and true, or something outside of the box, Menasha Packaging has the expertise and the proven processes to help bring your retail packaging and promotional displays to market.
Find out more about our Retail Merchandising Solutions, and check out a gallery featuring some of our creative displays.
Let Menasha be your experienced partner in the ever-changing retail market. Our in-house graphic artists and structural engineers help you develop merchandising displays that build brand equity and improve supply chain efficiency. That’s why Menasha has been recognized with hundreds of display design awards.