How families prep for back-to-school budgets

Initiative rolls out results from a study that can help inform a rich media mix to match buyer behaviour.
Back to School

It’s that time of the year again when every medium will be tapped for back-to-school campaigns. And if you’re still looking to fill in some gaps a few weeks before schools get into session, here’s some info that could help direct your spend.

Initiative has invested in its first-ever study on the back-to-school period to determine how Canadians plan their budget and how they’ll spend their money before the new term starts.

“More brands and clients are looking at back-to-school as a key spending period and we are seeing that overall, more parents are planning a lot earlier than before,” Nish Shah, head of strategy at Initiative, told MiC. With a couple of weeks left before the new term, Shah said the study’s results were focused on providing big-picture insights for future planning rather than a cure-all for this year’s spend.

Spending for the back-to-school period has increased approximately 7% year-over-year between Q3 of 2014 and 2015, according to StatsCan figures from Initiative. That means spending has grown from $517 million to $552 million.

Conducted over five days in July, and based on input from 400 respondents (parents of children three to 17 years and full-time students aged 18 to 24), the Initiative study shows that research is a key and intensive component of their pre-term spending plans, with almost 80% of parents investing time and effort in advance research. Of those parents, 67% start researching as much as five weeks in advance, and 48% plan at least three weeks before school re-opens.

And according to the study, close to 20% said they would spend more this year, while 59% said they would spend the same.

While parents’ shopping bags are more likely to be filled with clothes (53%), shoes (48%), lunch supplies (38%) and school supplies (50%), older students are likely to be weighed down with purchases of the same but also computers (30%) and cell phones (29%). 

“It’s interesting for brands to take some of these data points, map out the consumer journey from the parent and student perspective and find the point that is most relevant to where the brand can actually add value,” said Shah. As the research period expands, he said, its good for brands to think of the period as a good way to build deeper relationships with new and returning customers by adding value to their campaigns beyond just the price point.

“A brand can think about what else they can do for students. Could a furniture retailer provide inspiration for what a dorm room looks like? Or use the opportunity to talk more from the emotional side of things?”

Results also point to an opportunity to engage parents around educational issues like saving for higher education through RESPs. About 30% of parents were not familiar with RESPs and 20% did not intend to research the subject.

Katie Prentice, manager of consumer insights, also noted that the research points to the importance of brick-and-mortar retail, especially for clothes shopping. “While trends show that people are shopping online, they are clearly also going in store and taking their kids along to see more choice and selection.” 

Another key takeaway from the student is that more than 50% of parents are footing at least 50% of their adult children’s bills, which means marketers should be targeting parents as much as adults for back-to-school targeting. 

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