August 9, 2010, 3:10 PM

Back-to-school purchase interest stretches beyond August

For back to school, retailers need to advertise early and stay late.

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Not all back-to-school shopping happens in August. A new study finds that consumer interest in computer purchases peaks in July, while interest in the office and school supplies and apparel categories remains strong well into September.

“Shoppers start thinking about school supplies and apparel much earlier and stay engaged with ads later than what is generally understood to be the crunch month of August,” says Max Mead, vice president of business development and analytics at PointRoll. PointRoll, a digital marketing agency, conducted the study.

Nearly 31% of U.S. households will shop online for back-to-school items this year, the National Retail Federation reported earlier this summer. It estimates total spending for K-12 and college students will reach $55.12 billion in 2010.

The PointRoll survey tracked interactions with online advertisements from 2006 to 2009. Among the findings:

  • The interaction rate--which represents the percentage of the audience that interacts or engages with the ad unit--with computer advertisements peaks in July, averaging just under 7%; July also captures the highest click-through rate for the category, 1.25%. The interaction rate declines to less than 6% by mid-August. By September, click-through rates decline to less than 0.6% for the category.
  • Interaction rates with the office and school supplies category reach a high of 10% in mid-July and decline gradually through Labor Day. Consumers engage more with advertisements in the category in September (6.97%) than they do in August (6.80%). Interaction rates with the apparel category follow a similar pattern, peaking near 7.5% in mid-September.
  • Product promotions and coupons trigger the highest click-through rate for office and school supplies advertisements (0.78%); non user-initiated video—video that automatically launches upon loading a page—works best at generating click-throughs for apparel advertisements (0.72%). Opportunities to play games generate the most clicks (0.6%) in the computer category.

The study suggests marketers in the office and school supplies and apparel categories may want to rethink their practice of cutting advertising spend sharply in late August. According to PointRoll, companies currently reduce their back-to-school advertising by 75% at the end of August before Labor Day. The study also suggests increasing investments in the computer category earlier in the summer.

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