July 26, 2013, 1:24 PM

Looking to attract back-to-school web shoppers? Try boy bands and fancy dorm lighting

Free shipping is a top desire among consumers, PriceGrabber finds.

Lead Photo


Nothing says straight A’s like boy bands and dorm room chandeliers. At least that’s what the behavior of online shoppers searching for back-to-school gear would suggest, according to new research released this week from Google Inc. School supplies featuring London-based boy band One Direction and dorm room chandeliers are among the most popular  back-to-school search terms on Google Shopping, Google said in a blog post this week.

Google also surveyed consumers on their back-to-school shopping plans earlier this year. More than 60% of shoppers said they will begin their shopping online, and most shoppers said that online research will have a notable impact on their in-store purchase decisions. Consumers also planned to turn to the web to research school purchases earlier than last year, the survey found.

“Our study found that not only are people already shopping, by the end of July most of their back-to-school research will already be complete,” Jacalyn Stolt, sales development manager for Google, writes in a blog post.

Just over a third of online shoppers said they planned to search for back-to-school goods from their smartphones, Google says.  Of that one-third, 66% planned to use their smartphones to locate a nearby retailer, 64% to compare prices and 43% to search for store item availability.

A rise in mobile back-to-school shopping this year compared to 2012 also emerged from a separate survey of 2,191 U.S. online shoppers that use comparison shopping site PriceGrabber. That survey was conducted from June 17 to July 8. When PriceGrabber survey respondents were asked all of the ways they plan to purchase back-to-school items this year, 13% percent said they plan to shop using their mobile phone, up from 6% in 2012. Additionally, 16% said they planned to make purchases on a tablet, compared to 8% from last year. Overall, 69% percent of shoppers say they plan to make back-to-school product purchases online, PriceGrabber says, and 54% of PriceGrabber survey respondents plan to shop at online-only retailers for school supplies.

When it comes to cutting costs, free shipping plays a major role in how consumers plan to save on their school supply bills, PriceGrabber reports. 72% of consumers chose free shipping as the top retailer tactic that would entice them to make a back-to-school purchase this year. Sales came in a close second place with 71%, 69% cited coupons, and 43% selected online promotions.

Google’s research, meanwhile, finds 94% of shoppers say a promotion or sale would persuade them to purchase a product, particularly when it comes to electronics.

“We found that people are more sale-conscious when buying consumer electronics than other school supplies,” Stolt writes. “Consumer electronics shoppers were more likely to make a purchase if there was a back-to-school promotion, free shipping offer, or one-day sale. Brands like Dell are promoting deals of the day and in-store pickup in Google search ads to help shoppers with their back-to-school shopping.”

When it comes to retailers receiving consumer traffic stemming from back-to-school search terms, Walmart.com ranks first, according to Experian Marketing Services. It was followed by JCPenney.com, Macys.com, OfficeMax.com, Sears.com, Staples.com and OfficeDepot.com. Experian says stores with bricks-and mortar locations are attracting the majority of search traffic to date. Experian evaluated search data from 64 search engines for its findings.

Retailers will likely be ramping up offers in subject lines, as that tactic served merchants well last year, Experian also notes. 37% of back-to-school e-mails contained offers in subject lines last year and those e-mails generated 57% of total back-to-school e-mail revenue in 2012, Experian says.

A back-to-school shopping study from the National Retail Federation trade group finds shoppers plan to use the web as a tool to save money. 36.6% say they will do more comparative shopping online this year and 18.5% will shop online more often, the poll of 5,635 consumers conducted July 1-8 finds

Parents and students are also turning to YouTube videos to research school purchases. Back-to-school shopping searches on YouTube spike every August and doubled this year between June 8 and July 27 compared to the same time period a year earlier, Google says. Popular searches on YouTube during the back-to-school shopping season include “room tour,” “school supplies,” “school makeup tutorial” and “haul videos.” Haul videos feature shoppers showing off the goods they purchased on their school supply shopping adventures.

“In the last week alone, more than 205,000 haul videos have been posted to YouTube from people sharing their latest purchases of clothing, supplies and dorm room decorations,” Stolt writes.

Brands are also using YouTube to reach back-to-school shoppers. Office Depot, Verizon Wireless and Kmart have all uploaded back-to-school videos on their YouTube channels to promote sales and school supplies, Google says.

Daily-deal sites are getting in on the action, too. A Groupon e-mail sent yesterday, for example, featured the subject line “Back to School Deals” and offered discounts on school-related products, including 33% off a Toshiba laptop, 63% off flash cards and half off an adjustable, swivel laptop desk.

The message also included an option to donate $5, $10 or $15 to Chicago Public Schools. That’s a gesture some might consider if they have cash left over after getting a great deal on that dorm room chandelier. 

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