How to use social proof to maximize 2021’s back-to-school spend

Alison Wiltshire

19 Jul 2021

In 2020 spending on traditional back-to-school supplies was down, with parents having to invest in digital resources instead with a 28% year on year growth in technology products – 48% of which were purchased online – as well as increased spend on associated home items such as furniture.

According to NRF, parents with children in elementary through to high school planned to spend an average $789.49 per family in 2020, with spending expected to total $33.9 billion.

Add in back to college spending and the figures were even higher, an average $1059.20 per family and a total of $67.7 billion. That equated to a total spending future for K-12 and college students combined of $101.6 billion – and that in a year when there was uncertainty whether schools would be open or what supplies would be needed

For 2021 however, spend is likely to be much higher. According to KPMG, parents are expecting to increase spend on school supplies by 9% in 2021 compared to last year, with a 13% year on year increase for college students as students who delayed entry to further education finally resume their studies.

And although the return to store means some of those purchases will be made in person online shopping penetration for back-to-school supplies is still anticipated to increase 30% from pre-Covid 19 levels, accounting for 44% of planned shopping for school supplies in 2021, compared to 50% last year, according to the KPMG.

But as any long-suffering parent will know, the back-to-school shop isn’t always the easiest of summer jobs. Below we look at how you can use different social proof messaging types to maximize back-to-school spend, as well as make it less of a headache for busy parents – whether they are kitting out the bags of their elementary school children or the college dorms of their teenagers.

1) Attribute messaging – helping parents navigate feature-rich products

While value remains critical post-Covid, product features and the understanding of them, is also vital – whether that’s computer specs or the latest in fabric technology.

For example, although most schools in the US don’t require uniforms and have a standardized dress code instead parents will still, where they can, be looking for the sorts of dirt-repellent fabrics or crease-resistant cottons that will minimize their effort in making the children look presentable for class.

Similarly, for older college students their parents may need extra guidance on the best laptop to suit their needs. Guiding customers through this myriad of choices is essential to enable them to find the right product for their needs. Attribute messaging works by surfacing those must-have features to make that choice easier and quicker.

2) Trending messaging – helping parents buy the latest must-have items

You’d think that since most schools provide kit lists that it’s simply a job of ticking off the items on the back-to-school checklist and job done.

But it’s a naive (or inexperienced!) parent that thinks the job is that simple. Whether it’s school shoes, gym bag or a backpack, students young and old will usually demand to follow the latest fashions, especially the older they get. But how is a parent really supposed to know if that $40 backpack their son or daughter is demanding that they simply MUST have really is the one item that all their friend’s parents are also splashing out on.

Trending messaging will help to surface items that are selling fast and are the latest must-have – ensuring children return to school on-trend and ready for a little schoolyard bragging. And, after the disruption they’ve had don’t they deserve a little indulgence?  

3) Review messaging – helping assure parents they are making the right choice

Review messaging helps retailers share customer review data around purchases that can help customers harness the knowledge of others that have bought before them. Do those scuff-resistant sneakers really live up to the hype? Is that laptop really almost drop-proof? How durable is the fabric of those trousers – as any parent of boys knows, tearing on the knees is always a problem! 

Aggregating reviews and harnessing the power of other customer’s opinions of products also reduces the risk of returns, ensuring customers get the right product first time, rather than having to re-order days before the new term begins. That not only means that their child is prepared for the return to school but also that vital stock is in your hands at the time of maximum resale potential – allowing you to satisfy even more customers.  

4) Urgency messaging – helping warn parents that stocks are low

There are those parents that are highly organized and plan the back-to-school shop before the children have even ended their current school year. And there are those for whom snack-fuelled crazy summer growth spurts or just other life priorities means that back-to-school shopping is more of a last-minute affair.

Urgency messaging helps to warn parents that stock levels are getting low on items – vital if your child is a particularly hard-to-get shoe size or your teenager is demanding the latest hi-tech laptop. It means parents are more informed and therefore more likely to order early to secure their item allowing you greater control over your inventory.

The value of social proof messaging throughout the back-to-school shopping trip

Each of these messaging types has a different role in improving the back-to-school shopping experience and used in conjunction with each other will ensure you maximize both experience and conversion. You will have reduced the decision-making time and increased the likelihood of purchase – and have loyal customers every season.

And for many parents that will put you top of the class – or earn you a gold star at the very least.

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