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Back to School Recap

Monday, August 20, 2007

The 'back to school' season is in full swing, yet this year's shopping season is off to a late start. According to the Annual NPD Back-to-School Survey, only one-fifth of consumers were planning to start their back to school shopping before August, compared to 30 percent who were planning to start shopping before August last year. However, the late start this year does not mean families will be spending less in 2007. According to the National Retailer Federation (NRF), consumers will spend an average of 13% more than in 2006. So who's going to be this season's big winner? Researchers expect the electronics category to gain the largest increase in sales this year. "Electronics have evolved from luxuries to necessities, not only for college students but also for their younger siblings," NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a prepared statement. "While some students may be pleading with mom and dad for an iPod or a cell phone, parents are also investing in desktop or laptop computers, educational software, and printers to support their children's learning."

In terms of shopping preference, about 21% of parents plan to shop for back-to-school items online, compared with 15.2% last year. Parents between the ages of 18-34 are the most likely to shop online for their children, according to the NRF. Almost one-third of parents in that age group plan to search for back-to-school in terms of the Web.

In response to this shift, many retailers have used innovative marketing tactics to reach kids and their parents, both offline and online, by taping into the kids' 'inner rock stars.' JC Penney and Staples are two retailers that have launched innovative integrated advertising campaigns to showcase their back-to-school offerings. Parenting companies like the Family Education Network have created a 'back-to-school' site featuring an updated online calendar for planning for the new school year, with information ranging from the latest trends in fashion and school supplies, to information on energy-enhancing lunches and healthy-eating strategies for children, and how parents can plan tasty and nutritional brown-bag lunches.

Here's a recap of the most notable initiatives this season:

Staples: Staples hosted its first-ever Back-to-School Supplies Fashion Show to highlight the season's trendiest products, colors and patterns; event spotlights organization and style while benefiting Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The offline experience was supplemented by the "Rock Your Locker" Interactive Online Experience for Teens

  • Visitors to are offered the opportunity to enter a sweepstakes for the chance to win 1,500 prizes every day

  • "Giving back" prizes are incorporated as well, helping students put on their philanthropic hats with the chance to win donations in their names to charities of their choice

  • In addition, the "Rock Your Locker" web site has interactive features such as a "rock your personality" quiz

JC Penney: JC Penney launched Online Reality Show to "Flip" fashion tips between teen subcultures

  • The show takes teens out of normal social situations and puts them with a different group, leading to the sharing of fashion secrets and such. The series is supposed to illustrate the diversity of JC Penney's offerings.

  • New episodes will appear on weekly for eight weeks. The site also features character profiles and more, including fashion advice.

  • Online video was seen as the best way to connect to the teen demographic since that's what they spend an increasing amount of time consuming.

Family Education Network: Back-to-School calendar with parenting advice, articles & quizzes for kids; parents can enter Family Education Network Back-to-School Shopping Spree Sweepstakes to win $4,000

  • Every weekday, parents can visit and check the Back-to-School calendar to find new articles, slideshows and quizzes for getting a jump on the school year

  • They can enter the 2007 Back-to-School Shopping Spree Sweepstakes daily to win up to $4,000 in American Express travelers Checks, for stocking up on clothes and school supplies

Crayola & Wal-Mart: Making back-to-school shopping simple by enlisting teacher consultants to provide expert back-to-school shopping advice

  • Crayola & Wal-Mart joined together so every child heading back to class on the first day of school is equipped with the right teacher-requested school supplies an is "dressed for success" for the school year

  • "The frenzy and pressure related to buying back-to-school supplies is very much like holiday shopping. It's all about finding the "must-have" supplies on school lists," says Nancy DeBellis, Crayola director of education. "Wal-Mart and Crayola know the stress this puts on parents, which is why we joined forces to simplify the experience."

  • Stores hosting teacher consultants can also be found through the retailer's web site.

OfficeMax: Teachers can earn $500 for their classrooms through OfficeMax's new Back-to-School Bonus Program

  • New MaxPerks for Teachers Bonus Program Designed to Minimize Teacher Spend on School Supplies
    "According to Adopt-A-Classroom*, teachers in America today spend an average of $1,400 a year out of their own pockets for classroom supplies -- about $4 billion that's not funded by the education system," said Ryan Vero, executive vice president of marketing and chief merchandising officer for OfficeMax. "Teachers make a substantial financial sacrifice to create meaningful learning environments. We designed our
    Back-to-School Bonus program to show our ongoing support to help teachers achieve their lesson plan goals and to alleviate some of the financial burden."

  • Teachers simply enroll in MaxPerks for Teachers at, create a back-to-school shopping list for their students, and then distribute the list to students and their parents by email or by handing out printed copies. More than 5,000 teachers have already signed up for the new Back-to-School Bonus program