kidsPretty soon after millions of kids finally got used to the idea of several weeks away from classrooms and teachers, they might have started seeing advertising that challenged their embrace of the lazy days of summer. Announcements of the start of “back-to-school” season began appearing around mid-July, likely to the dismay of not just the kids but their parents as well.

But the reason for the early announcements is not to create panic—or at least not solely. Retail predictions for the year suggest little growth in the back-to-school market, which means that retailers that rely on purchases of pens, pencils, paper, backpacks, calculators, and so forth have to find alternative means to bump up their earnings. In their efforts to get consumers primed and ready to spend, they started advertising school-related specials and promotions earlier than in most prior years. Office Depot started highlighting school supplies, in advertising and in stores, by mid-July. If parents can grab a case of crayons, enough to cover any needs their children might have, at a deep discount because they buy it so early, that might be sufficient inducement to make the sale.

The efforts are not limited to paper and pencil suppliers though. American Eagle also relies on the back-to-school season for a big chunk of its sales, designed to outfit kids with new gear to last them throughout the year. Therefore, it launched a new design collaboration with Lil Wayne, introducing a streetwear line called AE ´ Young Money, by late July that aimed to get kids excited and outfitted in the rapper’s inspired line of hoodies, jeans, and shorts.

The timing also likely reflects some other factors too. In general, retailers have begun promoting traditional shopping occasions and seasons (e.g., Halloween, Christmas) earlier and earlier, in the recognition that customers enjoy these offerings. A pumpkin spice lover is happy to see the flavor on store shelves in August, even as others might complain about retail efforts to hurry autumn along.

Furthermore, the announcements of these deals are notably close in timing to Amazon’s Prime Day. By offering deep markdowns on staple schools supplies and essential basic clothing, retailers might be able to retain or gain more of shoppers’ wallets, even when competing with the amazing deals Amazon offers each year. In this sense, the timing is preemptive, though parents and kids might see it more as panic-inducing.

Discussion Questions

  1. List some key reasons that shopping seasons, such as back-to-school, seem to move earlier every year.
  2. How can a retailer set itself apart if nearly all its competitors are starting to push schools specials earlier? Should it go even earlier or take a different tact?


Source: Adrianne Pasquarelli, “It’s Never Too Early, Apparently, for Back-to-School Campaigns,” Advertising Age, July 15, 2019