Research Digest

Brand Familiarity Drives Back-to-School Purchasing


  • Nearly half (48%)¹ of back-to-school shoppers reported that they are most likely to purchase an item due to brand familiarity.
  • In-person back-to-school shopping is making a comeback, but ecommerce remains popular.
  • Consumer spend on back-to-college items has increased significantly over the last two years and is expected to continue to do so in 2022.
  • CTV viewership is high with the primary back-to-school consumer groups (students and parents).

Back-to-school shoppers rely on brands they know and love.

As the days get shorter and the air gets colder, another season is on its way. No, it’s not fall (just yet)…We’re talking back-to-school (BTS). The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and following resurgence of the Delta variant in the fall of 2021 led to extreme changes in student needs. For example, when schools abruptly transitioned from in-person to online teaching, internet connected devices became a must have on BTS lists far and wide.

In 2022, there are a lot of factors that will dictate back-to-school purchase behavior—inflation, a potential recession, the return to full-time in-person schooling for some students, etc. To help navigate this ever-changing landscape, consumers will rely on brands they know and love to guide their BTS shopping needs. In fact, nearly half (48%)¹ of BTS shoppers reported that they are most likely to purchase an item due to brand familiarity, while 36% said that they would buy a specific brand if it was required by the school. Meaning, a “required” item on a back-to-school shopping list could be seen as more of a suggestion than a rule if a consumer doesn’t know the brand in question.

This is a key insight for all BTS advertisers—the need for brand recognition is higher than ever and this is something that can’t be attained overnight. In order to ensure that consumers think of their brand when it comes to BTS purchasing, advertisers need to develop and execute comprehensive, full-funnel ad strategies that target audiences who are likely to engage.

Connected TV (CTV) is a great advertising channel for back-to-school retailers as it offers the following: extensive audience targeting, a high level of control over ad campaign execution and tons of data from which they can develop future campaigns. Another bonus—CTV viewership is high with the primary BTS consumer groups (students and parents). Aging 10-25, Gen Z makes up a large majority of the BTS student audience—nearly half of Gen Zs (49.7%)² watch content on CTV. Additionally, many parents who are likely to shop for BTS items are Generation Xers (ages 42-57) or Millennials (ages 26-41)—51% of Gen Xers and 60% of Millennials reported being active CTV users.

Whether they’re selling staplers or jeans, laptops or tennis shoes, brands from a wide variety of industries can utilize CTV advertising as a performance marketing channel to drive results and build brand familiarity with back-to-school consumers.

In-Person Shopping Makes a Comeback, But Ecommerce Remains Popular

In addition to the changes in the way people spent their money, the pandemic also affected where people spent their money. For obvious reasons, online BTS shopping saw an increase in 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years. On the flip side, in-person purchasing experienced a huge dip—43%³ of consumers budgeted for in-store shopping in 2020 and 2021 vs. 56% in 2019.

With the world returning to some form of pre-pandemic “normalcy”, BTS in-store shopping is also bouncing back. This year, 49% of consumers reported that they had budget for in-store purchasing.

BTS Spend: Share by Channel

All of this said, online shopping is still popular. A July 2022 study reported that 50%⁴ of back-to-school consumers planned to do their shopping online, as opposed to 45% saying they’d go to a department store and 40% choosing a discount store as their top shopping destination.

Back-to-College Spend is On the Rise

For those of us who haven’t been in school for years, back-to-school may elicit thoughts of three ring binders, crayons and non-skid tennis shoes for P.E. But BTS isn’t solely for kids—back-to-college shoppers are a key segment of this audience as well.

Despite the various effects of COVID-19, back-to-college purchasing has experienced a major increase in the last few years. Even when colleges and universities were navigating the in-person vs. online schooling issue in 2020 and 2021, spend went up—U.S. consumers spent a total of $67.7 billion⁵ on back-to-college items in 2020 and $71 billion in 2021, up from $54.5 billion in 2019. This figure is predicted to continue to rise, hitting a high at $73.9 billion in 2022.

These increasing levels of spend indicate that despite inflation and a potential recession, this consumer group shouldn’t be overlooked by back-to-school retailers.

“Education is still a priority for college students and their families, even amid high inflation. Average spending per household will be roughly the same as it was last year—around $1,200. Electronics and computer-related equipment will see the biggest increase in back-to-college dollars since before the pandemic, with households shelling out nearly 28% more this year than in 2019.”

– eMarketer


While economic uncertainty is factoring into consumer spending behaviors, back-to-school shopping is still in full force, especially for college students and their families. This said, shoppers are being more mindful of how they spend and have made it clear that they will put money into brands that they know and trust. With people indicating that they will shop both in-person and online, there is a huge opportunity for back-to-school retailers in all industries. Brands who want to drive performance and increase brand familiarity should consider CTV as an advertising channel to target back-to-school audiences.

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