Back-to-school ads are in full swing, trying to get parents and children into stores earlier. This year, several retailers like Target and Staples are trying different marketing tactics to lure customers in earlier and away from the competition. The question is, will retailers’ efforts pay off or do parents already have their minds made up as to where and when to shop? We decided to dig deeper into 2014’s back-to-school shopping trends and find out whether promotions and special offers might alter shopping behavior.

We asked U.S. consumers two questions related to back-to-school shopping, “Will any retailer discount programs get you back-to-school shopping earlier in summer 2014 than you did last year?” and “How much more likely are you to shop at Target for back-to-school items based on their campaign which will give one school supply product to a student in need for each school supply purchased?” One question more generic (but with a nod to Staples’ early shopping price-match promotion) and the other specific to Target’s “One for You, One for Me” deal.

Let’s take a look at the first question.

After polling 4,775 consumers from July 7 to July 21, and looking only at those who say they will be back-to-school shopping this year:

    • 19% said that retailer discount programs will get them shopping earlier this summer vs. last summer.
    • 25% were still undecided.

Among the parents planning to shop, 20% said retailer discounts or promotions will get them in the stores earlier, 21% said they weren’t sure, and 60% said that special offers wouldn’t entice them to shop earlier than last year.

When crossing the question with school-aged consumers, we found some interesting results. Of those under 18 who plan to shop, 26% will take advantage of special offers earlier, 37% aren’t sure and 38% said special offers wouldn’t get them shopping earlier. And of those 18-24 who plan to shop, 17% said retailer discounts or promotions will get them in the store earlier, 30% aren’t sure and 53% said special offers wouldn’t get them shopping earlier.

It seems that younger consumers, whether purchasing supplies for themselves or convincing their parents where to shop, will be more influenced by back-to-school ads. Parents, regardless of retailer discount programs, don’t appear to be in a rush to get the back-to-school shopping done.

Next, we researched the Target question in a little more detail. Target’s campaign, donates a school supply to a student in need for every up&up school supply purchased.

Back-to-school 2014

After asking 4,245 consumers from July 14 to July 25 about their likelihood of shopping at Target to take advantage of the retailer’s buy-one, give-one promotion, we found that 53% of respondents plan to shop for school supplies in 2014.  Of those 2,231 shopping respondents:

    • 42% said they would take advantage of Target’s offer.
    • 48% said it wouldn’t make a difference in where they shop.

Before diving into the profile of likely shoppers, it looks like Target may sway some Walmart shoppers to do their back-to-school shopping with Target. When crossing the Target question with “Where do you make the most purchases in a given year,” Target, Walmart or neither, Walmart shoppers were 75% more likely to say they are somewhat more likely to shop for school supplies at Target and 20% less likely to say it won’t make a difference. This could lead us to believe that Walmart shoppers care about more than just low prices.

Also, some parents seem to be enthused by Target’s promotion, but not all parents. Of the parents planning to go back-to-school shopping, 43% are likely to shop at Target for school supplies, compared to 48% who say the campaign won’t make a difference in where they shop. It may be difficult for retailers to convince the majority of parents to shop at their stores for back-to-school goods because they seem to have their own plan in place, one which retailer promotions won’t change.

When looking at age, we found a similar story as above. Of those under 18 who plan to shop, 54% are likely to shop at Target to take advantage of their charitable promotion and 27% of under 18 shoppers said it won’t make a difference. Switching gears to those who are 18-24 and planning to shop, 48% are likely to shop at Target and 45% said Target’s marketing campaign won’t make a difference in where they shop. Younger consumers value social responsibility.

We profiled those who were more likely to shop at Target because of the campaign (respondents who selected “much more likely” or “somewhat more likely” among the answer options), and we compared them to those who said “It won’t make a difference” as well as the general population.  The following table illustrates some of the areas where we found the more likely Target shoppers over-indexing when compared to the other two segments:

Back-to-school chart

It’s no surprise that those who plan to take advantage of Target’s buy-one, give-one campaign believe that a company’s social consciousness and overall kindness is important when choosing where to shop. They are also more likely to donate over $500 a year to education or research non-profit organizations. The likely shopper enjoys baseball and they are more likely to DVR their TV shows than the general population. This information can be valuable when choosing where and how to market those interested in the campaign.

As we saw from above, younger consumers have a higher likelihood of taking advantage of offers which allows them or companies to give back. In general, we found that teens and young adults seem to be more influenced by back-to-school campaigns than parents. Parents on the other hand aren’t planning to shop earlier and special offers won’t have an influence on when and where they will shop this season.