Cashing in on Back-to-School: These Retailers Get an A+

According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shopping is a $75.8 billion industry and 46% of US consumers plan to do their back-to-school shopping online. This number is up significantly from 35.6% in 2015 and represents a huge opportunity for a wide variety of eCommerce players.

To put that $75.8 billion dollar value in perspective, the NRF estimates that Mother’s Day shopping is a $21.4 billion industry while Valentine’s Day shopping is slightly lower at $19.7 billion. Essentially, the back-to-school season is worth almost twice as much as both those shopping seasons combined!

So what do consumers search for when looking for school supplies online and which retailers have a winning marketing strategy?

Using SimilarWeb’s Keyword Analysis tool, we can discover the top organic search keywords and which retailers were able to score traffic from these search terms. Surprisingly, one of the strongest keywords in the back-to-school industry is “school uniforms” which received an average of 59,000 US desktop searches over the last 12 months. In comparison, “school supplies” received an average of 44,000 monthly US desktop searches. School uniform search traffic is heavily competitive, and 65% of the traffic goes to four retailers: Old Navy, Walmart, French Toast, and Lands’ End.

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Of Old Navy’s recent organic search terms, “school uniforms” ranked as the 10th most popular in terms of traffic share, right after “old navy coupon.” In fact, “school uniforms” was the site’s most popular non-branded organic search term over the last month, bringing the retailer almost 3,000 desktop visits.

Organic search is crucial to Old Navy’s digital marketing strategy and over the last month, 57% of their US desktop traffic came via organic search. Compare that to Target who received 38% from organic search and Walmart who received 31%, and it becomes evident just how crucial the right SEO strategy is to Old Navy’s overall success.

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With their 130 million US visits over the last 12 months, back-to-school represents only a part of Old Navy’s yearly marketing strategy, but for clothing retailer frenchtoast.com, July and August make up 35% of the site’s 1.3 million yearly visits. Of this traffic, 42% came from search and 30% of the site’s search terms contained the word “school”. Rival retailers can discover which school-related keywords brought French Toast search traffic and attempt to optimize their site for those terms. For example “benefits of school uniforms” was responsible for 0.8% of French Toast’s search traffic and using Keyword Analysis it becomes clear that they are the only retailer optimized for this term.

Paid search competition for “school uniforms” is thinner and JCPenney receives almost 40% of desktop search visits for the term. Overall, from the period of July 26th – August 22nd, JCPenney received 1,200 desktop paid visits from “school uniforms”, though this was not JCPenney’s strongest back-to-school keyword. Instead, that distinction belongs to the longer keyword “back to school sales 2016” which brought the site 3,100 organic visits over the same time period.

This longer tail keyword has fewer overall searches compared to “school uniforms” but brings extremely targeted traffic to retailers such as JCPenney and Walmart. Over the same period, Walmart received 9,500 US desktop visits from “back to school sales 2016”. The retailer, who recently purchased Jet.com for $3 billion, also benefited from a host of other organic search terms which include the word ‘school’, the top 10 of which can be seen in the table below:

Cashing in on Back-to-School: These Retailers Get an A+Interestingly, “walmart school supplies” is the site’s top back-to-school related keyword, showing extremely strong brand recognition. This means that to get to Walmart’s website, American shoppers are more likely to type in “walmart school supplies” as opposed to the shorter and more intuitive “school supplies”. If you are successful at branding yourself as a back-to-school retailer, consumers will take notice.

This back-to-school organic marketing strategy has worked wonders for Walmart and we can see their digital success when looking at Popular Pages. Walmart’s URL is structured by categories, allowing us to discover that the women’s clothing category was the most popular category over the last month, while the back-to-school category was the second most popular. Clearly, Walmart has done an excellent job targeting back-to-school shoppers, and other eCommerce players can learn from their success.

Looking back at organic traffic from “school supplies”, the keyword has brought Walmart 13,300 organic visits over the last month. Using Keyword Analysis, a 3-way battle emerges for second place with Office Depot, Staples, and Target all competing with Walmart over traffic.

For Office Depot and Staples, August is their peak month in overall traffic, and for both retailers, search is their largest and most important traffic source. This search traffic is heavily competitive between the two, and when looking at their top head-to-head search terms,  we can discover which eCommerce player wins for each term.

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Interested in discovering more on eCommerce shopping trends? Download our report on the 2015 November/December shopping season.

                                  Click here to download the report
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About the Author -

Joseph is a Digital Insights and Content Manager at SimilarWeb. He has experience in content writing, social media, and analytics. When not tracking digital trends and creating online content, Joseph enjoys hiking, basketball, pickling, and Canadian alternative music.

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