3 ways events like Prime Day are changing the back-to-school calendar

VP, Industry and Consumer Insights
July 15, 2018

Summer is in full swing but for many students and their families, it’s already time to start planning for the first day of school. While the time-honored tradition of picking out new backpacks, lunch boxes and planning first-day outfits may be the same, the way customers approach shopping for the season has changed in recent years. Not only do back-to-school and college shoppers start earlier than they have in the past and stretch their shopping out all summer long, they also plan around a new set of promotional events like “black Friday in July” or Amazon’s Prime Day. How are these events playing into the back-to-class shopper’s mindset? We dug into our July back-to-school study conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics to identify three trends for retailers to note as they kick off their summer sales.

Early sales attract deal hunters

While back-to-class shoppers in the past may have put off their shopping until the last few weeks before school, with events like Prime Day — now in its fourth year — savvy customers know they can find great deals on items on their lists early in the season. This year NRF found that nearly eight out of 10 back-to-school and college shoppers are marking their calendars for July 16 to look for sales on everything from school supplies to electronics. But while many (60%) back-to-class shoppers will be browsing specifically on Amazon, they’ll also be hunting for other deals. Leading up to mid-July, retailers from eBay to Apple to Macy's have been advertising their own “Black Friday in July” sales to appeal to these early-bird shoppers. And it’s working: A quarter of back-to-school and college shoppers plan to use Prime Day to shop online deals at other retailers, and nearly a third (31%) will be checking for in-store deals.


Retailers are keeping online shoppers’ needs in mind with dedicated back-to-school and college shops, where customers can easily browse relevant products from the comfort of their laptop or phone; Walmart’s 3D virtual tour lets customers “walk” through various rooms to see how décor and other furnishings would look in a real space.  

Online moves offline

Prime Day, like Cyber Monday before it, may have started online but it has quickly evolved to meet the reality of today’s shoppers who move seamlessly across their online and off-line worlds. Amazon is extending Prime Day deals wherever they have stores — from Whole Foods locations to Amazon bookstores. At the same time, retailers like Walmart and Target are offering back-to-school shoppers services like curbside pickup, which gives customers the ease of buying online along with the convenience of getting it right away. For the 31 percent of back-to-school and college shoppers who plan to browse in stores on Prime Day, many retailers are extending deals to their physical locations, allowing customers to find the best deals however they shop.

Location matters

Where consumers plan to shop for deals over July 16 can vary depending on where in the United States they live. Retailers looking to target back-to-class shoppers in the South should know these consumers are the most likely to be looking for in-store deals compared with other regions, while those in the Northeast are the most likely to shop Prime Day specifically at Amazon.  


To learn more about how back-to-school and college consumers plan to shop and spend this back-to-class season, visit NRF’s back-to-class headquarters.