Back-to-School Now a Series of Mini-Seasons

It’s not over in August, says market research firm.

Dance moms and their kids may check off most of their back-to-dance-school shopping list in late summer, but back-to-school is really a series of mini-seasons, according to the NPD Group, a consumer research organization—and they extend well beyond August. In 2016, a third of back-to-school shoppers didn’t finish shopping until September or later, some making purchases well into the school year.

NPD suggests thinking of back-to-school as four mini-seasons. “There are now waves that define back-to-school, well beyond the traditional August close to the season,” stated Marshal Cohen, the firm’s chief industry analyst, in a company newsletter. “These shopping waves come in and go out, with key periods when consumers focus on building out different parts of their back-to-school needs.” Retailers that stick to the old calendar will be selling themselves, and the back-to-school season, short, he said.

Here are the mini-seasons NPD identified:

  • shopping for little kids (parents sometimes delay purchases to take advantage of sales)
  • shopping for donations to classroom supplies (one third of these take place after August)
  • shopping for college students (this tends to peak early)
  • shopping in reaction to other kids

This last mini-season only begins after school starts. “Kids see the current looks, brands and styles in action,” reports NPD, and add must-have items to their lists—like the college freshman who discovers everyone’s wearing chiffon ballet skirts, or the studio dancer who must have that dance bag all the girls are carrying. Storeowners can tap into this “reaction shopping.” Consider social-media posts and promotions around trending items—and build on the opportunity to extend your most profitable season of the year.

Have You Shopped Your Cell-Phone Deal Lately?

If not, you’re probably overpaying.

It’s not unusual for cell-phone companies to make new promotional offers in September, timed traditionally with Apple’s release of new iPhone models. But something different has been happening this year. The Wall Street Journal reported that “the consumer-price index for wireless phone service, an indicator of current offers from cell-phone service providers, dropped 12.5 percent in May from a year ago, according to the Labor Department.”

Right from the start of the year, cell-phone plan offers have been proliferating. The reasons: The cell-phone market has become saturated, and T-Mobile started drawing customers away from the big carriers by disrupting the industry with features like no monthly contracts and no extra charges for international roaming. In this competitive market, Verizon and AT&T responded by reintroducing unlimited wireless data offers and various other offers.

This all means that if you’ve had your plan for a while, you’re probably overpaying. You don’t necessarily even have to switch carriers—it often pays just to contact your carrier and see if they can give you a better deal. One Verizon customer the Wall Street Journal talked to had her bill reduced by $57 a month, without even asking. She simply had contacted Verizon with a question about her bill.

To help you comparison shop, consult a consumer site like NerdWallet ( and do your own research by calling the major carriers for quotes, armed with your checklist of features that make sense for your business and phone usage.

Snapchat woos small businesses

New local marketing and advertising tools

Snapchat has added two new services aimed at local businesses. Snap Map lets mutual Snapchat friends share their locations, making it easy for teens (Snapchat’s biggest users) to arrange meet-ups. For a storeowner, this could be a handy marketing tool. Say you’re having a store event; by encouraging teen customers already at the event to create snaps (and share their locations), you’ll likely attract even more attendees as the word spreads. And make your store a favorite meet-up place.

Self-serve ads have also been announced. Ad Manager tools now make it possible for smaller businesses to create video ads themselves—uploading their own creative, choosing a target market, setting a budget (there’s no minimum) and paying with a credit card. Previously, companies could only buy ads through the Snapchat sales team or with third-party tools (for a fee), requiring budgets beyond the reach of smaller businesses. A new dashboard also lets merchants track analytics about their campaigns on their mobile phones.

Video ads must work in Snapchat’s vertical format and, of course, attract sometimes fickle teen users. Snap Publisher, launched in July, has tools for creating ads that work well in Snapchat. Snapchat also offers best practices for ads. For instance, establish branding “within two seconds to maximize ad awareness, but avoid opening on a solid frame with a logo or product shot only. Opening with dynamic footage provides a moment to hook viewers!” How about a clip of a customer taking a whirl on her new pointe shoes, plus “Jenny B. bought her pointe shoes at Your Dance Store Name Here.” For more, go to




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