Takeaways: 2017 Retail Back to School Season

by Brian Field on 09-21-17

Busiest Days, Calendar Shifts, Effect of Prime Day on the Retail Back to School Season

With the 2017 retail back to school season now firmly in the past and the holidays on the horizon, it’s time to thoughtfully record and analyze 2017 BTS performance. The importance of learning from operational triumphs and failures while they’re still top of mind cannot be overstated. Were goals met? Did inventory match demand? Was scheduling properly aligned with traffic flow?

To aid in retail back to school season performance analyses, here are a few of the key seasonal takeaways that the ShopperTrak team identified – leverage this resource in conjunction with internal analyses to inform seasonal post mortems.

ShopperTrak’s Key Takeaways from the 2017 Retail Back-to-School Season

Critical calendar shifts, traffic peaking later

Though many claim that, in recent years, back-to-school shopping has commenced at earlier and earlier dates, ShopperTrak’s five-year BTS traffic trend analysis begs to differ. Our 2013 – 2017 YOY shopper visit data shows that, contrary to popular belief, peak BTS shopping is occurring later, not earlier, in the calendar year.

Historical data reveals that in 2013 and 2014, shopper visits peaked during NRF weeks 26 – 28. When the 2015 BTS season hit, peak traffic began to shift: this year we saw that, like last year, 2017 BTS traffic peaked during NRF weeks 27-29. 

Results: 2017 BTS traffic predictions

Earlier this year, ShopperTrak predicted that the busiest week of the retail back to school season would be NRF week 28, while noting that week 27 also has a shot at the crown – as, last year, week 27 came in first place. Despite the shift in 2016, ShopperTrak’s prediction rings up correct, as NRF week 28 ranked as the highest grossing week of the 2017 BTS season, in terms of shopper visits.

The busiest day of the busiest week, naturally, was Saturday, 8/12, while the slowest day was Wednesday, 8/9 – which differs from 2016 patterns, in which the slowest days were more often Tuesdays or Thursdays. Interestingly, the busiest day of the entire BTS 2017 period did not occur during the busiest week. Rather, the busiest day was 8/5, the Saturday of week 27 (which ranks as the second busiest week of the 2017 season). Notably, the 12th came in 2nd place, followed by 9/2 in third place.

The myth of Amazon Prime day

There remains no black-and-white way to fairly state that Amazon Prime day (APD) has a negative impact on brick-and-mortar shopping. The number one thing all retailers should note about APD? It’s timing, which appears to be influenced by where Independence Day falls on the calendar. This year, and historically, APD has fallen in the week after the 4th of July, and, from a retail traffic perspective, this is a soft week. Simply put, brick-and-mortar traffic is expected to be low on weekdays, as compared to weekends, and our data shows that BTS shopping is not picking up until far after APD. In essence, APD is a non-event for traditional retailers, and stating that APD negatively affects in-store traffic is an unfair claim.

Regional variation in traffic patterns

Finally, when looking at regional variation in US BTS traffic patterns, the most notable shift occurs in the northeast, where traffic peaked later than it does in the rest of the country. ShopperTrak’s data reveals that while the rest of the country’s BTS shopping peaked in NRF week 28, northeastern traffic peaked several weeks later, in NRF week 31.  That said, while northeast traffic peaked later, there was a sharp drop-off in week 32, making weeks leading up to and including week 31 all the more critical for east coast retailers.

For additional coverage of the 2017 BTS season, as well as historical ShopperTrak coverage of the season, check out the Back-to-School tag on our blog, here.

Read more posts by Brian Field

Brian Field is the Senior Director of Retail Consulting Practice for ShopperTrak, where he oversees the application of ShopperTrak's proprietary solutions to retailer-specific issues across different functional areas in order to drive top and bottom line store performance. Prior to joining ShopperTrak, Brian served in roles of increasing responsibility at Chico’s FAS Inc., including as the director of corporate store operations and finance. Brian has spent nearly four decades in the industry, and his experience includes: store sales and management, training, merchandising, strategic planning and analysis for brands as diverse as David’s Bridal, Circuit City and Macy's.