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Consumer Electronics

Back-to-school is growing and starting earlier online

by Taylor Stanton - April 25, 2018

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The back-to-school shopping season is a predictable boon to the offline retail worlds, but has been a bit tardy to the online one.  According to data from Slice Intelligence, this year's online shopping season is up nine percent, while the revenue generated by these purchases* grew by 10 percent. 

Curiously, online back-to-school shopping apexed one week earlier than the previous two years. This year, school-supply sales topped off during the week of August 5th while the week of August 12th posted the highest volume of school item purchases in both 2014 and 2015.

School supplies are mostly purchased in August

Historically, the back-to-school period runs from July through September, and August is when online school shopping is at its highest. Traditional school supply sales like pens, folders and calculators all spike during the month.

There are a few school items that continue to show strong sales in the latter third of the shopping season. Products that can be used outside of the classroom–think jeans and tablets–were purchased in higher quantities in September. Both items saw 35 percent of their back-to-school sales during September in 2014 and 2015.

Traditional offline school supply sales are growing rapidly online

Overall, online spending on academic supplies accounts for a small volume of e-commerce dollars, but online sales of these supplies are growing quickly during the back-to-school sales season. So far, sales of pencils and pens have experienced the most growth during the lead-up to the start of the academic year.

Overall, traditional school supplies in general are being purchased more frequently online. Both binders and calculators have been purchased 42 percent more this back-to-school season compared to 2015. In contrast, spending on denim and tablets is down this year.  

About this data

With a panel of over 4 million online shoppers, Slice Intelligence gives the most detailed, and accurate digital commerce data available, and is reported daily.


Slice Intelligence is the only service to measure digital commerce directly from the consumer, across all retailers, at the item level, and over time. Our retailer-independent methodology precisely measures commerce as it happens. By extracting detailed information from hundreds of millions of aggregated and anonymized e-receipts, Slice can map the entire Purchase Graph, connecting each and every consumer to all their purchases.


Slice gets its data from e-receipts – not a browser, app or software installed by the end-user – so its measurement reflects comprehensive shopping behavior across multiple devices, over time which are key in an increasingly omnichannel retail world. Slice Intelligence is the exclusive e-commerce data provider for the NPD’s Checkout Tracking e-commerce service.


*This analysis looked at online sales of pens/pencils, calculators, binders, dorm fridges, bedspreads, laptops, backpacks, tablets, and jeans to define the online back-to-school supply universe.


**Amazon.com was excluded from this analysis in order to look at the impact of online, back-to-school shopping on traditional brick & mortar retailers.

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