It’s back-to-school season in many countries around the world. This is the time when teachers, students and parents prepare for a new year of learning — and all the gear that goes with it. In the U.S., brands and retailers are coming out of the slower summer season and in the past have anticipated a boost in sales that is second only to the holiday shopping season. Consumers rush to find good deals on items such as backpacks, new clothing and shoes, education supplies and electronics. Domestically, adults with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average of $696.70 this year on back-to-school items, according to research from the NRF. That figure is up from an average spend of $684.79 in 2018.

E-commerce is creeping up on brick-and-mortar

Though just over half (56%) of all U.S. back-to-school purchases are made in brick-and-mortar stores, it would be a mistake for e-commerce merchants to underestimate the revenue potential that back-to-school brings. As a Deloitte survey shows, an increasing number of consumers are getting their back-to-school shopping done online: an estimated 29% are turning to e-commerce apps and online stores this retail season, compared to 23% in 2018. Amazon Prime Day, held each year in July, has become a magnet for parents looking for special offers on back-to-school items. The category gaining the most traction for e-commerce purchases is electronics, from hand-held gadgets to desktop computers. 

Back-to-school around the world

Brands who sell into multiple global markets have an even greater opportunity to maximize online back-to-school purchases. When it comes to cross border e-commerce, it’s important to note that schools around the globe have different start dates for the first day of school. International brands and retailers will need to understand each individual market’s unique needs in order to plan a successful back-to-school e-commerce campaign. But there is one common thread unifying them: no matter where they are, kids will need new gear for a new year. 

Here’s a look at the back-to-school shopping habits in some of the top global markets.

  • Canada: Like its neighbor to the south, Canada sends students back to school in September. Canadian parents prefer to get their school supply shopping done early: 85% say that getting their shopping done early results in less stress as the first day of school approaches. With this in mind, brands and retailers will need to plan their back-to-school sales and offerings for early July to capture the attention of those well-organized parents.
  • The U.K.: School begins in the U.K. in early September. In this top 10 global e-commerce market, back-to-school is the third-largest seasonal shopping event behind Christmas and Easter, with parents spending almost £1 billion. 
  • China: Like the U.S., students in China head back to school in early September. While online marketplace Alibaba reigns supreme in this market, 65% of consumers in China have already made a cross border purchase, according to our own research. The number increases to 70% when there is a child in the household. This presents a significant opportunity for cross border e-commerce merchants that cater to school-age children.
  • Japan: Technically, students are returning to classrooms in September, but it’s not the start of the school year. The Japanese school year begins in April, with the first term running through July, with students taking a summer vacation. Kids in Japan return to school for their second term in early September, which lasts until December. 


Final Exam: Cross-Border E-commerce Must Be Easy

To increase conversion rates and build brand loyalty with international back-to-school shoppers, brands and retailers must remove all the usual barriers in the online store. They’ll need to formulate a strategy to create an easy, intuitive international checkout experience. For example, cross-border retailers will need to ensure that purchased items are delivered on time for the first day of school. This will require a reliable order fulfillment and shipping strategy for all the markets you sell into. Keep in mind that stressed-out parents who are rushing to check off all the items on the back-to-school list will not appreciate any unexpected surprises. This requires transparent and easy-to-understand pricing on your e-commerce site, with no additional charges waiting for the customer upon delivery. Offering the right mix of online payment options that is customized to each specific market is also a must. And finally, cross-border online merchants must offer a seamless, hassle-free return process for items that aren’t the right fit. 

To find out more about how Flow’s global e-commerce platform can help brands and retailers maximize opportunities during shopping seasons year round, get in touch with one of our experts today.