Back to School 2017

Back to School 2017

Retail Trends in 2017 for Back-to-School Shoppers in the UK

It’s that time of the year again! After a long summer break, families and students are preparing for Back to School.

Inflationary pressures and tightened spending have clouded 2017, so the Back to School rush has brought a welcomed boost to the retail industry.

Online retail visits grew by 4% in August YoY, with online sales rising by 11%, according to Hitwise and BRC figures.

But, which retailers have fared the best this year?

In this report, we look in-depth at online trends across the following categories: Clothing, Stationery & Accessories and Electronics. We aim to answer the following questions:

  • What were the top searches and growing trends in 2017?
  • Who won traffic for each Back to School category?
  • How do online behaviours differ for primary school, secondary school and student segments?

Report Highlights


  1. Tesco maintained top position for back to school clothing searches, growing by 13% in traffic share YoY.
  2. Amazon ranked first in the stationery & accessories category. Despite a drop in search engine share, internal searches on Amazon for school-related products had grown by 25% in August YoY.
  3. Currys continued to dominate the electronics category (which included laptops and tablets), increasing their traffic share by 18% YoY.
  4. Iconic, specialised brands were among the top-risers for each category, including: Dr Martens, Vans, Smiggle and Etsy.
  5. Branded searches (such as “Asda school uniform”) and multi-retailers were the go-to choice for primary school families.
  6. Non-branded, descriptive searches (such as “skinny trousers”, and
    “orthopedic school bags”), and sport retailers like Nike and Adidas, attracted more secondary school families.
  7. Students drove growth in the electronics category, with audience size increasing by 22% over the past 8 weeks.

1. Back to School: Clothing Segment


Clothing: When & What Do People Search For?

UK 2017 Back to School: Clothing Searches
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Clothing includes search variations of school uniform, clothing, shirt, trousers, blazers etc. Period: 12 rolling weeks to 02-Sep-2017, vs. same period in 2016.

Whilst uniform styles tend to be the same each year, search terms still vary. In particular, branded terms from Clarks, Kickers, M&S and Sainsbury’s were among the top-rising searches in 2017.

School clothing searches peaked over the 2-week period before school commencement. Search clicks (both paid and organic) rose rapidly from the start of August.

Clothing: Who Won Traffic From These Searches?

UK Back to School 2017: Clothing Downstream
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Clothing includes variations of school uniform, clothing, shirt, trousers, blazers etc. 12 rolling weeks to 02-Sep-2017, vs. same period last year. Tesco Direct includes Clothing to Tesco domain.

As was the case in 2016, Tesco ranked first in traffic from clothing searches, with 2017 seeing a 13% increase compared to last year.

Iconic sports and footwear brands, like Nike, Adidas, Vans and Dr Martens, were among the top-risers. This is pointing to the growing popularity to have these recognisable labels and logos in school shoes and clothing pieces.

Clothing: What Do Primary School Families Search For?

UK Back to School 2017: Clothing Primary School
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, 12 weeks ending 02-Sep-2017. Audience = Families with Children aged 5-11 AND searched for School Clothing. Index is compared to standard online population.

Tesco Direct reached 51% of primary school audiences searching for school clothing (3X more than the general online population).

Brand names also feature prominently in top clothing searches for primary school families, such as: Clarks, Asda, M&S and Kickers. Terms tended to be general (e.g. brand + “school uniform/shoes”).

Clothing: How Does This Compare with Secondary School Families?

UK Back to School 2017: Clothing Secondary School
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, 12 weeks ending 02-Sep-2017. Audience = Families with Children aged 12-17 AND searched for School Clothing. Index is compared to standard online population.

Whilst branded terms were still among the top searches, secondary school families used more descriptive non-branded terms, like “easy fit”, “skinny trousers” and “plus fit”.

Tesco and Asda also dominated this segment, but had smaller reach than primary school families. Sport retailers, like JD Sports and Adidas, attracted a higher share of visits among secondary school families.

2. Back to School: Stationery & Accessories Segment


Stationery & Accessories: When & What Do People Search For?

UK Back to School 2017: Stationery Searches
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Stationery & Accessories includes search variations of school backpack, bag, lunchbox, stationery, supplies, notebooks etc. Period: 12 rolling weeks to 02-Sep-2017, vs. same period in 2016.

Stationery and accessories peaked over the 5-week period before school commencement. Compared to clothing, this category had a higher share of organic clicks vs. paid clicks (2:1 ratio).

Unlike clothing, stationery & accessories searches rapidly change with new styles. For instance, 2017 saw the emergence of sequin bags, Shimmer & Shine (a Nickelodeon series) and football-branded accessories from AC Milan and Aston Villa.

Stationery & Accessories: Who Won Traffic from These Searches?

UK Back to School 2017: Stationery Downstream
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Stationery & Accessories includes variations of school backpack, bag, lunchbox, stationery, supplies, notebooks etc. Period: 12 rolling weeks to 02-Sep-2017, vs. same period in 2016. * Amazon Internal Search – filtered to “school” searches, for top 50,000 searches in August 2017, vs. same period in 2016.

Amazon and eBay led in terms of traffic from stationery & accessories searches. Despite a drop of 26% in search engine share, internal searches on Amazon had grown by 25% for school-related products in August YoY.

Whilst Amazon and eBay dominated this category, specialist, personalised brands like Smiggle and Etsy saw 100%+ rises in search share YoY.

Stationery & Accessories: What Do Primary School Families Search For?

UK Back to School 2017: Stationery Primary School
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, 12 weeks ending 02-Sep-2017. Audience = Families with children aged 5-11 AND searched for School Stationery & Accessories. Index is compared to standard online population.

Amazon and eBay attracted over 80%+ of primary school families searching for stationery & accessories. Although smaller in reach, brands like Cath Kidston were 6X more likely to attract this audience.

In addition to branded terms (like “Amazon / Asda school bags”), “cute”, “Star Wars” and “galaxy” accessories were sought after by primary school families.

Stationery & Accessories: How Does This Differ with Secondary School Families?

UK Back to School 2017: Stationery Secondary School
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, 12 weeks ending 02-Sep-2017. Audience = Families with children aged 12-17 AND searched for School Stationery & Accessories. Index is compared to standard online population.

“Cute” was replaced by more mature styles, like “Japanese” and “Orthopedic”, for secondary school families. Logo-featuring bags from Puma and Hype were also among the top searches.

Amazon & eBay had similar reach for secondary school families. As was the case for the clothing category, this segment had a higher index for sport retailers like Sports Direct and Nike.

3. Back to School: Electronics Segment


Electronics: How Do Searches Differ by School/Student Segment?

UK Back to School 2017: Electronics Searches
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Electronics includes searches of models & terms of laptops & tablets. Primary School = families with children aged 5-11, Secondary School = families with children aged 12-17, Students = over 18, at school or internship.

Students in the market for laptops and tablets rose by 22% over the past 8 weeks (15-Jul to 02-Sep). In contrast, primary and secondary school families were generally flat over this period.

Compared to last year, ultra-portable and ultra-light models, such as the Surface, Acer Swift and Ideapad, saw the largest increases in 2017.

Electronics: Who Won Traffic From These Searches?

UK Back to School 2017: Electronics Downstream
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Electronics includes searches of models & terms of laptops & tablets. Period: 12 rolling weeks to 02-Sep-2017, vs. same period in 2016.

Currys maintained top position in electronic searches, growing by 18% in 2017. Like stationery & accessories, despite a drop in search engine share, searches for laptops and tablets on Amazon grew by 5% in August YoY.

The top 5 took a sizeable chunk of electronics traffic (36%). Smaller e-tailers saw enormous growth this year, including: Light in the Box, eGlobal Central and CPC.

Electronics: What is the Research to Purchase Cycle?

UK Back to School 2017: Research Cycle
Source: Hitwise Intelligence, School Electronics includes searches of models & terms of laptops & tablets. Students = over 18, at school or internship. 1 rolling week to 02-Sep.

Laptops and tablets are big-ticket items, so the research to purchase cycle is extensive. This is especially the case for students wanting to impress for the new semester.

The peak on research and review sites began almost two months before semester commences. With visits on actual shopping sites peaking in late July to mid-August (around 2 weeks before university commences).