How to Adjust Your Back to School Strategy for Inflation

Jul 21, 2022
Written by Shelby Petrie

Can you smell the bouquets of sharpened pencils? It’s Back to School time once again and parents and students are gearing up for a new year of learning.

While a great deal can be learned from inside a classroom, we’re learning a lot from the world right now as well. Consumers are still facing the effects of COVID and rising concerns around inflation. With many economic factors in flux, consumers are fine-tuning their savvy shopping skills in ways that marketers should be aware of in order to make the most of their promotional efforts for the Back to School (BTS) shopping season.


Study Up on What to Expect

In today’s ever-evolving world, seasonal trends are constantly changing and Back to School is no exception. This year’s total retail BTS spend is projected to be $67B+. Looking exclusively at back-to-college, projections reveal an even higher spend of $74B. Get familiar with what to expect as shoppers prepare to fill their carts.

What do Back to School shoppers plan to buy in 2022?
  • Electronics. Even without remote learning, electronics remain the top BTS category. Spending on electronics during this year’s Back to School shopping season is estimated at $13B for school-aged children and teens and a whopping $18B for college students.
  • Apparel. With Back to School in person again, parents are returning focus to more traditional purchases such as apparel. Consumers are expected to spend approximately $11B on clothing this year during Back to School season, and $10B for those heading to college.
  • Dorm/Apartment Furnishings. Stocking a dorm room or college apartment with essentials can be a big undertaking—one that consumers are expected to spend $10B on.
  • Footwear. Shoppers plan to spend $7B on shoes. Similar to apparel, footwear is a top product category as people prepare to see each other more in person versus through a screen.

How much are shoppers willing to spend?

According to eMarketer, retail Back to School sales are still projected to increase from 2021, but the percent increase is down to 0.7% from its previous 14.3%. Here’s what consumers are expected to spend in 2022:

  • 13% of shoppers plan on spending $0 - $100
  • 38% of shoppers plan on spending $101 - $250
  • 35% of shoppers plan on spending $250 - $500
  • 11% of shoppers plan on spending $500+

Consumer Behavior for Back to School Shopping is Shifting in 2022

With US inflation rates at a four-decade high, consumers are giving heightened attention to how they spend their money. Research from the NRF indicates that price-saving measures are going to be implemented even more largely for Back to School 2022 than in years past.

  • 43% of shoppers are doing more comparative shopping online
  • 42% of shoppers are shopping for sales more often
  • 35% of shoppers are buying more store brand/generic products
  • 24% of shoppers are using coupons more often

With the way consumers are feeling about shopping and the tactics they’re utilizing, it’s important for advertisers and publishers to be aware of the levers they can pull to appease their audiences.


Harness the Power of Omnichannel

During COVID, when there was a moratorium on brick-and-mortar, online shopping rose to supremacy. However, now that things are shifting back to a somewhat normal state, shoppers are more likely to weave the two experiences together: according to Google, 82% of consumers plan to shop in-store this year, with 60% planning to purchase online, and 45% reporting that they’ll do both. With that in mind, there are a few strategies advertisers and publishers can put in place to meet consumers where they’re at to fully capitalize on the omnichannel experience.

  • Promote Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS). The affiliate channel is a great place to offer BOPIS as it enables consumers to make their purchases seamlessly online, with the flexibility of picking up in-store.
  • Provide curbside pickup. With people constantly being on the go, curbside pickup is an accommodating option for those looking to quickly grab their purchase while running other errands.
  • Personalization is key to making the most of all your channels—80% of shoppers prefer a personalized experience. The more you can target consumers with strategically tailored messaging across your multiple channels, the higher engagement you’ll see for your brand.


Mobilize Your Mobile Efforts

As digital literacy rises and becomes more ingrained in our day-to-day lives, mobile shopping has become an even larger piece of the pie. This is especially true in the summer months when people are spending their time outside and on the go. With that in mind, it’s become increasingly important to know how to leverage mobile opportunities.

  • Explore CJ’s Recruit Partners tool to discover the latest up-and-coming mobile partners in the affiliate space.
  • Lean into CJ’s Affiliate Customer Journey (ACJ) data to see cross device trends to sharpen your mobile strategy.
  • Don’t shy away from social media! Take advantage of CJ’s partnership with CreatorIQ to reach shoppers through their favorite influencers.
  • Tap into Button’s mobile capabilities via CJ and the affiliate channel. Button can help you better analyze your mobile trends to make informed decisions on how to drive your business forward in the mobile space.


When it Comes to Back to School, Timing and Location Matter

Back to School season starts during different times depending on geographic region. Western and southern schools are more commonly heading back in early to mid-August, whereas schools in the north and east don’t typically head back until after Labor Day. These different time frames give advertisers and publishers a wider window of opportunity.

  • Promote early! Consumers are purchasing earlier and earlier ahead of key promotional periods. Shopping can start as early as the onset of July and brands that promote sooner can also benefit from the Prime Day halo effect.
  • Partner with publishers with geo-targeting capabilities. Publishers that can geo-target present greater opportunities for improved consumer experience and higher ROI. A few top publishers you can explore this with are Rakuten, RetailMeNot, Accuweather, and RevLifter.


Be Wallet Conscious

With inflation rates being top of mind these days, consumers are wearier when it comes to making purchases: 64% of consumers are planning their BTS shopping specifically around sales events in an effort to be price-conscious. It’s key that during these times of uncertainty, advertisers and publishers make the necessary pivots to still cater to their audiences in order to establish brand trust, loyalty, and favorability. Here are some ways you can still capture BTS consumers in spite of inflation:

  • Partner closely with loyalty and cashback publishers to participate in seasonal events. Consumers are flocking to sites where they can find the best deals and incentives.
  • Boast best of web pricing messaging. These kinds of offers are attention-getting and will help boost conversions.
  • Expand your presence with buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) publishers. Flexible pricing options foster confidence in purchase-making decisions. Try working with partners like Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna.


This Back to School season is happening amidst a wide range of stressors and challenges. To all those feeling uneasy, know that knowledge can build a bridge to a brighter tomorrow!

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