How publishers are using back-to-school fever to drive commerce

As publishers experiment more with commerce, some are taking advantage of the back-to-school shopping season. American consumers are expected to spend $83.6 billion during this back-to-school season, up 10 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation commissioned. That’s below the $655 billion spent on Black Friday, per the National Retail Federation but more than the $1 billion spent on Prime Day or the $3.5 billion spent on Cyber Monday last year, two digital shopping events publishers have started taking more seriously.

The number of publishers doing back-to-school posts declined this year to 253 from 268, but the clicks they drove grew slightly, from 39,399 to 40,325, according to Skimlinks. Here’s how a number of commerce-curious publishers are approaching back-to-school.

Start early
Most retailers’ back-to-school sales begin in late July or August. But shoppers start thinking about back-to-school sales well before that, and publishers that want to win in Google search have to get their posts up early.

Hearst’s Best Products, for example, began posting back-to-school posts as early as June. “We started planning for back-to-school before most schools were even out,” said Patrick Varone, vp of audience development and Best Products at Hearst Digital Media. “School-related searches online actually start in June and purchases steadily increase in early to mid-July, so we were able to service them with the most up-to-date, popular, on-trend and competitively priced products that are currently in stock.”

Even the mythical creatures of Generation Z need bedsheets, portable speakers and jeans, so New York Media’s The Strategist packaged commerce posts it had already written into the back-to-school hub it unveiled in late July.

While The Strategist has over a dozen back-to-school commerce posts planned (it’s published 10 already), more than two-thirds of the posts in the back-to-school hub were published weeks, or even months, ago.

This Strategist piece was one of several repurposed for a back-to-school hub launched in late July.

Try new platforms
Instagram Stories has been a popular place to experiment for commerce posts. Teen Vogue, for example, has posted shoppable back-to-school Instagram Stories all week, offering deals on items from humidifiers to tampons.

Selections from a recent Teen Vogue Instagram Story

Make personality-based content
Like the rest of its content, BuzzFeed’s commerce content is often identity-oriented. Its back-to-school coverage is no different, as evidenced by posts like “23 School Supplies For People Who Pretty Much Live in the Library” or “21 Backpacks All High School Archetypes Will Love“. In the coming weeks, BuzzFeed will roll out identity-based posts for students as well as parents and teachers.

More in Media

Inside The New York Times’ plans to correlate attention levels to other metrics

There’s a lot of buzz around attention advertising right now, but The New York Times is trying to stay grounded even as it develops its own plans.

Why publishers are preparing to federate their sites

The Verge and 404 Media are exploring the fediverse as a way to take more control over their referral traffic and onsite audience engagement.

Why publishers fear traffic, ad declines from Google’s AI-generated search results

Some publishers and partners hope for more transparency from Google and other AI companies related to AI-generated search.