As a busy mom of two elementary-aged kids, I tend to pre-crastinate on a lot of tasks, as getting things done as soon as possible helps me feel less stressed out. Back-to-school shopping wasn't any different for me this year. And as it turns out, I'm pretty typical of early-bird consumers, focusing a lot on getting the most for my money (quantity).

That's according to ContentSquare, digital experience insight company. Their recent study analyzed data from over 1 million customers, 40 million website visits and 460 million page views across all mobile devise and desktop platforms to get a sense of back-to-school shopper behavior.

Key findings

  • Shoppers usually fall into one of two camps (early shoppers, who buy June-July 15, and late shoppers who buy June 15-August). Early shoppers, who outweigh late shoppers by 56 percent, convert 16 percent more and focus on quantity, spending 41 percent less time on each page they visit. Late shoppers, who focus on quality, have a 35 percent higher cart value, bounce 20 percent less and hesitate 6 percent less.
  • People shop more for school on mobile devices (67 percent) compared to desktop (33 percent).
  • Mobile devices are the source of 50 percent of back-to-school purchases for children's products.
  • Fashionable items (e.g., backpacks, shoes) are hottest. They generate an average cart that's 37 percent higher than books and supplies and take 58 percent longer to buy. They also have 75 percent more page views, attract 30 percent more activity and get 5 percent more scroll time.
  • Although the back-to-school period doesn't generate more conversions compared to the rest of the year, cart value is 18 percent higher.

Breaking down what it all means

So what's behind these numbers, and what does it mean for how you sell? Jonathan Cherki, ContentSqare's CEO, offers some insights.

1. Early shoppers are looking for deals and efficiency and react to being overwhelmed.

"Since [early buyers] are shopping with the sales mentality," Cherki says, "they are shopping faster and looking for a deal more than a specific feature. Because they are probably overwhelmed with the options, variety and deals, they are giving preference to quantity over quality and trying to do their best in the least time possible (and check things off their list)."

2. Late shoppers are looking for quality and will spend time to get it.

"With sales over," Cherki explains, "[late shoppers] are able to take their time to see what they are missing, what they still need to buy and what they will decide to splurge on. They are looking at more interesting or premium products and more focused on their shopping intentions."

3. People want to avoid shopping "out of their way".

Regardless of whether a consumer is an early or late shopper, they don't want to have to make special trips or website visits to get everything they need. Perhaps because their time is so limited by demanding schedules, they prefer to grab school items while grabbing other goods they require or want.

"People are not spending more time in stores shopping," Cherki points out. "They are purchasing more within their usual shopping routine. This also gives insight into the fact that people prefer to buy more items from fewer stores rather than dividing their shopping experience."

4. People want to stand out.

Late shoppers in particular look for quality, but consumers generally want items that garner attention and appreciation.

"Back-to-school represents a good excuse to get special items that will differentiate them from others, which are backpacks, clothes and shoes. With such a wide variety in material, designs, shapes and colors, these are perceived as items worthy of time and investment--much more, ironically, than actual school supplies."

5. Shoppers want to be able to shop wherever and whenever they please.

The preference for mobile in back-to-school might stem at least in part from the time crunch many parents and caregivers find themselves in. By using phones, tablets and similar devices to shop, they can handle their shopping whenever and wherever they happen to get a moment. Retailers thus need to make sure they are mobile ready, with sites that are easy to navigate and offer simple transaction procedures.

In sum, because there is some distinction between early and late shoppers, your sales strategy has to adapt over time. Through the entire back-to-school period, mobile should be a priority, and the more you can appeal to people's desire for status and individuality, the better. Depending on which insight you want to tackle, strategies such as bundling products, highlighting star ratings, offering search bars and using point-of-sale promotions all can work to move your inventory and up your profits.