Recent consumer research suggests that while families are expecting to spend a bit more on back to school shopping this year, the big shift in their habits is in the timing. The 2019 Brand Keys Back-to-School (B2S) study finds that families are shopping earlier, urged along by promotions like Amazon Prime Days and other ‘Black Friday’ style shopping events.

These findings align well with Agility PR Solutions’ own research into the media coverage surrounding this topic—families hardly have a moment to empty out the backpacks before it’s time to think about the new school year. In the first two weeks of July, we found that “back to school” promotions were already ramping up in both Canada and the United States.

A look at the latter half of the month (July 15 to July 29) shows that this topic has gained significant momentum, with a handful of major retailers leading the way. The overall volume of coverage immediately tells a story—in the first half of the month, we were gathering more than 250 articles per day in the United States and just 15 in Canada. This has ratcheted up to nearly 800 articles a day for the U.S., and nearly 60 in Canada.

With Prime Days falling on the first two days of the coverage period (July 15 and 16), it comes as no surprise that Amazon came in first place among retailers for the United State. What may be somewhat surprising was Target nipping closely at Amazon’s heels, coming into second place in the United States by a very slight margin—both retailers were mentioned in about 10 percent of all U.S. coverage. Target’s coverage was helped along by the launch of a new lifestyle brand aimed squarely at tween girls, just in time for the back to school rush. Like several other retailers, Target went head-to-head with Amazon in the middle of July with its own heavily-promoted “Deal Days” event. The need for retailers to keep pace with Amazon—or at least try—is quite clear as Amazon rapidly evolves on all fronts with a data-driven approach to pricing and delivery, never mind the sheer scale of its offerings.

There was some movement among top retailers in the past two weeks. Looking at the United States, Apple slipped a couple of spots, falling to 4th place behind Target and Walmart, a sign of strong competition in the Prime Days flurry mid-month. Best Buy moved into the top ten on the back of its own “Black Friday in July” deals. Costco was also a new addition in the top ten, and Gap moved up a few spots from 8thplace to 5th. Though competition with Amazon is a key factor, clothing retailers also seem to be gaining steam as summer unfolds. Kohl’s has been a steady presence among top retailers throughout July; in addition to coverage touting its back to school bargains, Kohl’s has launched a hiring blitz to bolster its workforce for the crucial back to school and holiday shopping seasons. Outside of the top ten, Old Navy is another retailer that saw major movement, climbing to 8th place overall (from 20th).

While Amazon dominated the U.S. landscape for “back to school” media coverage, Canadian coverage was quite different. Though some Prime Days deals were also available to Canadian shoppers, Amazon only ranked 7th overall, falling behind Walmart, Staples, Winners, Apple, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Marshalls in specific mentions of “back to school” promotions. Like the U.S., however, Apple lost ground while Staples climbed to second place. The variety of retailers who earned mentions in the last half of July was also noteworthy—while just a handful of retailers saw coverage in the first two weeks of the month, while this time we counted 20 different retailers in the data.

U.S. “Back to School” Articles Per Day

Tracking Back to School—spend boost spurs media coverage spike

U.S. Top Retailers

Tracking Back to School—spend boost spurs media coverage spike

Canada Top Retailers

Tracking Back to School—spend boost spurs media coverage spike

Cassandra Wilson performed the data analysis for this report. She is a member of the Client Services Enterprise team at Agility PR Solutions and is the resident retail and broadcast media expert. 

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Stephanie Coulter

Stephanie Coulter

Stephanie Coulter is Manager, Research and Analytics at Agility PR Solutions, overseeing the execution and delivery of media measurement and analysis reporting.

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