Where Will Parents Spend This Back-to-School? Amazon, Walmart Push Frugality 

Anticipated back-to-school (BTS) shopping expenses are expected to reach $41.5 billion, exceeding the previous record of $37.1 billion set in 2021 and the $36.9 billion in 2022. 

To secure its share of the BTS spending, Amazon unveiled its 2023 campaign starring actor Randall Park, known for his role in “Fresh Off the Boat.” The campaign follows a similar messaging strategy employed in Amazon’s 2022 BTS campaign, as parents continue to navigate macroeconomic challenges that have impacted their spending patterns during this season. 

“This year we teamed up with actor, director, and father Randall Park to be a ‘spokesparent’ for our BTS advertisement. We took a tongue-in-cheek comedic approach for this campaign, which advises parents to ‘spend less’ by shopping for back to school on Amazon,” said Jo Shoesmith, chief creative officer, Amazon Global. “The campaign is airing on TV, online video, digital, and social throughout the summer including 0:30, 0:15, and 0:06 versions.”

As budgets continue to shrink, Amazon is taking steps to stay relevant. To that end, the company is placing an emphasis on deals. 

At the center of Amazon’s newest campaign is an ad starring Park, who comically presents the idea of saving money on shopping as an innovative concept. The spot garners an endorsement from young children. 

The advertisement also aims to promote Amazon’s BTS shopping guide, designed to be a one-stop destination for all the necessary supplies. 

JCPenny’s Authenticity for BTS  

JCPenney also introduced its own campaign, but with an emphasis on authenticity. To do this, the retailer features non-actor children in commercials set to the tune of “We Are Family.”  

“We’re trying to change the narrative about what it means to be and feel beautiful,” said Katie Mullen, chief digital and transformation officer at JCPenney. “We are selling products that help people put their best face forward, but we want to be sure we’re enabling that in an authentic way that celebrates anybody and everybody.” 

In one ad, authentic fifth-grade students come together at school, relishing each other’s companionship and striking poses for the camera on picture day. A second ad features, students from Marshall Fundamental and Ramona High, actual institutions situated in Los Angeles. 

“We’re leaning into depicting the real lives of our customers and will be picking up on that more,” Mullen said. “This campaign is the first step in a larger conversation we will be having with our customers moving into the fall.” 

Amazon’s 2022 BTS Campaign  

In Amazon’s 2022 BTS campaign, the eCommerce giant used comedic advertisements and messaging that emphasized spending less. The campaign starred actor Kathryn Hahn, who encouraged parents to confidently cut down their expenses on their children’s supplies while still keeping up with the latest trends. 

Amazon’s intention was to alleviate any stigma surrounding spending less on BTS, and foster a connection between the brand and its intended audience. 

Other companies have launched cheerful BTS marketing campaigns with the aim of engaging early spenders. According to Deloitte, the end of July is projected to account for 59% of this year’s estimated BTS spending. 

Walmart: BTS at Last Year’s Prices  

Last week, PYMNTS reported that Walmart is letting parents shop for the 2023 school year at 2022 prices. 

“With 80% of customers expecting to spend more on supplies this year … we’re excited to offer the school supply basket at the same prices as last year,” the retailer said in a statement. 

That means, for less than $13, customers can purchase popular items from this year’s school supply lists, such as a 24-count box of Crayola crayons or composition notebooks. 

The 80% figure Walmart mentioned comes from the National Retail Federation. Furthermore, it is forecasted that back-to-college expenditures will soar to $94 billion this year, surpassing the previous record by around $20 billion. 

“Back-to-class shopping is one of the most important consumer shopping occasions of the year. Our research for 2023 shows American consumers are eager to jump-start their back-to-school and college purchases early,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a statement. “Retailers have been preparing for months to ensure they are well stocked with essential items that families and students need for the school year.” 

Over 55% of BTS shoppers have already begun their shopping as of early July, according to the NRF. Despite the early start, 85% of consumers reported that they still have at least half of their shopping to complete as of early July. 

The proportion of individuals who are increasing their spending compared to last year has climbed to 43%, exceeding the previous year’s 32%. This upward trend is primarily driven by the rising demand for new items. A portion of the rise in BTS spending can be attributed to the purchase of high-value items such as electronics, furnishings, and essential commodities like food. Collectively, these categories account for over half of the increase in expenditure.