Depending on which state you live in, school is starting somewhere between 2 weeks to 4 weeks from today--which according to marketers' calendar typically signals the end of the back-to-school retail season. But in this not so typical year, we're noticing that the 2009 back-to-school retail season is just getting back in session as we enter August. Sure, shoppers are expected to spend a little less this season than the economy would like, but as much as they're stretching their shopping dollars, students and parents are also stretching their shopping cycle. In a recently released NRF back-to-school survey, we've found that up to 82% of shoppers are expected to still be shopping for back-to-school items this week, or have not even begun shopping yet. [1] If surveys aren't enough indication, real-time data is showing signs that marketers really should amp up their back to school campaigns now, instead of pulling back or completely pulling off their campaigns.

Back to school searches have been steadily rising in popularity the past month, to nobody's surprise. As we closed out the month of July, we saw various keywords rising especially fast this year compared to the same back to school time frame last year. Users around this time are showing much stronger interest in 'college laptops,' 'school shoes,' and 'backpacks' among other things than 2008: [2]

What struck me as most interesting about these searches was the idea of using these trends as a starting guide to dig into keywords that uncover what may be on students' and parents' shopping lists this year. New keywords that surface in back to school categories can reflect new or popular items everyone is looking to stock up for the back to school season. In that case, we can expect more boys and girls donning North Face backpacks and Jessica Simpson 'Carsi' sandals this year, while accessorizing their cell phones with new faceplates and skins, and parents and college students decorating new rooms with zebra bedding and hip barstools. [3]

Historical trends on Google Insights for Search show us that the back to school shopping season is just approaching its height and expected to reach its peak online in the next two weeks. So even for those who haven't had a chance yet to run their back to school campaigns, there's still time to capture many of these shoppers online now.

[1] NRF's "2009 Back-to-School and Back-to-College Surveys," released July 14, 2009. Percentage total of those who begin shopping 1 month (4 weeks) before school starts, to those who begin to shop after school starts, based on all Adults 18+ respondents from Back-to-School survey.
[2] Google Insights of Search in US. Query Volume Index growth refers to year-over-year growth based on Week of 7/19-7/25 in 2009 compared against corresponding week in 2008. **Growth rates are indexed to the highest point of search volume and are expected to vary as active searches increase. Please use for directional purposes only.**
[3] Hitwise, Industry Search Terms Comparison Report. New search terms driving traffic to 'Apparel & Accessories,' 'Appliances & Electronics,' and 'House & Garden' category sites during 4 weeks ending 7/25/09 compared against 4 weeks ending 6/6/09.