Learnings and Trends for 2020 Back-to-School Affiliate Program Planning

Learnings and Trends for 2020 Back-to-School Affiliate Program Planning

August is here and yet, back-to-school shopping is still not in full swing in the U.S.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), only 17% of surveyed consumers said they would start their back-to-school shopping in July, which has historically been the biggest month for this seasonal shopping event.

As states continue to figure out and finalize their plans for the upcoming school year – virtual, in-person or a hybrid approach – parents are understandably hesitant to stock up on school-related materials and resources just yet.

Spending, however, is estimated to increase by just under $100 for families with children in grades K-12. The NRF estimates that combined back-to-school spending for grades K-12 and college will cross the $100 Billion mark for the first time, up from $80.7 Billion in 2019.

So, what might all this mean for your affiliate program? Here are a few trends we’ve observed in consumer behavior that could help shape your partnership strategies for this year’s back to school season.


New Necessities

This year, backpacks, markers and crayons are not a priority. 72% of consumers are anticipating having to buy computers, home furnishings or other tech accessories to accommodate the increased shift to e-learning.

With technology spending expected to be up 28% Y/Y, traditional back-to-school categories such as apparel are expected to be down 17% as parents are no longer looking to attire their children with new clothes for the school year.

Additionally, personal hygiene products such as hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies continue to rise, and have emerged as a key back-to-school product player in 2020.

A Deloitte survey confirmed 66% of parents are anxious about sending their kids back to school due to COVID-19. As a result of last-minute decision making, many parents will potentially have shorter turnaround times to purchase their back-to-school items. To adjust for this, many parents are planning to focus most of their back-to-school shopping online, a 12% increase from 2019.


Solutions to a Challenging Equation

As schools and parents around the country finalize their back-to-school plans, the affiliate marketing model can offer brands a great opportunity to engage with consumers while offering them attractive deals and promotions.

Here are a few ideas to consider for your back-to-school affiliate marketing campaigns:

  • Leverage “Mommy Bloggers.” Because these niche content partners have built a loyal, trusting audience, Mommy bloggers can be helpful partners for connecting with parents who are turning online to research to learn what to do, what not to do, what to buy and what not to buy for the upcoming school year.
  • Partner with Comparison Shopping sites. These types of affiliate partners can help ensure your products are featured if they are the best deal.
  • Focus on Comfort. Apparel is unlikely to be a big focus this year so brands within this space are wise to focus on comfortable apparel items and face masks (if applicable). Many parents, whether they’re sending their kids back to a physical classroom or have chosen remote learning options, are likely going to want their kids to be as comfortable as possible.
  • Update your Messaging. Parents, teachers, students and education decision-makers are clearly stressed about this year’s back-to-school transition. To help alleviate some of their anxiety, it may be helpful to rethink your messaging.For example, instead of saying “Sale up to 75% off,” consider a more customized approach: “We know it’s a hectic time and we want to help make your back-to-school shopping easier by giving you 75% off.”
  • Pay Attention to Timing. Ensure your placements and promotions are timed accordingly. Brands may compare to what they did in 2019 or 2018, however, this is not recommended as timing has changed significantly. Parents may not start shopping until well into September. Whenever they feel the timing is right for their back-to-school shopping, you want to make sure your brand is featured.


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to require that brands make adjustments, including to the traditional affiliate program promotions that worked in the past. Adapting to the changes and following the needs of your customers will be essential – as will positioning your back-to-school promotions in ways that will help support parents and students during what is a stressful time for many.

If you’d like to learn more about how Acceleration Partners can add value to your affiliate program, reach out to our team!


Kelly Ground is the Associate Director of Strategic Accounts at Acceleration Partners