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Young brands beat Sears, J.C. Penney on back-to-school search terms, analysis finds

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By Erica Sweeney

Dive Brief:

  • Target and Office Depot gained market share during the key back-to-school season by bidding on brand-specific search terms of competitors like Staples and Walmart, according to an Adthena analysis provided to Marketing Dive. The report analyzed back-to-school shopping searches from 432 competitors and 1,660 unique ads from Aug. 2-19. achieved a high of 58% of market share by bidding on “Staples back to school sale” on Aug. 9, and claimed the top position 40% of the time. hit a high of 40% of market share on Aug. 11 by also bidding on the term.
  • For back-to-school clothes shopping, newer retailers, and beat and using the search term “back to school clothes.” reached the highest market share on Aug. 10 at 77%, claiming the largest back-to-school market share in the analysis. hit a 55% high on Aug. 18. maintained a share of at least 22%. reached 70% on Aug. 13, but didn’t get above 45% at any other point. entered the campaign late, reached 70% on Aug. 9, but then dropped off significantly.
  •, and all vied for the top market share spot from Aug. 2-19 on the search term “back to school sale.” hit a high of 53% on Aug. 12, dropped to 33% on the Aug. 14 and then pulled out of the competition. scored 38% of the share on Aug. 2, reached a high of 55% on Aug. 19 and grabbed the most market share between Aug. 2-7.
Dive Insight:

Back-to-school is becoming increasingly competitive for retailers and accounts for nearly 20% of non-holiday retail spend. Legacy players are not only going head-to-head with each other, but also the e-commerce giant Amazon and newer disruptor brands that are grabbing a bigger piece of the pie, as evidenced by strong performance from, and

The Adthena study reveals how retailers strategized their paid search terms to garner larger shares of the back-to-school market. Marketers should take note of Office Depot and Target’s approach, staking a claim in competitors’ terms in ways that paid off during the key August period.

The analysis underpins the continued value of search. Search ads are the largest online ad format, accounting for 42% of spending, according to Zenith data cited in Recode. Marketers are projected to spend a $95 billion on search this year, the firm said. Most back-to-school shopping remains in-store, but digital search campaigns are key for getting consumers to start on their shopping journeys. Consumers still rely on retailers’ sites to compare prices and look for deals, according to recent Deloitte research.

At the same time, the timing of back-to-school shopping is shifting, leading marketers to kick off their campaigns earlier to better compete Amazon, whose summertime Prime Day sale caused back-to-school shopping to start a month earlier than usual in 2017, per Cardlytics.

Retailers spent an estimated $600 million on advertising in July across national TV, print and online, a 6% decrease year-over-year, with budgets shifting away from TV and print channels, according to MediaRadar. One-third of the total spend came from seven advertisers: Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Amazon, Ikea and Best Buy.

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