Canadian Back to School eCommerce (Statistics and Tips)

The Bank of Montreal focused on students seeking a secondary education in their 2014 Post-Secondary Student Survey. The bank also revealed that total retail sales are expected to climb 3.5-4% this back-to-school season, making it one of the most busy times of year for retailers.  Last year, the estimated average amount spent on school supplies was about $428 per student.

“Back-to-school shopping is among the most important and highest profile seasons for Canadian retailers. Total retail sales are expected to climb 3.5 per cent to 4 per cent year over year in 2014, with a similar gain anticipated for the back-to-school season,” said Benjamin Reitzes, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. “The importance of attaining a post-secondary education has increased consistently over the past few decades, with about two million students creating a growing market for retailers. This trend is expected to continue as the focus on higher education will only sharpen in the years ahead.”

University and college students expect to spend an average of $1,121 on back-to-school purchases this year. Purchases include a broader range of items since many of these older students are living on their own.

  • 88% of students will purchase textbooks.  They’ll spend approximately $800 – $1200 per semester on textbooks and school supplies.
  • 58% will purchase new clothes, spending about $300 to $500.
  • 41% will buy technology-related products (with 38% purchasing computers and only 7% buying mobile devices), totaling approximately $1000 – $1600.
  • 20% of students intend to purchase furniture (bed, desk, chair), totaling about $200 – $1000.
  • 27% of students will pay for their purchases using credit cards.

Online sellers of school supplies, clothing and related technology can use strategies similar to offline retail, with a focus on convenience, value and deals.

  • Free or low flat-rate shipping.
  • Bonus items (free with purchase, free item with purchases over $X, buy one get one free, etc.)
  • Contests can draw shoppers to your site and social media pages.  Designer backpacks, laptops, and “win your purchase” are just a few possible prizes.
  • Online discounts and coupons (or printable coupons if you have an offline store).
  • Feature price-matching policies prominently.
  • Stock unique or novelty items that Canadian kids “just gotta have”.
  • Bundle back-to-school products for convenient shopping and offer a great deal on these packages.
  • Donate a portion of profits during August/September to an education or other child-related charity.
  • Provide assurance by offering a guarantee.  If possible, allow returns to an offline store.
  • Offer gift cards or certificates for parents to give to older children and university students.
  • With more than half of Canadian mobile phone users having a SmartPhone, it’s important that your website be mobile-friendly with omni-channel strategies out in full force.
  • We all know why toys are advertised during children’s shows.  Promote your best deals and “gotta have it” items on social media because that’s where the kids are.
  • Make it clear that you are located in Canada and clearly label products made in Canada.  Encourage shoppers to shop Canadian and buy local.
  • Affiliate marketers and bloggers can feature back-to-school sales and coupons from their favourite merchants.
  • Consider selling products to bargain-hunting Canadians via online auctions like eBay, or merchant marketplaces like Amazon, or specialized marketplaces like Etsy.

Last year, Google Canada reported that back to school shoppers did approximately one third of their shopping online in August, spending an average of $163.  79% of all Canadian shoppers searched online for back-to-school items and 89% of mobile users did so.  The top search terms were laptops, phone plans, school supplies, and back-to-school.

Will you be selling ‘back to school’ items online this year? Please share your experience or questions in the comments below.

Inaugural BMO Post-Secondary Student Survey 2014
Retailers to Benefit as Canadians Spend More This Year on Back-to-School Shopping: BMO 2013
Google Canada Think Insights 2013

✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Canadian Omni-Channel Panel Shares Insights
Canadian eCommerce and Website Marketing Statistics
10 Tips for Taking Product Photos That Sell Online


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Melody McKinnon
Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website

Melody McKinnon is an internet entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in a wide range of online business models, backed by a formal business education and enhanced by training and mentorship. She has owned or managed both educational and ecommerce websites. Her book, 7 Recession Proof Online Businesses to Start From Home, is available from all major ebook retailers.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on,,, and, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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Very valuable info . Exciting times we are living in with so much change . But change always presents new opportunity


Greaat tips from experience. I think most blogs don’t know what they’re talking about from experience but your knowledge is real. Sometimes it amazes me how much parents spend but I don’t mind taking their money. 😉

Nancy & Pat

Promotions started almost as soon as school ended and it’s been a great year. Parents are spending more and its back to paying extra for the latest thing instead of only getting the basics. Even lunch boxes are getting more pricey snacks. It’s a sign of better times.


Striking in BC will shake things up a bit but I guess parents have to be ready so maybe not.

Loretta K.

Awesome tips! We make good money when the kids go back to school, especially on anything trendy. We look to Europe for what’s coming because they’re usually first. That’s MY tip!


We’ll be ready for next year! Our new site goes online in February. We’re very excited to take the plunge into ecommerce.