This week marks the peak of back-to-school shopping season. If you’re among the parents with children entering grades K through 8, then you are probably all too familiar with the madness that goes along with fulfilling school supply shopping lists.
Five-subject notebooks, 24-count crayon packs, pencils, scissors, facial tissues, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and don’t forget the one-inch three-prong binders you need in five different colors — one of which is always sold out.
“On average there’s 12 to 15 items on each list, and these lists are typically posted four to six weeks on a school’s website,” says John Driscoll, the president of TeacherLists.com. “Sometimes you have to keep going to back to the website until the list is up. You find the list, you print the list, and you go up and down the aisles looking for these 12 to 15 very specific items.”
Back-to-school supply list shopping in just one click
Partnering with a selection of online retailers and brands, TeacherLists.com is aiming to ease the headache of back-to-school shopping for parents.
Driscoll’s team has spent the last four years aggregating more than a million school supply lists by working with teachers, schools and ed-tech platforms like Blackboard.
In addition to curating a remarkable number of school supply lists, TeacherLists.com has developed patent-pending technology that matches items on the supply lists to the appropriate UPCs (universal product codes) from Amazon, Target, Jet.com and Walmart.
“The magic of it all is that it will take a list and allow the retailer to pre-populate a shopping cart,” says Driscoll, “It’s very convenient for parents. They can go to Amazon and in one click put everything in their cart.”
According to a 2017 survey from Brand Keys, parents will spend an average of $97 on back-to-school supplies this year, up 5 percent over last year’s school season. Ninety-nine percent of the parents surveyed said a portion – if not all — of their back-to-school shopping would happen online.
“The school supply business is a multibillion-dollar annual business in terms of total revenue,” says Driscoll. His team is working with both retailers and brands to own a piece of this pie by making the back-to-school shopping experience more seamless for teachers and parents.
The company’s revenue model is two-part — retailers on one side and CPG brand sponsorships on the other. Retailers pay a flat fee for a license to use the TeacherLists.com’s tool and list data to create their own experience, and then an additional performance-based fee that is determined by sales generated using the supply list tool through the retailer’s website.
Driscoll says the performance-based fee structure results in his company earning a small percentage of what should be a large volume of sales.
“Every single retailer that we work with has reported significantly higher basket size, that’s been a huge key to this,” says Driscoll.
CPG category sponsorships drive online sales
On the CPG-side, brands can buy category sponsorships so that their products are promoted to teachers via special incentive programs.
“As an example, facial tissues is a top five category, so it’s going to be on a lot of lists,” explains Driscoll, “Let’s say facial tissues are on 600,000 of the million lists, that means there are 25 parents on average for 600,000 classrooms buying facial tissue — that’s a lot of facial tissue.”
According to Driscoll, P&G’s Puffs tissue brand is probably specified by teachers less than 1 percent of the time when they list facial tissues on their classroom supply lists. But, because Puffs is one of TeacherLists.com’s brand sponsors, promotions by the platform aimed at teachers have led to Puffs being included on a significant number of the supply lists uploaded to TeacherLists.com.
Driscoll says such product placement translates well in-store, and almost 100 percent online.
“If Puffs are automatically in the basket, by and large, we’re seeing hardly any evidence of parents going in and switching items,” says Driscoll.
Driscoll says that annual brand sponsorship costs are based on the size of the category, with larger categories priced anywhere from $250,000 to $350,000, and smaller categories at $150,000.
TeacherLists.com never automatically adds a CPG brand to a school supply list without the teacher’s explicit request, and it has an agreement with all retailers that if a teacher names a specific brand, the retailer must honor that brand when they pre-populate the cart.
“We never default to the CPG brands, because the whole house of cards would fall,” says Driscoll, “We’re customer-centric, with the two key customers being teachers and parents.”
Mutlichannel marketing efforts help spread the word to parents
As far as getting the word out about the platform to parents, Driscoll says retailers are doing most of the promotion on their own. Recently, Walmart.com featured the Teacherlists.com tool on its home page.
“We need to be nimble, so we are leveraging our relationship with schools,” says Driscoll on the company’s efforts to reach parents.
He says he’s also working with SEO and SEM agencies and consultants on keywords to help drive more users to the site. Because of the million-plus supply lists uploaded to the platform, they already have a strategic lead in organic search.
“The big advantage we have is organically — we’re so deep in search we’re coming up very high without spending any money on it,” says Driscoll.
Leveraging ‘incredible’ data sets
This is the first year Teacherlists.com has worked with retailers, and it just recently reached more than a million supply lists uploaded to the platform. As the back-to-school shopping season spikes this week, Driscoll says his team will begin to plan for next year the first week of September.
Looking toward the future, Driscoll knows that the relationships his company is forming with retailers, as well as with parents and teachers, is the tip of the iceberg.
“These lists drive a lot of sales,” says Driscoll, “The data that we have is incredible.”
Driscoll says that it’s a whole new world in terms of metrics and understanding the market potential for the specific items that make up the million-plus school supply lists. As his team continues to build upon what it has already created — and more parents look to streamline the back-to-school shopping experience — chances are strong that TeacherLists.com will continue to grow.