By Natalie Haynes, Contributor

As any professional stock trader, marketer, or dating coach will tell you, timing is everything. Identifying a cultural trend early can be wildly valuable, and one example of Metametrix doing this quickly and easily is in analyzing web data to identify 2018 Back to School (B2S) trends.

B2S shopping is the biggest retail season after Black Friday. According to the annual B2S survey for 2018 by Deloitte, spending this year will be close to $28B. Despite concerns about Amazon eventually dominating retail, B2S spending offline is expected to be more than twice that of B2S spending online, with spend for most categories, including apparel and accessories, to be approximately 60% in store, 20% online, and 20% undecided. One significant exception is electronics, where expected spend online is on par with offline (40% and 40%, with 20% undecided). For marketers, that 20% that’s up for grabs is a significant opportunity.

Offline Purchases, Online influences

Most B2S sales ($21B of $28B) are expected to be influenced by children and teens who have increasingly strong connections online, especially through mobile devices. 53% of teens plan to use mobile for B2S shopping research. So even though purchasing is more likely to be offline, research and social influences online are still strong.

What are they talking about? Where are they talking about it?

Surveys are one way to get a pulse check. Another is to listen to what people are actually saying. A quick search using Metametrix shows that a lot of the B2S excitement in 2018 is on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. Drilling down, one can look specifically at B2S “hauls”. If you haven’t followed teen trends for a few years, see this primer from Business Insider regarding the shop-and-share phenomenon. Teen shopping hauls are not new for 2018, but drivers of shopper interest are ever-evolving, and Metametrix helps to uncover what’s resonating this season.

Values for a search around “teen hauls”:

  • Cool
  • Experience
  • Thrift
  • Exclusivity
  • Power
  • Fear
  • Family
  • Personalization

Many of these values tap into teen aspirations around individuality, popularity, acceptance, and the fear of being judged.

Concepts around B2S shopping hauls are similar, with nuances:

  • Beauty
  • Target
  • YouTube
  • Stationery (Cute and Color are popping!)
  • Mechanical Pencils

Teens are excited about B2S, and they’re excited to share about what they bought (even their pencils!). They are focusing on small ticket items at mass merchants. The Target name is resonating well this season, with cool, cute, and color.

Other trends we’re keeping an eye on:

– Stitch Fix for kids and teens

– DIY tie dye

– “Capsule wardrobes” for teens. Typically this would be minimalist, elite, and for adults.

– Rocketbook Wave. A cutting edge version of disappearing ink. Take notes. Scan them. Microwave the paper to clear the writing. And start again.

– Compliment battles. If you have not seen this, it’s worth a look (Example: queer eye compliment battle). It is the exact opposite of cyber bullying.

At the end of the day, the kids are alright.

Starting a new school year has always carried a sense of both excitement and nervous anticipation, and that’s still the case, but due to increasing digital connection, today’s school-age generation is grappling with the fear of being judged in ways that previous generations didn’t face. However, with connection there is light, too. Alongside acts of cyberbullying there are also trends of cyberkindness: beautiful and positive acts of lifting each other up. Today’s school-age generation has created new ways to express kindness, fun, inclusion, and positivity. Adults have, too. The phenomenon of compliment battles is one shining example. Another is posting pictures on social media of friends in moments of accomplishment.

Marketers trying to tap into this can play on the genuine wish to express kindness. For the B2S crowd, give them a way to fit in, to connect, to be kind to each other. They are going to do those things anyway, but there’s an opportunity to join them.