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Retail trends for August and September

By analyzing search terms to see what people are researching online, we gain some insight into what your customers are shopping for right now.

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Planning around today’s fickle consumer can be as frustrating as business planning around today’s political environment. Add in shifting climate and weather patterns that make holiday planning more like closeout planning, throw in a dash of digital retail disruption, mix a few new competitors, like your manufacturers and distributors who decided to go direct via ecommerce, and retail forecasters may feel like throwing in the towel.

But the good news is that retail planning tools have gotten more sophisticated. Services like NPD can offer granular POS data. Paid softwares like SEM Rush offer insight into search trends and free tools like Google Trends, Google Webmaster and AdWords help benchmark search terms trend by seasonality.

If this isn’t something you’ve spent a lot of time on, it can feel overwhelming. But SNEWS is here to help. I’ll be assembling regular reports to show you how to use tools to aid your retail planning. Each report will feature retail themes and give you advice on how both online-only and brick and mortar retailers can prepare for upcoming seasonal trends.

This month’s major theme, of course, is back to school shopping. In September, I expect search trends to revolve around fall shopping and the iPhone.

This is where I need your help. While I’ve been analyzing retail trends for over a decade, I’m sure you know of a few major retail events that are new to me. If you know of one that you’d like me to focus on in October, please email me at so I can research topics of importance to you for these reports.

August search trends

As a brick and mortar retailer, it may make sense to cleverly merchandise products right now that would normally not be marketed as back to school, as back to school. Don’t forget to think about the college crowd, too—this is also a good time to push hammocks to parents shopping for their kids, or to kids heading off to college.

As an online retailer (including brands with e-commerce channels), this is an opportunity to lower your cost per click for online ads featuring expensive, broad, unbranded terms. The keyword “shorts” any other time of year is an expensive keyword for online advertising, but “back to school shorts” could be a fraction of the cost, allowing you to bid into a highly competitive keyword without blowing through your ad budget.

Backpacks Google search trend
\”Backpacks\” always trends in August, around back to school season.Screenshot

The term “backpacks” also trends in August. As you can see, “backpacks” spikes in one month of the year, and one month only. Take advantage of this opportunity to capitalize on your inventory of high-quality, multi-purpose packs, and learn from your experiences this year to plan ahead for the 2018 back-to-school season.

As a brick and mortar retailer, consider creating signage reminding parents that you have backpacks, and that your backpacks are more durable and higher quality than the ones in a department store. As an online retailer, this is the time to increase bids for online ads, get creative with keywords, and push your backpacks as hard as you can.

September is somewhat of a shoulder season for many categories in outdoor. It’s between the hot summer months that drive people outside, and is still too far from the holidays to result in any meaningful gift purchases. But when I see holes, I see opportunities. Here are a couple to capitalize on.

The first is around the term “fall.” Fall will start on Sept. 22 this year. Searches for “fall clothes” and “fall camping” will accelerate through the end of the month.

Fall clothes and camping
\”Fall clothes,\” in blue, trends much higher than \”fall camping,\” in red.Google

Fall fashion is on the minds of many consumers. Keep in mind, outdoor fashion is the new black, so this is time to communicate to the fashion shopper that your apparel is better—more comfortable, higher quality, more durable, and more versatile—than what a department store carries. For online retailers, September is also the month to target the fashion shopper. After that, December will be your next opportunity to move inventory before you’re stuck with items for the dreaded closeout season.

The second set of search terms I analyzed was around the iPhone. I find this graph ironic because the term iPhone had zero searches before December of 2006. Pretty incredible considering that if you added all the searches for the queries “camping,” “hiking,” “biking,” and “running,” and multiplied that by a factor of five, you still wouldn’t have as many searches as the term “iPhone.”

iPhone search trends
Regardless of the time of year, people are searching for information about the iPhone far more frequently than they’re searching for hiking, biking, and running.Google

One interesting note is that in September, there are more searches for the term “iPhone case” than “hiking.” While it’s no surprise that there are more searches in the month a new phone launches, it’s insightful to know the sheer volume of searches for this term.

iPhone cases vs. hiking
iPhone cases, in blue, trends in September, along with hiking.Google

Many specialty shops carry outdoor-branded cellphone cases, making it possible to capitalize on this seasonal trend. Push your rugged, outdoor-friendly phone cases and accessories, like waterproof iPhone containers and phone-sized drybags. Keep in mind that if you don’t sell them in September, your next big chance to sell will be in December. But in January, you’re pretty much stuck with them until next season, so push hard on these while you can.

Are there any other search terms or retail trends you want us to explore? Shoot me a note at