Marketers for office-supply and electronic brands may want to consider how they can appeal to American teachers. Often paying for classroom needs out of pocket, teachers respond to special discounts as well as various promotions year-round, according to a new survey of K-12 teachers across the U.S. by SheerID and Agile Education Marketing.
The sixth annual teacher shopping study reveals that 99% of teachers spent personal funds for school-related purposes, from science kits and art supplies to snacks for students, during the 2018-19 school year. The survey also indicates that teachers feel compelled to ensure students have an excellent learning experience, no matter the cost. Out of all survey respondents, 97% say that budget shortfalls have a negative impact on students, so teachers are stepping up with their own money: four out of five teachers spend $100 or more to support their teaching needs, while nearly half (48%) spend more than $250, 15% spent more than $500, and some invested as much as $5,000 into their classroom.
Inadequate funding has a ripple effect extending beyond school supply shopping. Eighty-eight percent of teachers spentd their own money on classroom supplies, but it does not stop there. Teachers cover the cost of student rewards (74%), instructional resources (67%), and reading materials (41%). While the average out-of-pocket spend among teachers dropped from $652 in 2018 to $418 in 2019, the amount is still significant.
Mallory Speers is a sixth grade science teacher in southern Washington, whose school provides a $70 annual budget for classroom supplies. With 90 students, she notes that this amounts to “less than one dollar per student for the entire school year.” As a result, she spends more than $500 annually, out of her own pocket, not only on basic supplies, but also on snacks, hands-on projects, and even lighting for her classroom.
“Being a teacher sometimes means spending your own money,” Speers says. “It’s important to me to create a comfortable and engaging place that will help my students learn and have memorable experiences.”
For brands that want to support teachers, gated, exclusive offers are a great way to engage them for both professional and personal spending. Ninety five percent of teachers say they are more likely to purchase classroom supplies and 81% are more likely to buy personal items from a company that offers a teacher discount. With classrooms chronically under-funded and many teachers feeling under-appreciated, educators need support, and brands are in a position to deliver—64% of survey respondents say teacher discounts make them feel “valued.”
“The message to brands is clear—educators want to be recognized and feel valued. Those brands that heed the call set themselves up to win the business of this important customer group, and they have a direct impact in classrooms by giving educators what they need to teach our children,” says Jake Weatherly, CEO of SheerID. “We have entered into a new world of marketing, where it’s not just about the purchase; it is about the person. By tapping into teachers’ sense of identity, gated offers deliver the perfect entry point for brands to create an authentic, emotional connection with teachers to foster long-term loyalty.”
Give teachers what they want
With 4 million teachers in the US, educators are a high-value customer group who shop often and gravitate to discounts across all product categories. The 2019 survey revealed that:
- Teachers want discounts on virtually everything. While office supplies, instructional materials, and computers/electronics top the list, there is an opportunity for brands to offer teacher discounts across virtually every product category, from finance to travel to entertainment.
- Teachers are motivated by various promotions. According to the survey, 73% prefer “buy one, get one” (BOGO), which makes sense considering they buy multiples of many school supplies. Brands can also make waves with a 25% single item discount (preferred by 69% of teachers), free shipping (62%), or 10% off their entire purchase (46%).
- Teachers shop all year round. Over half (58%) shop at least monthly for classroom materials—a more than 2x jump from 2017, when only 28% of respondents said they shop monthly.
Michaels, which operates more than 1,200 stores in 49 U.S. states and Canada, delivers on these shopping preferences by offering an everyday 15% discount for educators, along with a wide assortment of teacher and classroom products. The year-round offer makes it easy for teachers to save on everything they need to set up, organize, and decorate the classroom, such as arts and crafts supplies, classroom storage, and bulletin board materials.
“Our support for teachers extends well beyond the start of school with a 15% discount available every time they shop, all year long,” says Steve Carlotti, Michaels’ EVP of marketing. “Our teacher discount is one way we show our commitment to educators, as we serve as the go-to headquarters to help them create one-of-a-kind environments that are creative and inspiring places for students to learn. Convenience is a top priority, and we make it easy for teachers to receive the discount both online and in the store.”
Teachers are influential
The survey reinforced that teachers are a tight-knit community who love to share a good deal. Nearly three in four (71%) say they would tell their colleagues about a teacher discount. They also learn about discounts from both peers and brands. Friends and colleagues are vital to word-of-mouth marketing. Forty eight percent of respondents said they rely on educator blogs/websites, while 78% learn about teacher discounts from a friend or co-worker. Increasingly, teachers are seeking out discounts directly from brands. Sixty five percent learn about discounts via email (a 35% jump from 2018) and nearly half (49%) via the company’s website (an 88% jump from 2018.)
“To break through the noise, marketers need to make teachers feel seen and valued, and gated offer programs are emerging as an effective strategy to accomplish that,” says Verlan Stephens, founder and managing partner, Agile Education Data. “This year’s survey reaffirms that out-of-pocket spending is becoming increasingly normalized as teachers struggle to come up with the funding to effectively teach. Brands willing to listen to what teachers need and to deliver on those expectations have significant opportunity to build long-term relationships with this lucrative and influential customer group.”