Back-to-school season brings in approximately $84 billion in sales, which makes it the second biggest shopping season of the year – second only to the winter holidays, which pull in a whopping $580 billion, and generate more impressions of reviews and other word-of-mouth content than any other shopping season. This year, retailers realize the need to start the back-to-school season earlier than ever to capitalize on this critical shopping season.

Nearly four in ten 37% of people said they would cut back-to-school spending this year because of the economy. That means more competition among retailers, says National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis:

“It is one of the most competitive times of year for big retailers. They know consumers are on budgets, and they’re vying for those dollars.”

As a result, some retailers (and brands too) are starting their back to school campaigns earlier than ever – as in, last week. Stuart Elliot of the New York Times comments:

“The tenuous state of the economy is a major reason for the earlier arrival of back-to-school campaigns. The goal is to encourage purchases now because of uncertainty over what the future may bring.”

Since back to school is one of the most important shopping seasons of the year across categories, what do they need to do to capture parents’ limited budgets?

Include social validation on your website

Statistics show that moms trust each other more than anyone else when it comes to making purchasing decisions.

Nearly half of mothers stated that when they are deciding whether to make a purchase, the most important factor is opinions from other moms. An additional 9% said recommendations from other moms were “critically important” in their purchasing decisions.

Create a platform on your website to gather these needed opinions. Collect the highest volume of content you can on back-to-school necessities by including calls for reviews on store receipts and in post-purchase emails.

When gathering reviews, include a section where the reviewer can give information about their demographics (to identify parents to other parents). Opinions you gather from early shoppers will then influence more parents as the shopping season continues to heat up throughout the summer.

Bring everything parents need while shopping into the aisles via mobile

Eight out of every 10 mothers own smartphones, and they’re 49% more likely to have them than others in the general population. Ownership of smartphones among mothers is up 25% this year, and tablet ownership is up 79%.

Moms aren’t just using their smartphones for calling and texting. Seventy percent of them shop on their devices, and one-third of them use mobile devices for more than half of their overall shopping. According to an article for eMarketer:

“For moms especially, who tend to lead shopping and mobile trends, the use of these smart devices may have reached the tipping point: Mobile has become more than a nice accessory to augment the shopping process; it has become an essential stop in the path to purchase.”

In order to cater to today’s tech-savvy moms (and dads), brands should have an extensive mobile presence. Include the aforementioned peer reviews in your mobile app/site to help parents as they browse the back-to-school aisle. Let them scan barcodes in the aisle to look up these reviews as well as product use suggestions, how-to videos, online ordering, safety information, and more.

Make their lives easier through educational content

Back-to-school can be a stressful time for parents, so get their attention by making their lives easier. Elmer’s Glue’s “Glue Guide” app, for example, is specifically targeted to help make school projects easier on mom – a perfect companion as kids head back to the classroom, says Michelle Manning, Director of Brand Marketing:

“At Elmer’s, our goal is really to help mom accomplish this by offering simple projects and inspiration… Through our Glue Guide app, moms find the best adhesive solution, which is targeted to science fairs and school projects. Our online videos help guide moms through school projects that can be really overwhelming and intimidating… It’s not so much about coupons and discounts, although that’s very important, but instead about what the total value equation is.”

A retailer could offer “back-to-school kit” lists based on each grade and the typical supplies needed. Food brands could offer tips for packing healthier lunches that kids will actually eat. Laundry brands could offer stain removal tips for those recess grass stains and art class finger paints. Get creative and find ways to become a deeper part of parents’ lives.

It’s no surprise, really, that the back-to-school season is already upon us; the holiday season starts earlier every year. Make sure to build a strong mobile site early, gather a robust collection of feedback, and create engaging and helpful brand experiences now – before most parents hit the shelves.