Jul 8, 2019
Back to School Means Back to Sales

It might only be the start of summer, but for retailers, it doesn’t matter that students won’t be flocking back to campuses until late August and September. For you, it’s high time to ramp up your marketing campaigns for back to school shoppers.

While it’s not a traditional holiday like Halloween, it’s still a time when you can capitalize on a growing market, and offer your customers not just something they need – but something they’ll want.

Back to school trends from 2018

If the past year is any indication, retailers can expect a robust back to school season from shoppers. The National Retail Federation forecasted back to school and college spending to reach $82.8 billion in 2018, which is the third-highest total in the survey’s history.

This was due in part to recent tax reforms and growing consumer confidence in the US. In terms of how people spent their money, the survey found that shoppers intended to spend:

  • $236.90 on clothing
  • $187.10 on electronics such as computers, calculators or phones
  • $138.66 on shoes
  • $122.13 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes.

As for when they’re shopping, the majority of respondents (77%) said they plan to start shopping a least three weeks before school begins, and nine out of 10 shoppers still have half or more of their shopping to complete just days before school actually starts.

Whether shoppers buy now or wait until the last minute, retailers need to be ready with everything shoppers need for a successful start of the school year. While some might wait until June or July, it’s recommended that you start early, as ordering in late spring gives the different suppliers time to fulfill the product orders – and time for you to create a marketing strategy to sell them.

Start with the right products

Speaking of products, make sure you’re carrying the right merchandise. If you’re marketing the wrong products, your back to school campaigns won’t be effective. Start be figuring out which items to highlight in your store.

The first step is to look at what’s worked in the past. What items were popular during last year’s back to school season? What did people end up buying? This information can usually be found using your POS or retail management system.

“Anything that will be a necessity at back to school time is a must,” said Julie Pinzur of Mokuyobi Wholesale. “Backpacks, school supplies, accessories for first day of school looks, and more!”

Katie Forte, co-owner of June & December, recommends carrying specialty items not typically found in the big box stores, like unique or specialty notepads, pencils, planners, or small gifts for teachers, to name a few.

Another option is to get product insights and look at trends in your market through Google’s free trends tool (trends.google.com), where you can enter specific products or brands to view search trends over time.

Optimize your merchandising strategy

How are you planning on enticing those shoppers to buy? Instead of just putting products on a shelf, showcase your merchandise so they point out how people can use your products in school.

If you’re selling pens and notepads, consider setting up a desk in your store and show off those products together with other school supplies. Pinzur suggests that for a backpack, for example, it’s helpful to show a stuffed version so your customer can get a better idea of the volume of the bag and what its able to hold so they can more easily find what they’re looking for in a bag.

Figure out how your products fit into customer’s school lives, and use that as your merchandising angle.

Pay attention to trends

What’s going to be popular this year? Think about the latest trends current events that your customers are interested in and incorporate them into your back to school marketing. You can also do some digging on Google Trends to see the latest trending topics.

According to Tina Marchand of Ellie and Piper Party Boutique, scratch-off lunchbox mini notes are really popular with young children.

“It’s a sweet way for parents to communicate with their kids on a daily basis,” Marchand said. “The act of scratching off in order to read your parents’ secret message to you that the kids will remember forever. Retailers can set up these cards on their shelves and cross-sell with lunchboxes or inside a mock lunchbox display – complete with sandwiches, an apple, chips, and a drink for customers to see how they would be used.”

Forte said they’ve seen a range of past popular themes – from rainbows to unicorns – and find that theme items are best displayed with other related items, whether it be based on design theme or pairing them with items that relate to each other, like oversized erasers paired with pencils.

“And don’t forget about color, as it’s made quite a comeback the past few years,” said Pinzur. “Customers are now much more likely to opt for a fun colorful bag instead of something plain or neutral that may have been the go-to in the past.”

Offer useful tips

While the goal of your campaign is about making a sale, you should also make it a point to help your customers – they’ll remember that and it helps to build their loyalty. In addition to showcasing your products, position yourself as a helpful resource by putting together back to school tips.

Maybe offer a campus survival guide for students, or advice for parents on how to save time on busy weekday mornings. You can even provide calendars, planners, and templates that people can use at home on their own. It’s good for your branding, which makes it good for business.

The bottom line

The key to a successful back to school campaign is carrying the right products, of course, but also marketing them in a way that makes not only a sale, but also a great impression. Customers will remember that they could get everything they needed – and wanted – from your store, and will come back in the future for anything else that they need.

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