Even if we aren’t ready to kiss-goodbye the warm summer days, fall will be here before we know it, and that’s okay! End of the school holidays has its charm too as kids get to meet new friends, reconnect with classmates, and reflect on their adventures from the last couple of months.
For online retailers, it’s time to start planning back-to-school promotions, since parents and kids will be on the lookout for products to make the new school year more exciting and memorable.
Back-to-school shopping trends
Back-to-school shopping season is big.
In preparation for a new school year, 29 million households across the United States spent a total of $27.6 billion in 2018. Another active segment during end of July-August was back-to-college shoppers, who spent around $54.1 billion.
Combined, school and college students purchased products worth $81.7 billion, which makes the back-to-school season the second-biggest shopping occasion after the winter holidays.
What do people buy?
Elementary- and college-age kids have different back-to-school needs.
Back-to-school shoppers are mostly interested in clothing and school supplies (like books and stationery), while people starting college typically spend more on electronics and dorm room gear.
Where do people buy?
According to the National Retail Federation, most back-to-school and back-to-college shopping takes place at department stores. The second most popular way to get school-related products is online.
Speaking of shopping online, school goers still favor desktop (53%) over mobile (46%). However, mobile comes first when users want to gather information about the products and sellers before taking the plunge.
When do people shop?
Around 90% of back-to-school shoppers are active from mid-July to early August. That’s exactly when two-thirds of all back-to-school spending takes place.
What does it mean for you? Simple. Start preparing back-to-school products, campaigns, and other incentives today. The earlier you jump onto the bandwagon, the more people you can expect shopping on your store!
7 easy back-to-school marketing ideas
Now that you know what to expect from the back-to-school crowd, try these seven simple marketing tactics to make the most of this time of the year.
Bonus! We’ve created free vector files that you can download at the end of this post. Feel free to use them in all of your back-to-school promos.
1. Create a back-to-school sale
Back-to-school shopping can be overwhelming for several reasons. Not only do the customers have a lot of boxes to tick off their shopping list, but they also have to decide which brands are worth their time and money.
Having this in mind, try to create a back-to-school sale that is clear and easy to take advantage of.
Evaluate what type of offer you can afford and present it to your audience. If you’re short on ideas for back-to-school promotions, here are a few to help you get started:
- % or $ discount
- 2 for 1
- free shipping
- flash sale
- week-long sales event
- promo code
- loyal customer discount
- loyal customer pre-sale
Pro tip: Back-to-school isn’t a spending occasion when everyone needs to get their purchases by a certain day. However, you can combine some of the promotions (discounts or a special offer) with the shipping deadlines to incentify your customers start shopping.
Keep Printful’s fulfilment time and shipping in mind when you’re coordinating your promotions and campaigns. Our average fulfillment time for apparel products is 2-7 business days, and then you have to factor in shipping to calculate the time it’ll take for orders to reach your customers.
2. Step up your social media game
Let everyone know about your back-to-school offers. The obvious way to do this is through social media—23% of shoppers say they’ll use it to plan their purchases.
Share your deal on social media to get the word out. Use paid posts on Facebook to reach a wider audience. Not sure how to do that? Here’s everything you need to know about Facebook Ads.
3. Don’t forget about email marketing
Let your email list know about your back to school promotion, too; they’ll appreciate the heads-up!
Here’s an example of a campaign MochiThings ran around the back-to-school season last year to promote their stationery products. Seeing the August 31 deadline creates a sense of urgency and motivates people to buy before the sale is over.
Pro tip: Don’t send just one email campaign—everyone, including you, will forget about it. Schedule a few emails with copy and subject line variations, and repromote them to recipients who didn’t open your email the first time.
4. Be smart on mobile
Like I said, desktop is still the preferred method for making back-to-school purchases. Mobile, on the other hand, is a go-to device for shoppers to collect discounts (57%), get pricing details (53%), or go online window-shopping (56%).
So while most customers will ultimately purchase on desktop, there’s a good chance they’ll first find you on mobile. That’s why it’s so important to make your site, from content to promos, mobile-friendly.
Use Google’s mobile-friendly test page to see if your site passes muster and how much you need to improve. Run a test yourself by opening your store and making a purchase on different mobile devices and tablets.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure your store theme (whether it’s ready-made or custom-made) is responsive, i.e. the design elements of the website scale down seamlessly on smaller devices.
- When creating pop-ups, make sure they meet Google’s guidelines for mobile-friendliness.
- Just like on your desktop, loading speed is important on mobile. Avoid using heavy file sizes that slow things down.
5. Introduce seasonal products
Many students and their parents associate back-to-school season with new beginnings. For them, this time of the year is often less about getting the essential school supplies, and more about making the school days as memorable and joyful as possible.
While introducing seasonal products to your store for back-to-school shoppers is a good idea, try to make the new additions more special—create new designs or let your customers personalize existing ones.
Have you had a chance to try our Product Personalization Tool? It enables you to sell products that your shoppers can customize themselves!
Here’s what back-to-school goers might have their eyes on:
But the hottest product this season? Fanny packs.
Don’t forget about the back-to-college shoppers too! Just like school kids, college students will want to upgrade their wardrobe, or start a new year with a new backpack or fanny pack.
Apart from clothes and accessories, college goers might also be interested in home decor products to make their new place, be it a dorm room or shared apartment, more cozy and home-like. A few products that can be on their shipping list are:
6. Partner with influencers
A great way to promote your products to a wider audience is to partner with an influencer. An endorsement from a respected member of the community can go a long way—68% of customers trust the opinions of other online shoppers.
Back-to-school season is an ideal time to partner up with family-oriented influencers. You’ll have to do your research to find an influencer whose audience would be interested in your products. This is critical because you don’t want to waste your time and money going after a lead that won’t work.
Use these tools to help connect with the right person:
7. Create valuable content for your target audience
In addition to showcasing your products, you can create helpful content for your target audience. This helps humanize your brand, and as we know, online shoppers are more likely to trust brands they connect with emotionally.
If your customers are parents, share ideas on how to get the kids ready for a new school year. It can be anything from school outfits to lunch box recipes, and tips on how to overcome shyness.
If you’re trying to reach college goers, cover topics that can help to prepare for life on campus, like decorating the room or making new friends.
A few more content ideas you can experiment with:
- Back-to-school shopping list
- Back-to-school outfits
- School lunch ideas
- Dorm decor inspiration
- Room organization tips
- After-school activities
- Fun DIY projects
- Time management tips
- Meal prep tips
Clothing, accessories, and home decor retailer Urban Outfitters has a blog with plenty of shareable content their target audience would enjoy—from back-to-school beauty essentials to gourmet microwave meals.
While some topics might not be directly related to your store, writing about them can help you connect with your target audience. Remember, the more valuable the content, the more readers will visit your website and engage with it.
It’s fine to include shoutouts to your products in your think-piece or the content you share, but don’t overdo it.
Now it’s time to take what you’ve learned and get cracking on your back-to-school campaigns. Craft your deal and promotional materials, add seasonal products to your store, and help others get into the spirit of back-school. Use our free vector files to help share your message—download below!
While you’re still here, from your experience, what’s the #1 back-to-school supply you (or your customers) couldn’t live without? Let us know in the comments below!
This article was originally published in July 2018; it has since been updated.