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Back-to-School Marketing Ideas to Ace the 2021 Shopping Season

By Reading Time: 5 minutes

The back-to-school season is a time of new beginnings, and this year, kids and adults are more eager than usual for a fresh start. The latest research shows that this pent-up demand for change will fuel spending as well, as people get ready to reunite with classmates and co-workers and socialize more.

For online retailers, now’s a great time to start generating back-to-school marketing ideas, and we’re here to help. But before we get to the practical part, let’s look at some stats to help you prepare those sweet back-to-school deals.

2021 back-to-school spending forecast

The back-to-school shopping season is huge because it involves everyone from back-to-kindergarten to back-to-college. And let’s not forget that it’s also back-to-school for parents and caregivers and back-to-teaching for educators.

The expected back-to-school spending per household in the US has gradually increased over the last 2 years to reach $789.49 dollars in 2020. It’s worth adding that it’s not just adults doing the shopping—in 2020, the average US teen spent $45.35 of their own money on back-to-school goodies.

Read also: All You Need to Know about Marketing to Gen Z

Source: NRF

During the remote learning period, back-to-schoolers prioritized computers and hardware over clothing accessories in their shopping lists. Now, many people are ready to change out of pj’s and sweatpants. Earlier this year, Sonia Syngal, the CEO of GAP Inc., said in an interview that she expects ‘peacocking effect’ as people start dressing to impress.

If you sell apparel on your store, that’s great news for you—Mastercard’s forecast shows that apparel sales are expected to rise about 78% compared with the back-to-school season in 2020.

Let’s see exactly where people will be doing their shopping.

Where do people buy school supplies?

Most back-to-school shopping takes place at mass merchant stores. However, the second most popular way to get school-related products is online which will be the preferred shopping format for many shoppers in the foreseeable future.

Source: Deloitte

Speaking of shopping online, shoppers still favor desktop (64%) over mobile (46%). However, mobile comes first when users want to gather information about the products and sellers before taking the plunge.

Source: Deloitte

When does the back-to-school season start?

For the majority of online retailers, early July is the time to start planning back-to-school promotions, since parents, caregivers, kids, and teachers will be on the lookout for products to make the new school year more exciting and memorable after a year of uncertainty and hybrid learning.

If you’re targeting customers all around the globe, be mindful of the school year start date differences in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Here’s when school starts:

  • United States—from mid-July to mid-September, depending on the state
  • Canada—early September
  • Mexico—end of August
  • Spain—mid-September
  • Germany— between late July and early September
  • France—beginning of September
  • Italy—beginning of September
  • Brazil—first week of February
  • New Zealand, Australia—January, February
  • Japan—April 1

As for the shopping, around 80% of back-to-school shoppers are the most active from late July to early August. What does it mean for you? Start preparing back-to-school products, campaigns, and other incentives today. The earlier you jump onto the bandwagon, the more people you can expect to snap up back-to-school essentials and engage with your brand!

Back-to-school promotion ideas

Now that you know when to expect the back-to-school crowd, try these marketing tactics to make sure shoppers stop by your store to tick some items off their shopping lists.

As a bonus, we’ve created free vector files that you can download at the end of this post and use in your back-to-school promos or product designs.

Add back-to-school products to your store

For students and parents, 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 back-to-school staples more special by launching new designs or letting your customers personalize existing products.

What are the back-to-school bestsellers?

Here are some products the K-12 segment might have their eyes on:

Just like K-12, college students will want to upgrade their wardrobe. Additionally, college-goers might also be interested in home decor products to make their new place, be it a dorm room or shared apartment, cozy and homey.

Here are some customizable products for the back-to-college segment:

Finally, teachers are going back to school too. These customizable products are sure to spark their interest:

Source: The Pecking Order/Etsy

Now, on to promoting the products you’ve picked.

Create a back-to-school promotion

Back-to-school shopping can be overwhelming for several reasons. Not only do 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, create a back-to-school sale that’s clear and easy for customers to take advantage of.

Once you’ve chosen which products to add to your store, 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
  • bundle deals
  • free shipping
  • flash sale
  • week-long sales event
  • giveaway
  • contest
  • promo code
  • loyal customer discount
  • loyal customer pre-sale

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 incentivize your customers to start shopping.

Keep Printful’s fulfillment 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. You can find the estimated delivery times on each product page.

Let your audience know about your back-to-school offers. The easiest way to do this is through your social media. In 2020, about 25% of parents stated they were planning to use social media websites, especially Facebook, in order to assist in their back-to-school shopping. Teens and college students tend to do their product research on Instagram, so be mindful of the channels you use to target your audience.

Read also: Engaging Instagram Post Ideas to Revitalize Your Account

If you have an ad budget, use paid posts to reach a wider audience. And make sure to let your email list know about your back-to-school promos, too; they’ll appreciate the heads-up!

Tip: Don’t send just one email campaign and hope for the best—schedule a few emails with copy and subject line variations, and repromote them to recipients who didn’t open your email the first time.

Create valuable back-to-school content on social media

Not everything you do should be geared towards conversion. In addition to showcasing your products and promoting your deal, you can create helpful content to make the start of this joyful but stressful season easier on those taking part in it.

If your customers are parents or carers, share ideas on how to get the kids ready and excited about a new school year. It can be anything from school outfits to lunch box recipes, or tips on overcoming shyness.

If you’re trying to reach college-goers, cover topics that can help to prepare for life on campus, like time management or decorating their rooms.

A few more back-to-school content ideas you can experiment with on social media:

  • Back-to-school shopping list
  • Room organization tips
  • Creative lunchbox ideas
  • After-school activities
  • Productivity tips
  • Fun DIY projects
Parents will appreciate practical tips that help save time. Source: Pinterest

While some topics might not be directly related to your store, writing about them will help you connect with your target audience. The more valuable your free content is, the more likely your audience is to check out your store.

Class dismissed

Now it’s time to take what you’ve learned and get cracking on your back-to-school campaigns. Add seasonal products to your store, craft your deal and promotional materials, and help others get into the spirit of back-to-school. Use our free vector files to help share your message—download below!

This article was originally published in July 2018; it has since been updated.

Madara is a content marketer for the Printful Blog. Her background in linguistics and belief in the power of SEO come in handy when she’s creating content that inspires ecommerce store owners and helps them grow their business.


  1. Amrit

    I think mobile users are certainly increasing but some people (like me) still prefer to order through laptop but research on mobile 🙂

    1. Daniela Bergmane

      Hey! Yes, that’s true — despite the undeniable trend of increased mobile usage, at the end of the day, it’s really up to one’s individual preferences. 🙂

  2. Tom Karon

    The number of mobile users are increasing day by day comparing laptop or computer users. Personaly I always prefer mobile for analyzing as well as order something .

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Tom, thanks for sharing this! We have to agree that people are moving away from desktops more and more often and it’s very important to consider this when building your webpage and any promotional materials.

  3. Katherine

    Great article and very helpful in getting mindset ready to tackle the season and remember to switch audience gears based on location and advertising theme and platform!!

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