This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) considers the back-to-school season the second biggest event on the retail calendar. NRF has been tracking consumer spending for decades, so small businesses—even those not directly selling back-to-school supplies—should take advantage and plan for unique back-to-school marketing ideas.
We list 32 back-to-school marketing tips for different industries below, based on statistics we gathered.
Back-to-School Marketing Tips for Any Business
Back-to-school spending is expected to total $37.1 billion this year, breaking last year’s record of $33.9 billion. Families with schooling children (K–12) plan to spend an average of $848.90 per family in 2021, while families with college students are at $1,200.32 per family.
This just means one thing—you need to amp up your retail marketing strategy. The following tips apply across all industries, regardless of whether you run a brick-and-mortar store, an online shop, or both.
1. Start Doing Promotions & Sales Early
According to NRF, 51% of families started shopping for back-to-school items earlier this year. As of early June, a quarter of back-to-school shoppers had already started browsing and buying school-related items online. This is up from 21% last year and 17% in 2019 before the pandemic. 61% planned their back-to-school shopping around big sale events like Prime Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day—up from 55% in 2019.
- Make sure your merchandise is on point to prepare for this and compete with big retailers like Amazon. You can look at your store history to check which items were bestsellers from last year’s back-to-school season using your POS or retail management system.
- Check your products’ price competitiveness to see how other retailers are pricing the same products you sell to give you an idea of what deals to offer. Use the data to map out your pricing and merchandising strategy. Learn how to price products strategically.
- Monitor rising retail trends to help you keep track of which items or promotions are trending so you can adapt.
- Announce your promotions and sale events ahead of time to garner attention online, and shoppers can plan. According to a study, 71% of US shoppers are willing to wait over two weeks before buying if they know of a sale, deal, or promotion.
2. Provide an Omnichannel Buyer Experience
Consumers prefer an omnichannel shopping experience, and this back-to-school season proves no different. According to Shopkick, 85% of US shoppers intend to use their mobile devices while shopping—from price comparison to item purchases. More than 50% check for in-store delivery online before going into the store. Moreover, 38% of consumers expect to take advantage of BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store) when available.
- Improve store pickup experience. Customers can shop online and come to the store to finish the transaction by paying in-person, availing of the buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS), or curbside pickup solution. If you do not offer this yet, learn how to set up click and collect for your retail store.
- Use local inventory ads aside from other local advertising ideas to promote store products for nearby customers. According to a Think with Google study, more than half (60%) of back-to-school shoppers still plan to do a portion of their shopping from small businesses this year. Invest in local SEO.
3. Add Social Media to Your Marketing Strategy
Deloitte’s back-to-school survey (2021) shows that 41% of back-to-school shoppers plan to use social media to assist in shopping. Shopping directly from social media platforms is becoming increasingly popular, but it is not the only reason why your retail store needs to show up more on social media.
For people who already use social media, 42% visit retailers’ social media pages to assess their products and get a sense of their brand’s personality and purpose—up from 30% in 2020. It is also a way to engage with customers, update them with the latest offerings, and show them how to use your products (through product photos or actual reviews from customers—social proof).
Back-to-School Marketing Tips for Ecommerce Shops
After a very challenging 2020, families have been looking forward to this year’s back-to-school season, even if only more than half of the students expect to return to in-class learning for the school year. However, even with the renewed enthusiasm to spend, it is most likely that pandemic-influenced shopping habits are here to stay.
What does that mean? More families (39%) still choose to shop online, compared to last year (37%), and searches for deals and promotions also start online, through devices such as smartphones (58%). It is the perfect time to develop ecommerce marketing strategies, along with several tips we outline below.
1. Ensure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly
Without a mobile-friendly store, back-to-school shoppers might not even know you exist. More people are choosing the convenience of shopping with their smartphones. Consumers find it easier to research products and price comparisons using phone apps, allowing them to make a corresponding purchase.
Here are some tips for upgrading your website to a mobile-friendly online store:
- Use a responsive design. This means your website content will look the same regardless of the device, browser, or operating system used by the customer’s smartphone.
- Keep both content and navigation features simple.
- Enable saved shopping carts for incomplete or abandoned checkouts. People who go about their busy day will complete a purchase if they can pick up where they left off in the buying process, regardless of whether they are using a different device.
- Add buttons that are easy to use with the thumb or index finger.
- Position your calls to action (CTAs) properly. Specifically, your add to cart button should be visible even on a small screen.
- Optimize your images so they are quick to load and avoid losing the customer’s attention.
- Accept guest checkouts. This helps minimize the instances of abandoned carts because customers prefer to complete the checkout stage as quickly as possible.
2. Offer Free Shipping for Back-to-School Items
Consumers nowadays expect free shipping, and sellers who offer it see higher sales and fewer dropped carts. If you don’t already provide free shipping, try offering it for a minimum purchase amount. This encourages buyers to increase small orders to receive free shipping, and you can market it in your back-to-school promotions. As you prepare for the rush, be sure that you’re getting the best rates on every shipment by using top shipping rate comparison software.
Learn how to offer free shipping on your products.
3. Display Back-to-School Products on Special Webpages & Menus
Create unique back-to-school landing pages on your site to highlight back-to-school features, specials, and discounts. Also, try adding special back-to-school categories to your store menu to help buyers navigate to the types of products they want and shop quickly. Add prominent links to these special sections from your homepage and blog and include them in email and social media marketing.
4. Use In-Cart Coupons & Dropped Cart Remarketing
Don’t let shoppers walk away from their online cart without a fight. Implement in-cart coupon pop-ups to encourage shoppers to complete their sale without leaving. If they do, use dropped cart pop-ups that offer even more savings or another incentive, like a gift, to entice wavering buyers to complete their purchase.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Bookstores & School Supply Stores
The pandemic brought a noticeable shift in spending for back-to-school essentials among families. However, more than half of US shoppers still intend to buy school supplies, with 24% expecting to spend the most money on it.
1. Include Safety Supplies With Your Current Offerings
With increased health protocols amid the pandemic, one area has also increased in demand—personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizers. Google’s Insights reports that more than a third plan to buy masks and hand sanitizers for their school children.
2. Start a Back-to-School Loyalty Program for Students
Although most shoppers during the back-to-school season include parents, students, and teachers, you should consider launching a loyalty program uniquely for students. Ensure your loyalty program is designed in a way that students receive more benefits than just discounts. This will make your program stand out and increase your chances of receiving customers through word-of-mouth.
Here are some perks you can offer as part of your student loyalty program:
- Give students a gift as a thank you token for their first purchase―a backpack, book, or folder, for example. Invest in a unique product you can find on marketplaces like Alibaba.
- Offer a monthly themed giveaway―like art supplies for art month―in exchange for collected points. Post a calendar of your themes every year to get your members excited.
- Hold an exclusive annual sale for your loyalty program members.
- Offer tickets to educational events in exchange for points or referrals. This can also include tickets to family movies and special access to book signings in your store.
- Give student members an additional discount for birthdays or birthday months.
While having a loyalty program requires a small investment on your end―offering discounts and free merchandise―it pays off in the long run. Parents and teachers will appreciate the life skills students will learn from this opportunity, and you’ll be able to build a solid customer base that will keep coming back to your store.
3. Create a Themed School Supply Bundle
Bundled products are a staple for retail marketing strategies, but sometimes, the idea is so repetitive that customers overlook them even with a good deal. Creating a theme is a great way to spice up your product bundles.
Here are some themed school supplies bundle ideas you can try:
- Create a variety of color schemes
- Group similar pop culture designs
- Partner premium items with complementary products
- Make use of packaging that students can recycle and bring to school
There are many ways to capitalize on themed school supply, bundle, and your ideas are limited by your creativity. Make sure you add variety and have something available for all school levels. Also, display them prominently and feature them in your store window, so they stand out from the rest of your products.
4. Hold Back-to-School Events With Other Local Businesses
Back-to-school season means summer is winding down. It’s a great time to hold an event when the weather’s still nice and people take advantage of the last few days of the break before school starts. This is a great way to gain access to a new customer pool, increasing the reach of people who will discover your business and might be interested in your products or services.
During this time, look around your area and see if there’s an establishment you can partner with for a back-to-school event. You can host a free ice cream night at a partner restaurant or work with a music venue to hold a concert. You can also consider giving your product freebies at high-traffic establishments such as restaurants, groceries, bookstores, and department stores.
5. Start a School Supply Drive
One way to get involved in your local community is to start a school supply drive. This is an opportunity to organically build your business brand, create recognition, and earn the trust of potential customers. Find a worthy school or organization in your area and start buzz over social media to help campaign for your activity.
There are several ways to start a school supply drive:
- Use your store as a hub where customers and employees can bring school supplies for children who don’t have access to what they need.
- Set up a donation box in your store where customers can read about your goal and provide a gift to help you reach it.
- Create a program in which your store donates a set of school supplies to children in need each time customer orders total a certain amount or more.
- Every customer who buys from your store will be able to donate automatically.
Make sure to involve your local community by creating a small event during which you give your accumulated donations to the recipient schools. Request feedback from the local community about your program or feature some of your donors in the event to make it more memorable.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Clothing & Shoe Stores
Most shopping decisions made during the back-to-school season depend on how good deals are. Since 60% of those who plan to shop expect to spend the most money on clothing and shoes, this is where parents and young adults are on the lookout for deals that give them the most for their budget.
1. Improve Your Loyalty Program Using a POS
Retail businesses are putting a focus on improving their loyalty program continuously to match customer expectations. This will allow companies to provide better benefits that will translate to more members and increase sales. To do this, retail business owners should look for a more customized loyalty program that customers want.
Vend is a retail point-of-sale (POS) system that includes customer management and loyalty software features, allowing retailers to build their custom program. Design a loyalty program that’s simple to manage and makes joining easy for your customers. Visit Vend today.
2. Sell Apparel That Is in Demand
Your available products must be ones that will interest potential customers. This means you need to find out which items are in demand and will most likely be bought. You can’t expect that the back-to-school products you had on display last year will be as popular again this year automatically.
Some tips to consider when evaluating your products are:
- Know local school requirements: Get accurate school supply, athletic gear, and uniform lists from your area school districts, and make your stock purchases accordingly. Nothing is more frustrating for parents or store owners than making returns because something didn’t match a school requirement. So, stick to the list to ensure your products are sold.
- Stock up on bestselling essentials: Don’t be afraid to stock up on basics and other fast-moving essentials when purchasing back-to-school stock. However, be wary of splurging on specialty or seasonal goods. Once the school rush is over, it can be hard to move things like locker decor and unicorn-emblazoned binders. Keep the fancy add-ons to a minimum and, if you notice them dragging during the rush, display them by your checkout with deep back-to-school discounts to move them out fast.
Many factors influence a customer’s buying decision, and you need to stay updated. This will help ensure that you have the right products on display and avoid losing customers to your competitors.
3. Create Smart Displays Using Strategic Product Layouts
Turn your power walls and other prime in-store real estate into back-to-school blowout displays that lure your customers in and entice them to buy. Maximize these key selling spots using tried-and-true retail store layout methods to keep your space organized and easy to navigate. Use must-buy essentials like uniforms and school apparel to draw buyers in, allow ample space for movement on busy days, and keep your impulse-buy areas well stocked with inexpensive add-ons.
4. Provide Special Discounts for Teachers
When it comes to back-to-school season, teachers need to prepare themselves as much as students, so retailers should not forget teachers in their target market. Teachers will also need to update their wardrobe with sensible and functional articles to help perform their duties at school.
However, unlike students, they might have different priorities and budgeting concerns that affect their buying decisions. This opens an opportunity for retailers to set themselves apart by giving special attention to teachers when offering discounts.
Here are some discount ideas you can try:
- Start a loyalty program that allows teachers to earn points for each dollar they spend; they can use them to save money on their next purchase
- Create a one-day exclusive sale for teachers during back-to-school season
- Offer special teacher discounts for customer referrals
Teachers appreciate shops that recognize their roles as educators. By providing them with exclusive discounts, you build a more extensive customer base and improve your company’s brand.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Electronic & Gadget Stores
The shift to digital technologies is evident, even in education. Forty-four percent admitted to buying fewer traditional school supplies because they are spending the same or more on online resources such as gadgets, educational tool licenses, and platform subscriptions—an increase from 40% last year. And shopping online is the preferred method for tech product purchases, with 35% buying from online-only stores.
1. Offer Financing, Repairs & Upgrades for Electronics
During the back-to-school season, parents may want to spend money on new technology. However, sending a kid to school is expensive without buying school equipment, so the latest electronics might not be first on their list of priorities. It’s a great time to offer customer financing to potential customers who can’t buy your products outright. Aside from increasing the number of visitors to your store, it can also increase the average purchase amount per customer.
Upgrades and repairs go hand in hand. If you offer upgrades, you end up with an older smartphone, laptop, or PC model that you can either refurbish or break apart for parts. This will allow you to also offer repair services as an additional income stream for your business.
2. Revamp Online Marketing Initiatives for Electronic Inventory
About one-third of back-to-school shopping is done virtually, making online marketing important in attracting business leads and generating revenue. For electronics and gadget retailers, this means making sure that product listings are up-to-date and descriptions are accurate. It also requires establishing a customer service strategy to serve your online customers better.
Here are some ideas on how electronic retailers can boost their online marketing:
- Market promos through eye-catching visuals and photos on your social media pages, such as Facebook and Instagram.
- Update your website homepage to display any visuals about your back-to-school promos.
- Choose a good customer relationship management (CRM) software in place to capture business leads. The back-to-school season often drives heavier than usual traffic to your website, and a CRM helps keep things organized. Use targeted lead magnet tools such as pop-ups, newsletter sign-ups, and contact forms on your website.
The end-of-summer season is an ideal time to reevaluate your online presence and spruce up your website before the busy season starts again. With so many students relying more on their gadgets to aid in their education, it won’t be difficult for business owners to find a way to market their products effectively to their target audience.
3. Capitalize on Back-to-School Sales Tax Holidays
Many states have sales tax holidays during the back-to-school shopping season. Maximize your sales on these busy shopping days by making it easy for shoppers to find tax-free goods. Do this by tagging eligible items or creating a sales tax holiday category to list tax-free products you sell. If you collect taxes in participating states, be sure to understand your state’s tax collection rules and adjust the tax collection function in your cart for each state accordingly.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Salons & Barbershops
Salons and barbershops see a moderate increase in business activity during the back-to-school season. Students and teachers are getting ready to look their best on the first day of school, while parents are treating themselves to a relaxing day of pampering once they get more time in their hands.
1. Offer Special Salon Loyalty Cards for Students
Motivate your young customers to keep coming back to your salon or barbershop by offering a loyalty program. Taking care of one’s hair can be expensive, so use this chance to show new customers that they can save a great deal by being loyal customers. You can hand out punch cards they can use toward a free hair grooming service in the future.
Look for innovative and creative loyalty card designs to make sure it stands out in your customer’s wallet. You can even opt for providers that will help you create virtual loyalty cards for your business.
2. Create Special Privileges for Parents & Teachers
Parents and teachers all want some time for themselves before or once the back-to-school rush is over. This makes for a perfect opportunity to offer special privileges that they will appreciate. Consider offering back-to-school hair supply products as an incentive for purchasing services of a minimum particular dollar value. You can even provide unique services like in-store childcare, makeover consultation, and other services that will make shopping easier for your customers.
3. Add an Online Appointment Scheduling System
With the back-to-school rush, many people don’t have enough time to plan a visit to the salon or barbershop. Sometimes, they just lack the patience to call for an appointment. This is where an online appointment scheduling feature on your website can come in handy. A quick online search will show you free-to-use appointment scheduling software options that you can add to your website.
Add an appointment calendar on your website that shows available times. Once you’ve shared a link to your website, all that your clients will need to do is visit and fill out a form to lock in their appointment schedule.
4. Brand Yourself as a Local Styling & Grooming Expert
Back-to-school season is a great time to remind your network that you’re a local expert. Collaborate with schools and other businesses to create an event that will show your expertise. Use this event to educate parents and teachers alike on handling issues like quick hair grooming for students on a budget or hairstyling tips for picture day.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Supermarkets & Convenience Stores
Food is an essential factor for back-to-school season. Parents are always looking for ways to motivate their kids to eat healthy while sticking to a reasonable budget. Unfortunately, this task is not easy, especially for busy adults with little time to arrange for homemade school snacks. This is where supermarkets and convenience stores should step in and meet customer demand.
1. Create Snack Bundles
It’s always a challenge for busy parents to provide the best snacks for their kids, so work on creating a marketing strategy to sell pre-bundled snacks that students can carry easily. The idea is to prepare snack packs so that parents don’t have to spend so much time browsing through aisles and save valuable time.
Some snack ideas to consider are:
- Cereal and milk snack packs for toddlers
- Fruit cups with drinks that are easier to pack and bring to school
- Single-serving salads
- Sandwich and chips combo
Be creative and add more value to your bundles. Include small packets of wet tissue, hand sanitizers, or clips that can seal packages of unfinished snacks.
2. Start a Cooking Demo
Another creative idea is to host a quick-cooking demo that focuses on students’ healthy snacks and lunch ideas. You only need a small booth within the supermarket to do this, or if you have some space outside, you can add chairs for your audience to sit in during your show. End the demo by distributing samples of your finished food products for tasting. This is a great way to collaborate with brands and feature their products.
3. Display Food Products Near the Checkout Line
In supermarkets, busy parents and impatient youngsters who are in line to pay for their purchases could abandon their items if they are waiting too long. Keep customers occupied by giving them access to product displays along the cashier line, and then wait in line seems shorter. Make your displays interactive and strategically place the signage so that you can motivate customers to add last-minute items to their cart.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Restaurants
Because back-to-school is the second busiest shopping season of the year, right behind the winter holidays, expect to find an influx of diners in restaurants. This is especially true if your eatery is located near shopping malls where back-to-school shoppers visit. Keep in mind that, as you plan your marketing strategy, other restaurants are doing the same, and you need to come up with more creative ideas to stand out.
1. Offer Food & Beverage Promos to Teachers & Students
Students usually have a limited budget, so discounts tend to carry more weight in their eating decisions. Leave a sign on your window to say that there are special discounts to students before and after school hours as long as they can present their valid school IDs.
You can also do the same for teachers or even give them their first cup of coffee for free. While these offers are small and simple, they make a big difference to students and teachers trying to make the most out of their limited daily allowances.
2. Offer Teacher & Student Discounts on Meal Deliveries
If your restaurant offers a delivery service, consider providing special discounts for students and teachers around your area. You can hand out flyers near the schools or even through short message service (SMS) marketing―sending promotions via text message. You should also consider creating an app that a young audience can easily download on their phones for free. Then, you can include marketing announcements and offer special event discounts directly to your subscribers.
3. Offer a Prepaid Meals Program
If you have a college near you, consider starting a prepaid meals program that you can market to parents. Students who have your store’s prepaid card can present it in exchange for a free meal, making it a terrific solution for parents who need assurance that their kids are eating well. Sell punch cards with different values that correspond to the number of meals parents want to prepay for their kids. To get leads, secure a mailing list from the nearby colleges or contact the school’s promotions department.
If you need a system that simplifies customer payment processing and makes it easy to give special discounts, consider Lightspeed POS. It allows you to apply dollar discounts to individual line items and create coupon items to subtract from an entire sales total. You can also design and print physical copies of the coupons with scannable barcodes that make processing easy for cashiers.
Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Gyms & Fitness Centers
Most people are optimistic about children going back to in-school learning as parents have some alone time before picking up their kids from school. For fitness centers, this can be an excellent opportunity to attract people to memberships and classes.
1. Give Special Discounts on School Opening or Offer a Yearlong Promotion for Certain Classes
Fitness centers and yoga studios can promote specific discounts, “buy 3, get 1 free” offers, or packages for certain time slots. This can be an enticing offer for parents to take classes while the kids are in school or get out extra energy that students might have once the year starts.
2. Teach a Fitness Class at a School
Dance or yoga studios that want to promote their business and help the community become more active can offer a free class at schools. With the current health protocols in place, virtual classes can be a great alternative.
3. Do a Fitness Challenge
A 30-day challenge at your fitness center, virtually, or even through social media is a great way to help customers reorient to a more structured schedule.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed families’ shopping habits and spending priorities, and it looks like pandemic-influenced shopping habits aren’t going away anytime soon. Retail businesses should capitalize on these trends—omnichannel experience, mobile shopping, and social commerce—by employing marketing strategies that build on the overall buyer’s experience with seamless transition from online to in-store purchasing.
The back-to-school season is a great time to increase revenue and build loyalty among both customers and employees. As this year shows that people like to shop earlier, we recommend planning and thinking outside of the box for marketing so that your business can take advantage of the second biggest spending season of the year.