back-to-school hero

It is time for retailers to optimize their sites for the second largest shopping event of the year: back-to-school. In 2014, families with children in grades K-12 spent an average of $669.28 on school-related needs. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), this year parents will be more focused and frugal, spending an average of only $630.36. With this 5.8% YOY decrease, retailers will be wise to nurture parents through the buying process, being mindful that customers will more closely scrutinize each of their purchases.

Retailers wanting to optimize the back-to-school season, however, must act fast: 23% of parents have already started their back-to-school shopping. Retailers with online stores take note: nearly 36% of parents plan to shop online — up 15.6% from last year.

Just as parents form their own shopping strategy to score a win for their wallet, we’ve sourced the best tips for retailers to attract back-to-school traffic.

Build Momentum with New Product Releases

Children and teens are always in the market for the latest style or gadgets — especially in comparison to their peers. There is perhaps no better time to take advantage of this than back-to-school shopping, as parents and students have a reason to hit the stores.

Expand or update your product line to include fashionable merchandise for teens and college-aged shoppers. Clothes aren’t the only product line to look into, either. Tech accessories, for instance, are popular for back-to-school as kids look for new covers for phones, laptops and more.

Not sure how to scale your inventory or don’t currently have space? Consider a drop shipper or using a third-party supplier like Alibaba to increase your inventory while maintaining margins.

Be Present on Social

When it comes to social media advertising, be sure to put your effort in where it counts. Among adults ages 30-49, 73% use Facebook. This compares to 25% on both Twitter and Instagram, respectively.

Although maintaining a well-rounded social presence is vital for any business, consider putting most of your social media advertising dollars behind Facebook ads for the back-to-school season. Millennial moms multitask, browsing Facebook as they research products, reading product reviews and passing along insight to their fellow moms. Having a strong presence on Facebook through product posts and promoted ads will help you catch their attention.

Eco-friendly napkin seller Funkins uses research from mom focus groups and teacher interviews to craft their social media campaigns. This data is then used to plan ad targeting on each social channel.

“[We are] planning early and being responsive to data information in a timely fashion,” Lisa Baumgartner, Funkins founder, said. “We need to have an online presence in order to be visible when and where our customers are shopping.”

Let Your Customers Do the Talking

Speaking of moms on Facebook, don’t forget the significance of an honest recommendation from one parent to another. In an effort to efficiently spend your marketing budget, let your customers fuel word-of-mouth marketing through a giveaway. Everyone likes free stuff. And what better way to energize your fans while getting the word out about your brand?

This back-to-school season, create contests where entrants can win free products and discounts. Can’t take the hit this month? Offer customers discounts for the upcoming holiday season in exchange for a higher average order value. This will increase your repeat customer base as well as your customer lifetime value.

Appeal to the Idealists

This back-to-school season, appeal to your audience’s emotions through high-quality product photos. You don’t need to be a photography expert or even have professional equipment. If you have a smartphone, you’re good to go. As you pick images for landing pages and social ads, consider including people in your shots. Nothing appeals to a parent’s heartstrings like a Pinterest-perfect photo of a little one with a lunch box in hand, ready for their first day. Consider how Funkins uses pictures of children in a school setting for their marketing.


Resurface Product Videos

With back-to-school preparations keeping you busy, shooting and editing new product videos may not be at the top of your to-do list. That’s OK. Now is a perfect time to resurface old product videos and circulate them through your social media channels. Remember, 4x as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it. And, as you strive to reach the millennial crowd, posting a video on your favorite back-to-school trends is another opportunity to attract shoppers to your site. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 22% say they turn to YouTube to find out what is cool to purchase.

So, for sites gearing their back-to-school shopping toward a college-aged audience, YouTube is likely your best bet for reeling in customers with the highest order value.

Consider Shipping Incentives

Back-to-school is a great time to appeal to the 92% of shoppers who are hoping to save some money. For small businesses, free shipping offers are vital to competing with big box retailers like Amazon. While it may not be right for your business to offer free shipping all of the time, consider how it can help boost your sales during a competitive second-half. If margins are your main concern here, see if you can use some of the budget allocated to marketing for demand generation in order to offset the cost of providing free shipping. After all, according to a study by Synchrony Financial, 75% of shoppers say they are more likely to choose a retailer with free shipping.

Send Timely Email Nurtures

Direct email marketing can be a great way to reach your audience, especially if those emails contain valuable, useful content. Nobody likes spam, but everyone loves a good promotion. According to a recent study from Loyalty360, 59% of U.S. mothers would sign up for email updates if more prizes were offered. Take a look at a recent email from Yubo, maker of fun, eco-friendly lunchboxes, offering free shipping for early bird shoppers who spend at least $49.

Focusing their email offers on rewarding volume of orders, the retailer says, “We send out more newsletters within the back-to-school season than we do all year. We have many promos and discounts going on throughout the season.”

Identify with the Season’s Stress

Although the spending predictions may not be as high as 2014, retailers can use parents’ back-to-school planning to their advantage. More than 30% of parents plan to compare prices online before they make their purchases. Retailers will benefit from helping parents through the research process whether it’s through recommendations on your website’s landing page or product features on your social media channels. One idea to help parents through the busy season while affirming their desire to shop strategically is to publish back-to-school shopping lists. Point out the top trends and go-to items — all while featuring a few of your own products.

Also, utilize site search capabilities to make it easier for customers to locate items and add them to their cart. Nextopia can help many online stores set up this feature and have it ready to go just in time for the busiest part of the season.

Connect with Bloggers

When it comes to rethinking your marketing strategies for the back-to-school season, don’t underestimate the mommy bloggers. Bloggers can be one of the greatest tools for brand advocacy. Bridging the gap between your brand and the consumer, bloggers can help build trust and customer loyalty through personalized and positive reviews. And, believe it or not, bloggers want to help you, too. Five out of nine bloggers are interested in becoming spokespeople for brands.

While Twitter is a great resource to find bloggers, email is the traditional way to send a pitch. Take time to follow thought leaders in your industry and pick your bloggers to reach out to carefully. Then, do your research. Look into the types of blogs the writer has done in the past and gauge whether they were paid or voluntary. Hubspot suggests avoiding mass emails in favor of personalized messages.

Don’t Forget the College Crowd

Although school-aged children tend to be the focus of the season, it’s the college students that plan to spend the most money. While school-aged children yield an average of $630, college students spend upwards of $899. This translates to a total of $43.1 billion in back-to-college sales.

As you strategize for this millennial generation, brainstorm special promotions you can form around technology or dorm decor. For example, the International Council of Shopping Centers predicts a shift in technology sales with more students looking at tablets over laptops. Coordinate your product offerings with similar technology trends.

Catering to a student’s personal style will help guide them through the overwhelming process of college shopping. Target’s new Made for U College Styler, for example, analyzes shoppers’ social media profiles and delivers product suggestions based on trends in their posts. Instagram posts help suggest color schemes while Facebook likes feed the app with the shoppers interests.

Think like a Penny Pincher

As parents look to be as efficient as possible in their back-to-school shopping, remember that August is the time for many state’s sales tax holidays. Look up when your state’s days are and expect for frugal parents to do the same. Be prepared for an increase in orders on these days and consider offering additional promotions. Also, consider informing your customers through social media about these days — parents will love you for the reminder.

Feed the Trendsetters

Help your customers be the best-dressed on their first day. Stay up to date on the latest trends by reading parenting and teen magazines, especially if you are in the fashion industry. Google’s fashion trend report is another way stay on top of shopper’s wants and seasonal trends.

Don’t be Surprised by Latecomers

Although some students look to be the trendsetters, others hold back and wait for school to begin before they start shopping. Consider this akin to being a little bit tardy as kids get back into the habit of waking up early for class. Be sure, then, to prepare your inventory for both sets of shoppers. Once you have a good idea of what items are selling well, stay above the curve and maintain your stock for the late-comers.

How does your back-to-school strategy compare to our tips? Let us know in the comments below!