Haven’t quite yet gotten ahead of launching your back-to-school promotions? Good. Data from the National Retail Federation suggests parents are strategically waiting until the last minute to buy back-to-school goods –– looking for deals and discounts.

And, according to a BigCommerce survey, parents spend 61% more online per year as well as 75% more time searching for online products per week than non-parents. These two data points suggest that while parents are spending more online than average shoppers, they are also browsing for the best deals before converting.

Convenience plays a heavy role for parents as well –– the vast majority of whom use Amazon before independent websites for online purchases. The appeal of one-stop shopping addresses both shipping cost concerns and the play on convenience, allowing parents to buy all items they need from a single site and receive the goods within a specified, and trusted, timeframe. Plus, Amazon often promises parents the lowest possible price.

Parents Plan to Get Savvy with Back to School Back to College Spending National Retail Federation

In all, capturing back-to-school sales from frugal, time-crunched parents is an exercise is empathy –– and in a changing commerce environment.

“A strategy of just a banner ad does not fully embrace the shift that mom and dad have made to all forms of digital content, whether they be mobile gaming, extensive video consumption and overall the propensity they have for doing mobile shopping,” Rubicon Project’s chief communications officer Dallas Lawrence said in an interview with AdWeek. “Smart brands are going to be embracing a very comprehensive advertising strategy over the next two months to capture the billions of dollars these parents plan to spend online and on mobile getting their kids ready for school.”

Below are 13 tips on how to win back-to-school shoppers to boost your sales before the holiday rush.

Build Momentum with New Tech Products

The number one thing parents are buying for their kids for back-to-school? Technology.

We’re not just talking college-bound kids getting new computers or those in Calculus I needing a calculator. Half of parents of students who are in kindergarten to eighth grade plan on shopping for tablets.

If you sell electronics, back-to-school is a great time to be strategic with your incentives and offer special deals. If you are in a related industry, consider offering promotions around electronics, such as a discount on cell phone cases or free customization for laptop bags.

It isn’t a bad idea for any store looking to increase profits around back-to-school to invest in a dropshipper or use Alibaba to source new inventory and gain loyal customers. To do so, integrate a dropshipper or a sourcing agency –– like Alibaba –– within your backend and populate your store with available electronics or electronic accessories.

You could also work with other retailers to source these items. Consider working with brands like Son of a Sailor, which offers these goods through wholesale relationships with other retailers. This is a craftier way to source products for your site, and a good way to give back to the independent maker and store owner community.

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Keep in mind that with a dropshipper, you will lose control over your branding when it comes to packaging. This might be worth the loss, though, if you can gain enough profits and repeat customers from the back-to-school season.

For sourcing agencies, you will need to house the inventory yourself, but will be guaranteed on product quality and timing of shipping from the supplier. Plus, you will have final say on your shipping, branding and overall delivery experience.

All three of these options are great ways to expand your inventory, test out new product options and overall scale your operations. Just be sure to think through your current capabilities and business growth needs in order to choose the option best fit for your firm.

Be Present on Social

You’ll want to prepare for success and lay some groundwork to ensure a successful back-to-school shopping season. Start by extending your social media reach by promoting your accounts with a paid promotion campaign. Grow your followers now so that your brand can go into competitive shopping seasons with a larger and more engaged audience. Then, use your social accounts to nurture shoppers through the back-to-school rush by sharing useful content such as shopping lists or product-specific discounts.

“Every business touches back to school in some way, even if it’s simply that your customer or clients have kids.” says Erik Qualman, a #1 best selling author and motivational speaker. “If you can find something that resonates with everyone that can tie back to what you do, that is gold. For example if you are a spa, message out: ‘It’s his first day of school and he dropped his new iPad in the toilet. It’s time for some Mommy Time. 30% off all Spa Treatments Moms. #BackToSchool.’”

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. Instagram and even Snapchat are gaining in popularity, but Facebook still wins out due to its highly-targeted ad network as well as Shop section. If you had to only choose one, Facebook is likely the social media platform to provide the biggest return on investment.

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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 and launching your Facebook Shop section. 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.

“There are so many things that mid-market retailers can do to attract back to school shoppers on social media, such as launching an influencer marketing campaign, creating creative Snapchat geofilters, creating a fresh Instagram campaign, or utilizing Facebook Live or Periscope to get the word out via livestreaming. These are all organic activities that mid-market retailers should be doing on a daily basis. The one thing that trumps all of these –– and will continue to do so –– is leveraging paid social in a very targeted way.

Most of the social networks offer advertising platforms with very sophisticated targeting capabilities. From retargeting website visitors and those in your email marketing list to reaching out to new targeted social media users, there is no better way to get the word out about your back-to-school specials to your past and present customers as well as a relevant lookalike audience that has the potential to be your new customers through targeting them via very creative visual advertisements, using both photo and video.

The additional benefit of doing so is that the ROI of your back-to-school campaign can be clearly calculated, and any gains made in social media will carry over to augment your current community, giving your company lasting benefits to come.

–– Neal Schaffer, CEO, Maximize Your Social

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.

Remember, back-to-school shoppers are looking for deals. Any way you can gamify the shopping process, add discounts for higher order value or decrease shipping costs, the most likely you are to win the sale.

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 compete with big box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target.

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.

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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.

“Influencer marketing can be your best friend to target back to school shoppers and engage them through those who already have their eyeballs –– and attention,” says Shama Hyder, CEO and founder of The Marketing Zen Group. “Any client we’ve launched an influencer marketing campaign for has seen double digit growth. The key is finding the right influencer and then working with them strategically for maximum impact.”

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.

A great tool for finding influencers in your industry is BuzzStream Discovery. You can sort your search by number of followers, timeframe in which they last posted about your industry niche, website domain and more.

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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 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.

Remember, too, that the lowest price doesn’t always win and the last thing you want is to get stuck in the middle of a pricing battle that can hurt your margins. Instead, focus on your unique selling proposition or brand positioning. Think about what makes you different from your competitors and use that to your advantage. For online retailers, this could mean excellent customer support, free shipping, fast delivery or exclusive product offerings.

“Be sure to use the keyword phrase ‘back to school’ in all appropriate product titles and descriptions. Some other relevant phrases are ‘back to school clothes,’ ‘back to school outfits,’ and ‘back to school supplies,’ says Danna Crawford, Founder and CEO of PowerSellingMom.

“Also, little things can mean big sales. Offer a free pack of #2 pencils with purchase! Or, have lots of smaller items ready to sell as add-ons. You’d be surprised how easily a $19.99 purchase becomes a $49.99 purchase!”

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.

As students flock back to shops, both on and off-line, you’ll want to be sure you have what they are looking for.

If you are running low on stock or inventory based on the current trends, try out different sourcing options. Again, dropshipping or third-party sourcing through Alibaba may not be your ideal long-term solution, but it can help to provide enough metrics for your business to made a data-driven decision to onboard those items as part of your overall business strategy.

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.

Be Mobile First

As with all modern ecommerce initiatives, make sure your campaigns are mobile-friendly.

“Be sure to use mobile to reach back-to school shoppers,” says Rieva Lesonsky, CEO and President of SmallBizDaily. “A study from AOL shows:

  • 73% of shoppers research products on mobile devices
  • 66% use mobile coupons
  • 61% read product reviews on mobile
  • 55% compare prices on mobile devices

This study is two years old, and we know mobile usage has increased!”

In all, to reap the rewards of back-to-school shopping, you need to start early, appeal to your target audience and make sure to bundle items as much as possible in order to beat out the offerings by your competition. Back-to-school sales can also help as you begin to strategize around your holiday promotions. Anything you do now to impress customers will likely be a reason for them to come back when holiday shopping begins.

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