Back-to-School Marketing: A Quickstart Guide for Businesses in the Industry

Back to school marketing

It’s the time of the season again when students get ready for yet another school year. Meanwhile, retailers are working hard to embrace the opportunity for a spike in back-to-school sales.

Undoubtedly, this back-to-school season will be more exciting than usual considering the global pandemic that led to shutdowns and irregular school schedules in the last few years.  

The upcoming season begs the question: How can retailers optimize their back-to-school marketing efforts and when should they start their marketing campaigns? To help, we’ve created a back-to-school guide with some actionable tips on how to market your campaigns, which trends to jump on, and how you can ultimately increase revenue. 

When do back-to-school promotions start?

With school start times varying from late August to early September, back-to-school promotions don’t begin on a particular date. Sales begin anywhere from mid- to late July, continue through August, and end in mid-September. 

Big brands like Apple start their back-to-school campaigns early. Taking a note from their playbook, it’s never too early to start planning for a season that comes around once a year. Depending on your supply chain, business processes, and capacity, it’s good practice to start preparing for the back-to-school season a few months in anticipation. 

Back-to-school marketing trends

  • A return to in-person learning
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Omnichannel shoppers
  • Supply chain disruptions

This year, a few trends have taken center stage, which will influence back-to-school efforts from everyone involved. Here’s a look at some of the biggest back-to-school trends to keep in mind. 

A return to in-person learning

For the past two years, schools have been running virtually, and they were also encouraging students to complete their classes online. This year is seeing a return to in-person learning.

What does this mean for retailers that carry back-to-school products? 

With the return to in-person learning trends, students will want to return to school with a bang. A survey from the National Retail Federation uncovered one-third of consumers, about 38%, are cutting back spending in other areas to focus on back-to-school purchases. 

The survey also shines a light on some telling stats:

  • Families plan on spending an average of about $864 on back-to-school expenses.
  • Families with college students plan on spending an average of about $1,199.

By preparing your shop with in-person and online back-to-school promotions, you position your business to capture more than $37 billion in expected back-to-school spending. 


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Economic uncertainty

Facing dual threats of inflation and recession has kept retailers and shoppers on their toes. No one knows what the future holds. However, both buyers and SMBs are preparing to face economic uncertainty. 

Interestingly, parents are still planning on spending plenty on back-to-school apparel and school supplies. This is in part driven by inflation driving spending to as much as 8%.

Still, this doesn’t mean offering budget-friendly options should take a back seat. Retailers can still find value in developing pocket-friendly alternatives to keep up with competition from huge online retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart. 

Omnichannel shoppers

With so many different ways to shop, buyers will be more likely to use a variety of mediums (in-person, mobile, or online) to find deals and stretch their dollars as much as possible.  

Though ecommerce giants like Amazon are set to absorb more than 80% of online back-to-school sales according to data from 2021, there’s still plenty retailers can do to create back-to-school promotions that are relevant and engaging. For instance, building trust and offering a positive customer experience can go a long way. 

💡 PRO TIP: Offering in-store pickup as a delivery method at checkout is a great way to get more online shoppers to visit your store. To get started, enable local pickup availability in Shopify admin to show online shoppers whether a product is available for pickup at one of your stores.

Supply chain disruptions

About 63% of retailers are expecting stockouts around the BTS season because of the ongoing effects the pandemic had on supply chains. This poses a problem for retailers that want to avoid empty shelves and a decrease in sales. 

However, about 46% of parents are thinking ahead and plan to purchase back-to-school bundles ahead of time.

With supply chain disruptions not likely to see a real solution for some time, retailers can think ahead for the current and upcoming BTS seasons by hopping on bundling trends and accepting preliminary orders.

💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS comes with tools to help you control and manage your inventory across multiple store locations, your online store, and warehouse. Forecast demand, set low-stock alerts, create purchase orders, know which items are selling or sitting on shelves, count inventory, and more.

9 back-to-school marketing ideas

  1. Host a giveaway
  2. Use social media to create engagement
  3. Offer future-use coupons
  4. Organize a photo or video contest
  5. Launch a BTS loyalty program
  6. Partner with a local organization
  7. Offer BTS kits
  8. Run a last chance sale
  9. Sponsor an in-school retail event

Consider a few back-to-school marketing ideas to ensure your customers know of any special deals and promotions long before the school year begins. 

1. Host a giveaway

Hosting a giveaway is another way to create excitement among your customers. A giveaway is a win-win situation for both parents and retailers. You get a chance to spread the word about your BTS deals and parents get a chance to win some BTS supplies. 

Successful retail giveaways can be done with the help of social media. The key is to create a contest compelling enough that it gets plenty of submissions and sales in the process. 

2. Use social media to create engagement

Parents are hanging out and socializing with other parents on social media. What better place to engage them with your best offers? 

Consider posting long before the school year starts about special deals or bundles they can purchase ahead of time. Learning to implement social media tactics can help increase sales. 

3. Offer future-use coupons

Offer discount coupons your customers can use for future school purchases. These coupons can be a helpful way to increase repeat sales, even after the back-to-school sales are over. It’s a good idea to learn the specifics of retention strategies to increase revenue. 

💡 PRO TIP: Sending digital receipts via email is a great way to organically collect customer contact information at checkout and build an email list to fuel your retention marketing. Just make sure they’ve opted in to hearing from you before sending them anything.

4. Organize a photo or video contest

Make your BTS campaign fun by hosting a photo or video contest. You can ask customers to post a photo or video on a particular back-to-school theme on their social media profile, tagging your account. Later, give a special award to the winner with the most likes and comments.

Read more about the 14 essential giveaways and contest ideas retailers can use to boost traffic and engagement. 

5. Launch a BTS loyalty program

Launching a customer loyalty program brings in repeat sales as well as new customers. You can offer different incentives and discounts as part of a customer loyalty program to increase customer satisfaction. Consider leveraging gift cards to start and grow a loyalty program.

📌 GET STARTED: Choose from hundreds of loyalty apps in the Shopify App Store and start rewarding shoppers for purchases they make both online and in-store.

6. Partner with a local organization

Shoppers generally want to show support for their local community. By partnering with a local organization by either sponsoring them or funding a local back-to-school initiative, you can increase awareness of your back-to-school promotions and ensure parents know of your deals. 

7. Offer BTS kits

Back-to-school kits are convenient and appealing to buyers looking to save money. 

You can package different items together and give special discounts on different back-to-school combinations. Consider bundling two of your most popular BTS items. Creatively bundling packages ensures you move inventory, increase basket size, and increase revenue. 

8. Run a last chance sale

Last chance sales can be an effective way to attract attention to any leftover inventory you want to move from your shelves. It also creates a sense of urgency amongst customers, since they might want to take advantage of those last-minute deals. 

9. Sponsor an in-school retail event

Partner with a local school and sponsor an in-school event with them. Checkout the complete guide of retail events where you can draw from several examples. 

Tips for successful back-to-school marketing campaigns

  • Create an omnichannel buying experience
  • Offer experiential retail in-store
  • Leverage social media
  • Secure inventory early

Use the following tips to supplement your BTS marketing efforts. 

Create an omnichannel buying experience

Along with offering high-quality products with competitive prices, discounts, and promotions, you also need to build an omnichannel buying experience for your customers.

To improve their shopping experience, you can provide a digital glimpse into your physical store and offer curbside pickup or contactless shipping. 

Whatever channels you use for marketing your brand, be sure to give the same message throughout each touchpoint, whether it’s a third-party marketplace, brick-and-mortar, or ecommerce. This will give customers the reassurance and confidence they need to shop from your store. 

💡 PRO TIP: Use Shopify POS email carts to recover abandoned store sales and ensure showroomers buy from you rather than competitors. Add items to customers’ virtual cart, send their wish list by email, and credit your store for making the sale—even if it happens online.

Offer experiential retail in-store

The back-to-school sales period is perfect for testing some experiential retail tactics in your in-person store. 

Creating BTS community campaigns, collaborating with different brands in-store, and hosting in-person workshops are some ideas you can use to engage with your customers.

Leverage social media

Social media can make your presence heard in a short time to a large number of people. And it’s one of the easiest ways to interact with your target audience.

You can use different social media channels to educate, engage, promote, and create awareness for your campaigns. For example, ask for feedback, organize giveaways, create polls, make videos, or collaborate with other brands to expand your social media reach to other people.

Secure inventory early

While it's essential to come up with creative marketing ideas, it's also necessary to back up your stock as early as possible with safety stock, because you never know when you will need the extra stock. Hence, it’s better to avoid the unexpected and prepare accordingly beforehand. Create a list of all the supplies you need, available to both in-person and online stores. 

Examples of back-to-school marketing campaigns

Check out some examples of back-to-school marketing campaigns for inspiration. 

American Eagle

American Eagle’s BTS marketing campaign draws on emotion and the idea of reuniting friends to capture young adult attention and draw in apparel sales. 

Much like AE, you can also use similar themes to encourage action. Drawing on the idea of reuniting students and their friends can be a powerful theme. In practice, this messaging can be infused into social media content leading up to schools opening. 

Clarks 

BTS marketing efforts don’t have to be fancy ads and highly produced video. Marketing initiatives as simple as hosting a coloring contest for children can help increase foot traffic.

As an example, Clarks posted an Instagram announcement spreading the word about their coloring contests. Parents can bring their children, have them color and submit their piece for a chance to win a gift card for back-to-school shoes. 

Kellogg’s

Kellogg’s back-to-school leveraged a special promotion to draw attention to its product. Once parents bought three promo Kellogg’s packs, they’d receive a personalized cover. 

Retailers can take note and draw inspiration for similar ideas. While you don’t have to go as far as personalizing products (though that is an option) offering a product or “perk” for free is a special offer is purchased can encourage additional purchases. 

Start preparing your back-to-school sales now

There’s no shortage of back-to-school ideas retailers can execute to increase sales and revenue. With some strategy and a bit of experimentation, it becomes easier to find what works for you store. 

Hopefully this guide highlighted some key insights and inspiration to draw from as you prepare your marketing strategy. The key is to prepare your back-to-school efforts with enough time in advance.

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