Summer is approaching, and with it back-to-school shopping. Make no mistake about it, back-to-school shopping is big business. According to the NRF, back to school spending in 2019 topped $54.5 billion, or $976.78 per household.

This year, many online retailers are hesitant to invest in back-to-school campaigns. They wonder if school will even open, and whether a second lockdown is coming.

Here’s the reality: Children will continue to outgrow their clothes, and classroom instruction, even if it’s virtual, will still require school supplies, books and electronics. These are the items that account for the bulk of back-to-school shopping, and parents will open their wallets for them.

As an online merchant, back-to-school shopping is always an opportunity to win new customers, and build long-term relationships with them, but there are some challenges you’ll need to overcome, beginning with the timing of campaigns.

Timing

Timing for back-to-school marketing is enormously complex for many reasons. To begin, The start of school varies by region, and within the US spans more than a full calendar month. For instance, for students of the Chandler Unified School District in Arizona, school begins on July 22, 2020, whereas in New York, September 5 marks the first day of school.

For this reason, back-to-school campaigns should be rolled out in phases. Parents in the South will shop in earnest beginning in late June and early July, just as parents in the north are shaking off the remnants of the previous school year (the last day of school in New York is June 26!).

In regions where school begins after Labor Day, many families head to the beach the last week in August. High out-of-office rates means the week leading up to the start of school less ideal for some categories.

Adding to the complication, the academic calendar at the college and university level begins earlier than most public schools, making July the better time to market apparel and supplies to coeds.

According to data from Deloitte’s 2019 Survey of back-to-school shoppers, the sweet-spot for online shopping is the first two weeks in August. But again, parents who live Arizona will have already stocked up so it’s probably wise not to spend your media budget targeting them in August!

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic may add new wrinkles. Bloomberg News reported that fear of shortages have parents worried about shortages, and will begin their shopping earlier than ever.

For 84% of shoppers Amazon Prime Day marks the launch of back-to-school shopping however that won’t be the case this year. Amazon has pushed back Prime Day due to the pandemic. Some say it won’t occur until sometime in September. This actually provides you with a good opportunity to nab some of those purchases.

The bottom line: Unlike the Holiday Season which is set in stone, the lucrative back-to-school shopping season occurs in stages, and is geographically dependent.

What Parents Buy

In 2019, the NRF predicted that K-12 families would spend an average $239.82 per household on clothing and accessories, $135.96 on shoes, and $203.44 on computers, calculators and phones.

Age GroupProducts of InterestRole in PurchasePrecipitation Purchase
Children (age 6 – 10)
  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
InfluencerSchool Prep
Tween
  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Electronics
Influencer
  • School Prep
  • Peer Influence
Teens
  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Electronics
  • Computers
  • Décor
Influencer/Purchaser
  • School Prep
  • Peer Influence
Coeds
  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Computers
  • Furniture
  • Room Décor
Influencer/PurchaserMoving to School

Age Group

Children (age 6-10)

  • Products of Interest

  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Role in Purchase

  • Influencer
  • Precipitation Purchase

  • School Prep

Age Group

Tween

  • Products of Interest

  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Electronics
  • Role in Purchase

  • Influencer
  • Precipitation Purchase

  • School Prep
  • Peer Influence

Age Group

Teens

  • Products of Interest

  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Electronics
  • Computers
  • Décor
  • Role in Purchase

  • Influencer/Purchaser
  • Precipitation Purchase

  • School Prep
  • Peer Influence

Age Group

Coeds

  • Products of Interest

  • Books
  • School Supplies
  • Apparel
  • Computers
  • Furniture
  • Room Décor
  • Role in Purchase

  • Influencer
  • Precipitation Purchase

  • Moving to School

Where Parents Shop

According to NRF, K-12 families spend most of their back-to-school budget at department and discount stores such as Walmart and K-Mart, or online. Amazon, with its Prime Day, grabs a big chunk of the budget.

But as we said, parents may opt to avoid shopping in big box stores, and Amazon Prime Day appears to be in disarray, so back-to-school 2020 may be a unique opportunity for smaller retailers to win new customers.

In terms of college, the NRF predicts that most shopping will occur online, as 85% of college shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping), followed by department and discount stores. Obviously college bookstores will be a primary source for many school supplies.

Strategies for Winning Back-to-School Sales

  • Think mobile. The Deloitte 2019 Back-to-School Shopping Survey found that 60% of consumers plan on using smartphones for their shopping, while just 42% plan on using desktop or laptops. Mobile users rely on their phones to get pricing information, collect discounts, and obtain coupons or sale information. Therefore a mobile campaign is table stakes for winning new customers.
  • Loyalty programs. Consider a loyalty program just for students, as Fit Small Business recommends. Rather than give away discounts, Fit Small Business recommends tactics such as holding an exclusive annual sale for loyalty members or offering tickets to educational events in exchange for points or referrals.
  • Smart content. Help parents with kids experiencing big changes — starting kindergarten, entering high school or going off the college — with shopping guides and checklists. Not only will this help you boost AOV, it can also be part of a smart SEM campaign as parents Google, “what does my child need for high school.”

Don’t Hold Back on Your Back-to-School Marketing

It’s tempting for business owners to assume that it’s wise to cut the marketing budget during a recession but the data says otherwise. Do you know what these 13 massive companies — including GE, GM and IBM — have in common? They all launched during an economic downturn. When no one else is advertising, there’s room for smaller and new retailers to be noticed and grow. Filling the void in advertising was how Post Cereal was able to grow its brand during the Great Depression.

Right now we have a unique opportunity: Advertising is cheaper now as major players stopped their campaigns. Think about it, the world’s biggest advertisers — airlines, travel, hospitality, department stores, sports franchises — have pulled their marketing budgets, leaving a void.

On top of that, fear of crowded spaces means consumers are spending more time online. This is your opportunity.

How Ziffity Can Help

Ziffity has considerable expertise in digital marketing, and can help you design, launch and execute your back-to-school campaigns.

Our digital marketing campaigns are the last mile runners in getting your ecommerce store and brand story conveyed to your target audience. From organic search to content marketing and paid ad campaigns, our strategies are aligned to the four fundamental principles of marketing: attract, engage, convert and sustain.

Services include:

  • Organic Search
  • Ad Campaigns
  • Social Media mgmt
  • Mobile Ads
  • Content Marketing
  • Email Campaigns

Ready to get started? Get in touch today.