As the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” still lingers in the air, businesses are finalizing their back-to-class marketing plans. It won’t be long before back-to-school signs invade local stores, even though summer break has just begun. With back-to-school being the second biggest shopping season, combined with Amazon’s Prime Day in July, retailers are starting sooner with back-to-class sales.
In 2018, 1 in 4 households participated in some type of back-to-class shopping. Back-to-school and back-to-college spend were projected to reach $82.8 billion last year, which is more than what consumers spent on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day combined. Within that large number, back-to-college drove the majority of the revenue.
When Do Back-to-Class Consumers Shop?
With back-to-class promotions starting earlier, consumers are spreading their purchases out over the summer months looking for the best deals. A survey was taken by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics from the beginning of last August found that consumers had completed 51 percent of shopping for K-12 school supplies and 52 percent for college supplies. This leaves a significant portion of shopping to be done right before class is back in session and after school starts.
With the popularity of Amazon Prime Day, other retailers have jumped on board to offer sales, deeming this time frame Black Friday in July. This year, the biggest competition is expected to be seen from hot ticket products in the electronics and home goods categories. During this time, consumers will be online searching for products and looking for the business who is offering the best deal or willing to price match Prime prices.
What are Back-to-Class Consumers Purchasing?
Back-to-school shoppers are spending money on items in the categories of electronics, clothing & accessories, shoes, and school supplies. Back-to-college consumers are also buying those items, but their needs also extend to dorm or apartment furniture, personal care items, college-branded paraphernalia, and food supplies like snack items and beverages.
From the survey taken by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, most consumers had completed purchases related to electronics prior to school starting while the majority of consumers wait to buy school supplies like pens, pencils, and notebooks right before school starts.
Where do Back-to-Class Consumers Shop?
Even though the majority of back-to-class shopping will happen in brick and mortar stores, online shopping is on the rise. Income also plays a role in the type of place a consumer will shop at. According to a survey that Deloitte took last year, those with higher incomes are more likely to shop at a premier or specialty stores, while those with lower incomes will shop at price-base stores.
One thing to note about back-to-school shopping is that children are having a greater influence on the decision-making process. Especially in the categories of clothing & accessories and electronics. Also, each generation has its own shopping preference. Gen X and Millennials are more likely to shop at off-price stores than department stores. And the mobile-savvy Gen Z, that are heading off to college, enjoy online shopping with shipping directly to campus or curbside pickup.
What Does this Mean for Small-to-Medium Size Businesses?
With the back-to-class season starting early, it gives consumers time to research items they need to purchase. This means that your potential customer will be spending time online searching for specific items and comparing them to similar products, as well as looking for the merchant that is offering the best deal. Outside of making sure you have a mobile-friendly website; it will be important to show up in relevant online keyword searches. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) come into play.
While SEO helps with map and search engine results rankings, SEM sends pay-per-click ads to a user based on the keywords they are using. Having a strategy that combines both can be beneficial for any company to reach its target audience. Make sure your website is up-to-date, user-friendly, and has the necessary keywords to help boost search rankings for your back-to-class product(s). And create eye-catching ad copy so that users will click on your SEM campaign versus competitors. Don’t forget that targeted emails are a great way to send one last reminder about your deal. And remember that the subject line is the first impression to grab a recipient’s attention.
Create an Experience
But what if you can’t beat Amazon Prime or big box stores prices? We all know that when it comes to deep discounts, the small businesses end up putting their bottom line in jeopardy if they go too low. Instead of trying to compete by price, create an experience that will bring locals in. Work with local schools to see how your store can be that school’s preferred retailer of choice. Can many of the required school supplies be found at your store? Then look at bundling supplies together to reduce cost and make shopping more convenient. Or offer a discount if a shopper purchases 5 required school supplies from your store.
Look at creating contests and an in-store experience that supports the local school. Offer games or drawings that catches the attention of children shopping with their parents. The prizes can be various store discounts and/or gift cards, fun pencils or erasers, free crayons with a purchase of $30 or more, or the school’s t-shirt or sweatshirt.
Make Online Shopping Convenient
If your business has an e-commerce site, look at offering free or expedited shipping. Does your business have a location near a campus? Then let customers buy online and ship to the local store by their school. This helps with packing and freeing up space in a parent’s or student’s vehicle. Besides, they may need to purchase last minute items once they are on campus and if they are already headed to your store, they will be more likely to purchase those items there.
With back-to-class shopping going on throughout the summer, it is important to get in front of your target audience while they are online researching products and looking for deals. You don’t have to gouge prices to drive traffic to your store. Instead look at creating an in-store experience with contests, connecting with local schools or making shopping more convenient by bundling school supplies together.