Back-to-school season is one of the most important sales events of the year for retailers. In fact, it’s the second largest driver of retail sales in the US after the Black Friday and Cyber Monday, making it a golden opportunity for retailers to boost their sales.
According to the National Retail Federation, 77% of back-to-school shoppers start buying school supplies at least three weeks before the start of the school year. So if you haven’t implemented a back-to-school strategy yet, it’s time to get started.
The majority of back-to-school shoppers plan to shop either online or in department stores. 55% of parents shopping for their K-12 children choose online shopping first, whereas 49% of college and graduate students start their shopping journey online. However, over 60% of back-to-school purchases are projected to be in store, versus only 19% online.
What do those stats mean?
The numbers indicate that customers typically research products online, then buy in-store. This is especially true for big-ticket items like laptops and furniture. Consider that the back-to-school market is valued at $82.8 billion in the U.S. this year. If you want a slice of that pie, you need a transactional website, plus social media marketing and promotions to incentivize them to shop in your store. Have you thought of creating promo codes for online shoppers who come in store? What about encouraging online purchasing with in-store pickup?
How do you take advantage of this trend?
The stats suggest that customers research which stores have the best prices online, then shop in-store. To take advantage of that trend, you need:
- A transactional website (meaning people can actually compare prices and buy products on it).
- A digital marketing strategy that gets new and existing customers on your website.
- Online promotions that incentivize customers to buy from you—online or in your store.
Before rolling out a digital marketing campaign, you need to know more about who your potential and existing customers are. Here’s how:
1. Research your potential and existing customers
Analyze data from customer surveys or—if you have an eCommerce store—with an analytics tool like Google Analytics. It’s free to create an account, and you can get information on everything from your audience’s age, gender, location, how they found your website, and much more. This information enables you to understand your audience, create customer profiles and create marketing campaigns and promotions that convert them into back-to-school (or simply loyal) customers.
Note: Once you create your Google Analytics account and connect it to your eCommerce website, it will then start to collect data from that point on. Any activity on your website from before that won’t be recorded or considered.
Our tip: Even if you don’t plan on using Google Analytics right away, open your account and connect it to your site anyway. Trust us, you’ll be happy you did! Because once you do plan on using it, all your data will have been collected and you can start putting that insight into good use right away.
2. Organize your customers into categories
Identify customer trends and group them into categories. You can group them by income, age, which social media platforms they use, or whatever makes the most sense for your business. This helps you easily differentiate your K-12 shoppers from your college and graduate customers, and create digital marketing campaigns and back-to-school promotions catered specifically to their needs.
3. Design marketing campaigns based on your chosen segments
For example, you could group K-12 shoppers into two segments: grades K-7 and grades 8-12. Why? Because typically students grades K-7 aren’t browsing online and shopping themselves, their parents are—you’re better off targeting the people with buying power. 57% of back-to-school online shoppers are hunting for the best deals. Try targeting parents with digital ads focused on low prices.
Remember that an estimated $21 billion in back-to-school purchases will be influenced by the child. In other words, if the child wants their parents to buy a product you sell, you need to convince the parents that your store is offering the best deal.
Kids grades 8-12 are a little more autonomous: they’re involved on social networks and sometimes have a source of income independent from their parents. You can target them on the online platforms they’re most active on, like Youtube, Pinterest, and Instagram.
College and graduate students make up for a large portion of Instagram and Facebook’s user base. They also have buying power. With 88% of people ages 18 – 29 using Facebook, and almost 60% using Instagram, it’s clear that targeting this demographic on social media is a smart move.
Note: Facebook lets you select who you target with ads based on age, gender, and other demographic information. You’re allowed to target consumers ages 13 and up.
4. Tailor your discount strategy to your customers
If you consider that 57% of back-to-school shoppers are discount-driven, offer your customers competitive discounts that make your store stand out as the best place to buy. Just like your marketing campaigns, any back-to-school sales or discounts you offer need to be based on the customer data your point of sale has collected. Targeted promotions appeal to each customer segments’ needs, which increases the probability that the promotion piques their interest and encourages them to buy.
Use any available customer information to inform your discount strategy. For example, you can analyze the purchase history of all your customers old enough to be in college or graduate school and discount the products they buy most during the core back-to-school shopping months. Find out what products they often tend to buy together and offer them as bundles with preferred pricing.
Aside from looking at your store’s sales data, you can also use data from leading industry research associations. For example, the National Retail Federation reports that 84% of back-to-college shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping. Why not take advantage of that insight and offer free shipping on back-to-school items for a limited time?
5. Make shopping in your store as easy as possible
Overcrowded aisles, long queues, out-of-stock items… Even the thought of back-to-school shopping can make customers avoid shopping in-store and looking for alternatives.
Give your customers the option to shop with you when, where and how they want by offering flexible and convenient buying (and delivery) options. Enable them to buy or reserve a product online and pick it up in store, for example. This is a great option for busy parents. They can order from the comfort of their home or at the office, then bring their kids to the store to try the products before committing to buy.
Understanding your customers is the key to back-to-school success
All retailers know that getting a customer’s attention during back-to-school season is tough. They’re getting bombarded with deals everywhere. To rise against competitors like Amazon and Walmart, independent retailers need to customize their products, marketing and promotions to their customers needs, rather than waste time and money creating campaigns and discounts based on assumptions.
The reality is that independent businesses have a smaller marketing budget than larger retailers. Use the customer data available to you to make sure that your marketing and inventory dollars are being spent in ways that maximize your return on investment.
Want to learn more about how to maximize your profits this back-to-school season? Check out this Facebook Live to learn how to predict the products customers want and develop marketing campaigns that deliver the best results.