Marketing & Growth

How to Sell to the Back-to-School Market

By Rieva Lesonsky

One of the most profitable times of the year for retailers is here: the back-to-school season. But back-to-school these days means more than just pencils, notebooks, and paper. Electronic devices such as laptops and tablets are a huge part of back to school shopping. And for college students—who make up one of the most profitable segments of back to school—there are housewares, dorm décor and more to shop for.

Think you’re too late to capitalize on back-to-school shopping if you haven’t already? Not at all. According to the 2015 NRF/Prosper Insights & Analytics Back-to-School Spending Survey, about 30 percent of shoppers will delay back-to-school purchasing until one or two weeks before school begins. That’s an increase from 25 percent last year. And, of course, there are the really last-minute purchases made after school has started, and the kids have seen what everyone else is wearing.

If you want to grab your share of the back-to-school market, here’s what you need to know.

  1. Don’t forget the college, kids In fact, you may want to make them a major focus of your marketing. In addition to clothing, school supplies, and electronics, there are personal care items and more to buy for students living away from home. A total of 52 percent of college students plan to live in student housing of some kind, and they’ll be buying décor and other accessories for their dorms or apartments. In fact, projected spending on housewares and décor is up 30 percent from last year, reaching a high not seen since pre-recession days. The average spending per college student family is projected at $899, compared to $630 for the average K-12 family.
  1. It’s all about the shipping Offering free shipping is a definite must, with 90 percent of back-to-college shoppers planning to look for free shipping before they buy. However, for those last-minute rush items, make sure you also offer a range of expedited shipping options such as next-day delivery (at a price, of course).
  1. Think omnichannel Both college students and K-12 parents like the idea of buying something online, and then being able to pick it up or return it at your store. If you have a retail store and an e-commerce website, you’re in good shape to offer the best of both worlds.
  1. Mobile matters Of course, if you’ve ever been around a college student (or K-12 kid, for that matter) you know they’re all about the mobile phone. College students in the survey say they’re planning to research and buy back-to-school stuff on their mobile devices while moms of K-12 kids are well known as massive mobile users. Whether you sell online or not, your business website must be mobile-friendly so consumers looking for back-to-school products can find you on the go. If you have a retail location, make sure it’s listed in local search engines and that your website is optimized for back-to-school keywords. Putting some money into online pay-per-click (PPC) advertising won’t hurt, either.

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