Back-To-School Shopping Guide For eCommerce Brands and Retailers

As the summer sun gradually sets, the familiar buzz of excitement and anticipation fills the air (unless your child really dislikes school). It's that time of the year again – back-to-school season. Filled with pencil cases, rucksacks, and new shoes, it’s the perfect time to reset for the year ahead. 


For retailers, this period represents a golden opportunity to boost sales, connect with customers, and leave a lasting impression. To make the most of this time, it's essential to have a comprehensive back-to-school strategy that equips you with the right tactics and insights. We'll explore when the back-to-school shopping season starts, tips to sell more during this season, and address some common FAQs that retailers might encounter. School might be out for summer, but for retailers, the fun is just beginning…


When does back-to-school shopping begin?


Back-to-school shopping traditionally kicks off during the summer months, typically between July and August. According to Business Wire, 35% of shoppers will have started their shopping before the end of July. Families begin preparing for the upcoming academic year by purchasing essential items like school supplies, backpacks, clothing, and electronics. While the exact timing may vary depending on the region and school calendar, retailers should be ready to roll out their back-to-school marketing campaigns in late June to early July to catch early-bird shoppers.


From a stats perspective, Gen Z has the most intent to shop, with 77% looking for school or university supplies - although not far behind are 76% of Millennials and 74% of Gen X. Don’t forget, different demographics need different targeting strategies, especially those buying for their children or buying for themselves.


Tips to sell more during the back-to-school season


Inventory management: Before your marketing strategy can even begin, inventory management should be first on your list. Review last year’s stats and data to offer predictions of what was popular (and unpopular), as well as keeping an eye on trending products from your competitors. If you don’t stock enough, you risk losing out on sales and gaining new customers - but overstocking can leave you with surplus products that no matter how much you discount, you just can’t shift. It’s a fine art that takes time to master. 

Create themed displays: Design eye-catching and engaging in-store displays that revolve around the back-to-school theme. Organise products by categories, making it easier for customers to find what they need quickly. Utilise vibrant colours and decorate with school-related elements to evoke nostalgia and excitement. Even if someone isn’t going back to school, they might still ‘reset’ in September. Nostalgia can help drive sales around this time regardless of circumstances. 

Bundle deals and offers: Put together attractive bundle deals that combine popular school items at a discounted price. For example, offer a package containing notebooks, pens, and a backpack at a reduced cost compared to buying each item separately. This encourages customers to maximise their savings, whilst getting everything they need in one go. These savings are likely to encourage shoppers to browse further items and potentially purchase. 

Leverage digital platforms: Embrace the power of online advertising and social media marketing. Utilise targeted ads on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and search engines to reach your desired audience effectively. Engage with your online community by hosting back-to-school contests, polls, and giveaways to create buzz and interest. Don’t forget to research where your audience is engaging online. Even if channels are less familiar to you (TikTok for example), ignoring them can lead to you missing out on potential customers. Encourage customers to tag you in back-to-school pictures on social media - this could be part of a competition. Utilising a relevant hashtag can help you discover these images easier. Just ensure you have permission from parents to repost. 

Back-to-school shopping events: Organise special back-to-school shopping events, either in-store or virtually. Collaborate with local schools or universities to create a sense of community involvement. Provide interactive activities for kids and offer discounts to parents during the event. You could also get influencers and celebrities involved to help create more of a pull. Think parent bloggers or celebrities with children who already work with brands that promote similar products. 

Personalisation and customisation: Offer personalised products or services to cater to individual needs. For instance, allow customers to customise their backpacks with names or initials. Personalisation enhances the emotional connection with the product, making it more likely for customers to make a purchase. Don’t forget this for marketing purposes too. Email marketing is an effective way to reach your target audience - and personalising emails with names and relevant discounts can help engage further. 

Highlight sustainable products: Today's consumers are increasingly conscious of the environment - as they should be. Showcase eco-friendly and sustainable back-to-school products, such as recycled paper notebooks or environmentally friendly backpacks. Demonstrate your commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. Parents might crave quality, but with many Millennials and Gen Z becoming parents, they’re focused on saving the planet for their offspring. 

Reward loyalty: Implement a loyalty program or offer exclusive discounts to returning customers. Rewarding loyalty not only maintains customer retention, but also encourages word-of-mouth marketing as satisfied customers share their positive experiences with others. This might be a loyalty card or app that consumers can scan each time they shop.


FAQs for back-to-school shopping for retailers


What are the essential back-to-school items that retailers should stock up on?

As a retailer, it's crucial to have a diverse range of back-to-school essentials, including notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, calculators, binders, and school uniforms. Additionally, electronic devices like laptops and tablets are increasingly popular for older students. And as AI and other tech matures, younger, school-age students also require tablets and Kindles. These items are likely to be bought throughout the school year (and not just by students/parents), so good to have in stock. 

What are some creative ways to market back-to-school products?

Get creative with your marketing by leveraging social media, hosting back-to-school-themed events, and partnering with influencers or educational bloggers to promote your products. Utilise visual content like videos and infographics to engage your audience and communicate the value of your products effectively. 35% of back-to-school shoppers use social media to discover new products and buy them, so if you’re not taking advantage of these channels already, you should be. 

How can retailers make the checkout process smoother during the busy back-to-school season?

Streamline the checkout process by ensuring that your POS systems are efficient and can handle increased traffic, as well as your website. Offer multiple payment options (including buy now, pay later), including contactless payment methods, to cater to different customer preferences. Consider implementing mobile checkout stations to reduce wait times. 

What role does customer service play during the back-to-school shopping season?

Exceptional customer service is paramount during the back-to-school season. Knowledgeable and friendly staff can assist customers in finding the right products and answer any questions they may have. Remember that positive shopping experiences lead to customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth referrals. This works online too. Having a live chat function on your website can provide parents and consumers with instant information. Encouraging reviews after a purchase has occurred via email marketing is another way customers can provide feedback, helping you improve the customer experience.


Final thoughts

Consumers want to be in control. This means shopping early for great back-to-school deals, looking for eco-friendly options, and being able to buy everything in one place. This presents a prime opportunity for retailers and eCommerce brands to maximise sales and connect with consumers. By starting early, promoting strategically, and implementing creative marketing techniques, retailers can make the most of this time of year. By focusing on customer needs, offering valuable products and services, and providing outstanding customer service, you can leave a lasting impression and ensure a successful back-to-school shopping season. Pencils at the ready - it’s time to take back-to-school shopping back to basics.