With kids and young adults all over the nation returning to school and college, now is the time to take advantage of what the National Retail Federation estimates will be $83.6 billion in spending.
“The back-to-school season is the second-largest retail season in North America," says JB Brokaw, president of the North America division of Sociomantic Labs, a programmatic ad solution that helps marketers reach individual consumers based on real-time and first-party data.
“To capitalize on back-to-school season, the key is to be on top of consumers' minds throughout the season," says Brokaw, who notes that the back-to-school season generally runs from June through August, with a spike before Labor Day and some sales through September.
"Fall often feels like a fresh chapter for adults and kids," adds Todd Grossman, CEO of Talkwalker, a social media analytics platform. “Consumers are looking for bargains, but most accept they're going to spend some money during this season."
To help you determine where you might want to focus your last-minute marketing efforts to take advantage of back-to-school shopping, consider the following pointers.
1. Broaden your vision of back-to-school season.
“Back-to-school season is more than backpacks and binders," says Brokaw. "Many brands can now capitalize on the season, including electronics companies—kids are using smartphones, tablets and laptops at a younger age—and grocers, who see sales from the college-bound."
Rhonda Allison, founder and CEO of Rhonda Allison Cosmeceuticals, agrees.
“Identify how your service or product could benefit customers at this time of year," she says. "We provide aesthetic professionals with products, treatments and marketing and educational materials for their customers—teens and their parents. Teens want to know how to clear up their skin quickly, so we focus on express treatments and home systems. For mothers, we suggest playing up rejuvenating 'me' time."
2. Engage with your audience ahead of time.
“As with any holiday shopping season, it's essential to keep in mind how consumer habits have evolved thanks to technology," says Brokaw.
—Todd Grossman, CEO, Talkwalker
“Many shoppers spend significant time researching items online before stepping into a store. When they do arrive, they have a good idea of what they want. We recommend starting online prospecting and branding campaigns early to reach customers even before parents begin researching and purchasing school items."
3. Target “late" shoppers.
If you haven't started early, you can still catch back-to-school season shoppers, believes Jonathan Cherki, CEO of ContentSquare, an experience optimization platform for online and mobile businesses designed to help increase conversions.
“The back-to-school shopping period starts with people buying because they need supplies and transforms into shoppers purchasing because they're excited about going back to school with unique items that will differentiate them," says Cherki.
ContentSquare's data science team recently completed a back-to-school shopping study that analyzed 40 million site visits and more than 460 million page views across mobile devices and desktop platforms from more than 1 million customers.
“Our study found that people continue to shop well after sales are over, and the items bought later in the season generate a 37 percent higher cart value than books and school supplies and have 75 percent more page views than the latter," says Cherki. “Shopping becomes emotional and shoppers are less focused on prices and more on products."
To capture these late buyers, Cherki recommends offering related and recommended products during every step of the customer journey and creating a sense of urgency during transactions. “For example, showing the actual stock available can act as a big conversion booster," he says.
4. Focus on the digital buying experience.
Though a majority of shopping will occur in brick-and-mortar locations this back-to-school season, National Retail Federation data found that 46 percent of shoppers plan to shop online.
Mobile is an increasingly popular shopping option. “The average American is connected throughout the day via mobile. This translates into an incredible opportunity for businesses to engage with customers where they are most," says Brokaw.
“Mobile is especially effective at driving brand awareness for advertisers," Brokaw continues, "especially as many individuals prefer to research products while they're on the go. In addition, as screen sizes get larger and companies improve their mobile web and/or in-app user experiences, more individuals are making purchases from their mobile devices."
Cherki agrees. “With traffic on mobile growing exponentially, businesses will do well to have a seamless mobile-first strategy, for prospecting and completing the buyer's journey. Focus on simple check-out processes with less screens and clicks needed to complete transactions."
5. Advertise your back-to-school offers on social media.
“Social media is buzzing about the start of a new school year," says Grossman, whose company's 1,500 servers process posts from 150 million websites each day. “Join the excitement in a targeted way by providing customers with some guidance that makes you a resource as well as a supplier, such as 'dorm style guides' or 'essential school supplies' lists."
You could also get attention by plucking at heart strings with a touching story about a child going back to school.
6. Remember Generation Z.
“This year, Generation Z—those born between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, which is the first generation of digital natives—has reached shopping age, and their behavior and demands are unique," says Cherki.
“We've found that Generation Z wants and expects digital experiences beyond the ordinary, while at the same time simplified customer journeys that feel completely seamless," he says. “Businesses have less than five seconds to capture their attention, but if they get it right, they'll win big, because Generation Z converts twice as much as the rest of the population."
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