Retailers look forward to two seasons every year: the holiday season and the back-to-school season, and this year's back-to-school buyers are on par to spend mightily. Depending on the statistic source, spending numbers are expected to reach record levels.
Deloitte recently published its 2019 back-to-school survey, which polled a sample of 1,200 parents of school-aged children, and reported that spending is expected to reach $27.8 billion for this season, with parents spending an average of $519 per child. Numbers out of the National Retail Federation [NRF], though, are even loftier. The NRF projects the combined spending for those heading into grade school and college will reach a whopping $80.7 billion this year. What's more, the NRF estimates households with grade school students will spend $696.70 this year and households with college students will shell out $976.78—both numbers are the highest ever recorded by the NRF.
Are you a business owner looking to take advantage of the back-to-school season spending splurge?
If so, here are a few strategies to help your chances of netting more sales.
1. Optimize your website.
“A lot of websites see an increase in traffic during back-to-school season, but the traffic isn't enough if your website isn't optimized," says Irena Zobniów, co-founder of Insightland, an SEO consultancy based in Poland. “Maybe your shopping path is too long, your payment process is broken or your page speed isn't fast enough. Whatever you do, go through your website like a customer would and fix everything that isn't working perfectly."
Zobniów's advice is backed up by Deloitte's research, which quoted one respondent as saying, “If I have to search more than 10 seconds, I move onto another store."
Deloitte reports 2019 will be the first back-to-school season where shoppers are more likely to buy using mobile devices vs. desktops/laptops, making it all the more important to make sure your website is also optimized for mobile.
Zobniów also recommends businesses create additional content to inspire customers to spend more time on websites. “For example, try creating a short content sidebar on your site that lists the top 10 products to buy for back-to school," she says. “Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What advice do they need right now?"
2. Utilize brand ambassadors.
When going after college students, in particular, it pays to think differently about advertising, says Rich Anand, founder and COO of New York City-based Evolvez Agency, a consultancy that helps brands cater specifically to that demographic.
“Everyone in Gen Z uses ad blockers; they don't pay attention to traditional advertising," he says. “This generation is more interested in word-of-mouth marketing and peer-to-peer interaction."
Anand helps his clients (many of them major brands) spread the word by utilizing brand ambassadors—i.e. college students with large Instagram followings—to host in-person events and online campaigns that showcase products and include discount codes. These campaigns can take time to set up, to meet influencers, etc., but retail shop owners can take a page from his playbook, just on a smaller scale.
“Reach out to a few people who purchase from you regularly," he suggests. “When they come in to buy, ask them to do you a favor and post on their social media about their great experience. You could even offer them $25 or $30 to post something about your company to an Instagram story. Even if they have a couple hundred followers, that can make a real difference if those people come in and buy from you."
If you struggle to ask customers to do something for money, you could simply tell them that if they post about your company, you will give them 10 or 20 percent off—on the spot.
3. Get creative on Facebook.
Facebook is still a great vehicle to get back-to-schoolers to your shop. Even while Gen Z-ers feel adverse to traditional ads, Anand says creativity can pay off when trying to bring people in. He recommends setting up a Facebook page for your business and then inviting your connections to your business page.
Try creating a short content sidebar on your site that lists the top 10 products to buy for back-to school. [...] Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What advice do they need right now?
—Irena Zobniów, co-founder, Insightland
“From there, Facebook usually will offer new business pages a $10 credit, which is a good opportunity for you to get comfortable with how Facebook ads work," he says. “I recommend getting creative with your ads. Write something funny and bold. Include an interesting picture. Show you understand the customer and their problems around back-to-school time, and explain how you can provide a solution to those problems."
4. Double down your efforts in September and October.
Businesses are bombarding students and their families with back-to-school sales in July and August, but if you're late to the party, fear not. In fact, Anand says it can actually be to your advantage to reach out to students after they start school.
“Students feel bombarded [by ads] during the first, second, even third week of school," he says. “If you want to do a college marketing campaign, for example, I recommend launching it deep into September and beyond; that's when students are starting to breathe again and may be much more receptive to what you're offering."
Photo: Getty Images