Characteristic of these final weeks of summer is the constant reminder that back to school is just around the corner. But while consumers are clinging onto summer, the back to school season bears significant implications for marketers. Back to school shopping is the second largest consumer spending period for retailers, just following the winter holidays. Clearly, this season presents huge opportunities for marketers…but exactly how big are we talking?
According to the National Retail Federation, US consumers will spend approximately $70 billion on back to school shopping this year. Approximately $47 billion are spent by students that are starting or returning to university or college, while the remaining $23 billion is spent by parents of children in kindergarten to grade 12. The US Census Bureau states that there will be over 55 million students enrolled in pre-kindergarten to high school this year, with about 56% of these students being in grades 1 to 8.
Furthermore, approximately one third of US households have children under the age of 18 (about 38 million households), and another 20 million students are expected to attend university or college. This provides large opportunities for a variety of retailers to sell items such as electronic gadgets, computers, or dorm room furnishings. According to American Express, the average US family of four plans to spend $800 on back to school purchases, from apparel to supplies; however, 67% explained that they would need to make tradeoffs to afford those expenses.
In addition, in a Pricegrabber survey of about 4500 online consumers, 17% stated that they planned to start back to school shopping in June, 35% in July, and 44% in August. This data reveals the importance of starting back to school marketing early in order to capitalize on those early shoppers. Some experts recommend that marketers should begin back to school targeting as early as March, in order to plant the seeds in consumers’ minds. The following chart shows an interesting correlation between mothers who find it hard to resist their children’s request for non-essential items, particularly during the back to school season. This sheds light on the months when mothers are most likely to purchase items that their children desire.
One of the most important aspects of back to school marketing is narrowing your market into smaller segments. As evidenced above, the market size of back to school consumers is massive, so it’s extremely important to target specific segments within the larger umbrella of back to school consumers. In line with general marketing segmentation strategies, consider narrowing your market based on the age and gender of students, parent’s age, household income, schooling level, and the average number of children per household. Also consider the lifestyles and behavioural differences amongst households and the shopping patterns of these segments.
B2S Marketing Ideas
Provide an Incentive
Apple is notorious for providing incentives to students who purchase their products for back to school. Such incentives include free iPods with the purchase of a Macbook or a $100 gift certificate for the App Store. Incentives don’t have to include a free item but can also range from free trials to discounted product upgrades.
Approximately 30% of consumers compare prices of products directly on their smartphone. By creating a separate mobile campaign that emphasizes offers and competitive discounts, retailers can hone in on price-sensitive shoppers through these deals. For example, in 2011 Amazon launched an app that allowed students to check prices and compare products by scanning barcodes. Users could also scan barcodes for items they didn’t want, such as old books, games, or movies, in order to determine its trade-in value. The items could then be traded for Amazon gift cards.
Point-of-purchase student deals
Restaurants and bars make use of point-of-purchase student deals by placing signs outside their store that advertise student specials and perks. This is a great way to encourage in-the-moment purchases, especially since students are generally cash-strapped and flock to places with sales and discounts.
With the evergrowing number of Pinterest users and its ability to instigate higher purchases than any other social media software, starting a back to school Pinterest board is a great option for engaging with customers and encouraging purchases. Sony has engaged Pinterest users by creating a contest where users have a chance to win a Sony VAIO T Ultrabook. To be eligible, contest participants must:
- Follow @Sony on Pinterest
- Create a Pinterest Board titled “Back-to-School Must Haves”
- Build out their board with all their “Back-to-School Must Haves” including at least one Sony product
- Hashtag each of their pins with #Sony
- Leave a comment on this post with a link to their “Back-to-School Must Haves” board
Teachers, professors, and school employees are also getting ready for back to school so don’t forget about them when you’re creating your back to school marketing plan. Teacher discounts are a great option for both retailers and service-providers. This year, Staples is continuing their annual Teacher Appreciation Day by providing teachers with 15% off all in-store purchases, 10% back in easyRewards, and a free gift with their purchase. Many service providers, such as hair salons, also offer discounts to teachers as they prepare for back to school.
As the data shows, the back to school market is massive so get ready to dive into the season with strong customer understanding and targeted promotions. And for next year, keep in mind that the school year doesn’t need to be over before you start planning your back to school marketing strategies – start early and engage!