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5 Steps to Win the Back-to-School Shopping Marathon

By Matt Killough | June 5, 2019

Back-to-school is a heavy hitter in the world of retail holidays. According to NRF, shoppers spend more on back-to-school than they do on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day combined. But unlike other retail blockbusters such as Prime Day and Black Friday, back-to-school is not a one-time, clearly defined event.

Rather, back-to-school shopping is a marathon. And the most savvy retailers treat it as a marathon that extends beyond when school starts up again. They use the traditional back-to-school season to acquire new customers and then build on that initial spike to cement loyalty throughout the following months.

With that in mind, how can you prepare for an effective back-to-school marathon? Start with these five steps.

1) Hit the Ground Running with Customer Acquisition

The start of the back-to-school marathon spans the summer months and is largely about acquiring new customers. Data reveals that first-time buyers make up the majority of back-to-school shoppers for apparel and footwear retailers and over a third of back-to-school shoppers for office supplies retailers.

As you focus on acquiring new customers during the traditional back-to-school season, pay particular attention to bringing in new high value customers. One of the best ways to do so is to build a lookalike audience of your highest value customers who browsed or purchased back-to-school products in the past two weeks and then target that audience on Facebook.

2) Push Purchase (and Repurchase) Behavior Early On

The earlier in the season you can drive shoppers to make their first back-to-school purchase, the more profitable those customers are likely to become.

Retailers see a higher repurchase rate from customers who make their first back-to-school purchase in July than they do from those who make their first back-to-school purchase in August. Furthermore, Deloitte finds that 62% of shoppers plan to begin back-to-school shopping before August and will spend about 20% more than shoppers who start later in the season.

Ideas to give shoppers a nudge to get their back-to-school shopping done sooner rather than later include:

  • Sharing a regular reminder by adding dynamic banners to your emails for customers who engage with applicable products on your site
  • Targeting past purchasers with personalized product recommendations based on previous back-to-school shopping periods (e.g. showing customers their favorite brand of office supplies rather than a generic banner)
  • Creating a sense of urgency with merchandising triggered emails that send to customers who have viewed or have a predicted affinity toward a product that is running low on inventory, recently had a price decrease or came back in stock
  • Capturing leaks in the funnel with behavioral triggered emails that feature specific product recommendations based on abandoned searches, product views and carts

3) Continue Your Campaigns Through the Entire School Year

Think of the traditional back-to-school season as the kickoff to a long term campaign that blends from one season to the next. The initial kickoff during the summer — and the shopping spike that comes with it — is your starting point for customer acquisition. Your goal should be to sustain as much of that spike as you can throughout the year.

Achieving that goal requires getting new shoppers to buy again throughout the course of the year, particularly as seasons change (for apparel and footwear retailers) and school projects come up (for office supplies retailers). You should also optimize for replenishment cycles (this applies to both supplies and clothing/footwear that go through wear and tear) and look for opportunities to grow order sizes by pushing shoppers into new categories.

4) Prioritize Behavioral and Predictive Data Over CRM Data

Behavioral and predictive data (which indicate current and future interests) are always more powerful than CRM data (which only covers past interests). This point is even more true when it comes to back-to-school.

First, looking at past purchase or CRM data alone might miss the fact that existing customers who previously shopped for one child are now shopping for a second child who just became school-aged.

Second, kids change a lot — their size, their interests, you name it. Looking at historical data alone will leave you with a blind spot to these changes. In contrast, a combination of behavioral and predictive data can help you anticipate changing needs with each school year and season. Using models like co-purchase, co-cart and co-view can also help your product recommendations keep up with changes in trends and interests as kids get older.

5) Consider Your Audience

Parents might hold the purse strings (and the final purchase decision), but children influenced over $21 billion in back-to-school spending in 2018.

It’s important to remember that the back-to-school season has several different audiences: Parents shopping for their kids, kids shopping with their parents (or asking for specific items) and older students (usually college and above) shopping for themselves. And each of these audiences has different interests.

Whether you’re highlighting cost savings, surfacing the latest trends to help with product discovery or offering a checklist of supplies, there’s significant value in developing unique messages to cater to each audience. Afterall, the more relevant you can get, the more likely shoppers of all types are to pay attention and take action.

Get Ready to Ace the Back-to-School Shopping Marathon

Find out what else you need to know to ace the upcoming shopping season with our back-to-school playbook, featuring five plays you can run today to school your competition.

Matt Killough

Matt Killough

Matt has 8+years of experience working in varying levels of Customer Success / Client Services roles within digital marketing. He currently manages the Customer Success team at Bluecore, which is responsible for the strategy and execution of digital campaigns across email, paid search, social and other channels.