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Five Tips for Great Back-to-School Sales

By Aron Hsiao  on July 10, 2017

You may think that back-to-school season isn't for another month or so, but if last year's consumer data is anything to go by, shoppers are making back-to-school purchases already—and may have been doing so all summer.

How can you get your listings or store into shape to take advantage of back-to-school sales spikes? Here are five key strategies to keep in mind.

1. Promote Goods in the Right Categories

Back-to-school shoppers come in all shapes and sizes, but by and large their shopping is heavily focused on a few key top-level goods categories. On eBay, for example, top candidates include:

These days, back-to-school shopping starts early and includes far more than pens and pencils. (Image: © sittinan / Fotolia)
  • Clothing, Shoes & Accessories
  • Cell Phones & Accessories
  • Computers/Tablets & Networking
  • Consumer Electronics
  • Business & Industrial > Office Equipment & Supplies
  • Home & Garden > Furniture

Note that not every product or every subcategory within the categories above can be a back-to-school season win. When in doubt, select inventory and categorize products with an eye toward the needs of students.

2. Use the Right Message for Your Audience(s)

Remember that all back-to-school shoppers are not created equal. The ages of students run the gamut, meaning that in some cases the primary audience for your goods is parents, while in others the primary audience consists of young adults on their own for the first time.

Tailor your messages accordingly—ask yourself whether the product in question is most likely a back-to-school purchase by parents for a young child, a back-to-school purchase by a college student for dorm life, or something in between.

Bias images, messages, and promotions for parent shoppers toward affordability, durability, quality, and practicality. Bias images, messages, and promotions for young adult shoppers toward lifestyle, fashion, trends, and utility.

3. Offer Free Shipping and Expedited Shipping

Last year, according to the National Retail Federation, 84 percent of families said that they wouldn't buy back-to-school goods online that weren't paired with free shipping offers, making it one of the largest differentiators that retailers could offer. The same data showed that men and fathers in particular were also likely to be swayed by the availability of expedited shipping for certain items.

Last year, back-to-school shoppers overwhelmingly reported free shipping to be a key criterium in their decision to purchase. (Image: © Africa Studio / Fotolia)

The takeaway is clear. If you don't normally offer free or expedited shipping options, consider offering them for back-to-school season if you plan to maximize your seasonal sales.

4. Offer Multiple Products in Multiple Categories

Last year families also reported planning to purchase from an average of three online sources, suggesting that back-to-school consumers are looking for the convenience of one-stop shopping along with good value and free shipping.

Whatever back-to-school categories you cover, try to provide a relatively complete, high-value lineup for the category in question, and offer multiple-purchase promotions to reward one-stop shopping; going after isolated back-to-school purchases one item at a time is less likely to drive sales than offering families the ability to complete an entire thematic chunk of their back-to-school shopping with you (say, all paper products needs, or all clothing needs) all in one place.

5. Start Promotions Early and Continue Into September

In the e-commerce era, which also coincides with an era of growing back-to-school needs (not just shoes and pencils, but cell phones and laptops as well), shoppers are beginning their back-to-school shopping earlier and earlier each year.

At the same time, with school-related inventory now available year-round thanks to online shopping, there is less pressure to check off every item in the back-to-school list before stores clear out their inventory to make way for fall goods.

This means that you should already be crafting listings and promotions oriented toward back-to-school shopping now, and that you should continue to offer back-to-school items well into the school year—essentially until the transition to Halloween and fall sales—because back-to-school shoppers will continue to trickle in over a period of several months.


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