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Back to School Marketing for Retailers: 9 Ways to Prepare for the Boom

Back to School Marketing for Retailers: 9 Ways to Prepare for the Boom

Back to school is one of the biggest sales periods of the year for retailers. Sales for both back to school and back to college have steadily increased over the last few years, and 2023 looks to be no exception. 

That means a spending blitz is set to happen. Have you planned how you’re going to take advantage of the back to school boom?

In this post, we’ll go over:

11 ways to turn window shoppers into buyers

Check out these techniques to help your business capture back to school shoppers and discount seekers.

11 ways to turn window shoppers into buyers

Back to school 2023 is shaping up to be big

According to the National Retail Federation, total expected spending will be $890 per US household for back to school shopping in 2023, for a total of $41.5 billion. Back to college looks to be even more lucrative at $1367 per household for a projected total of $94 billion. That means there’s a total of $131.5 billion in revenue up for grabs this year.

But what are these shoppers looking to buy? Electronics top the list for most wanted purchases with both back to school and back to college shoppers. Both groups will be looking to spend big on clothing and accessories, as well. Back to school shoppers will also be focused on shoes, while back to college shoppers look to spend big on furniture for their dorms. 

One note of caution: shoppers have noticed higher prices in their top categories, and they’re modifying their behavior accordingly. The NRF’s research shows that shoppers are planning to:

  • Do more comparative online shopping, which means you’ll need to have your products online with detailed product descriptions and locally targeted ads to be in the running.
  • Look for more sales, so make sure you advertise your deals loudly and often. 
  • Buy generic store brand products, which presents the biggest hurdle for retailers offering premium products—make sure customers know why spending a little more on something is worth it in the long run. 

Nine things to consider for a successful back to school marketing

With 2023 shoppers being budget-conscious, if you aren’t already holding sales, now is the time to start. 

From new clothes to school supplies, electronics and even home goods for college students, you’ll need to be strategic if you want to be a part of the rush. Here are nine ways you can make your back to school sale season a success.

1. Make your back to school season shift schedules (and do it quickly)

Hours spent pouring over schedules? The last thing you need most of the time, let alone during a busy shopping boom. Integrating automated shift scheduling software into your point of sale (POS) will cut the time you spend making schedules so you can focus on other important prep for your back-to-school sale.

To get really efficient, add in an element of data analysis to know when you need more employees in the store. Scheduling enough employees during peak sales periods will keep lines down and cater to customers who have gotten used to not having to wait to pay after years of ecommerce growth.

Lightspeed users can easily set up a data-driven, automated scheduling workflow with two tools: Planday and Lightspeed Advanced Reporting

First, you’d use Advanced Reporting to determine your staffing needs. This can be done by running a Sales History report to identify what days and time periods see the most activity. By default, this report will show data from the last three days; you can adjust the filters to sales by the hour to see specific activity peaks. To keep up with how the back to school season is evolving, re-run the report every week.

Once you know how many people you want scheduled and when, head over to Planday and plug in the desired shifts, as well as employees’ availability. Tada—the schedules are planned, with an extra side of revenue data versus labor cost data from Planday.

2. Make sure you’re stocked on the essentials

Back to school shoppers are busy—they want stocked shelves and good deals, and if they can’t find both, they’ll move on. At the same time, you don’t want to be left with too much unsold inventory after the back to school season, so you need to be careful about just how much you order. 

It’s crucial that every location of your business has an ordering plan catered to the shopping patterns they see.

Instead of guessing what you need to restock and when, turn to data for help. For example, Lightspeed Advanced Reporting’s replenishment report tells you what you have on hand, items sold and how long until your stock runs out. It can suggest order numbers based on historical demand, so you can be prepared for a bump in numbers of laptops or kid’s shoes sold.

Also, make sure you have a contingency plan if you run out of something halfway through the month and don’t have a way to quickly get more. Can you offer dropshipping online, transfer inventory from other stores or substitute in a similar product that will ship faster?

3. Prepare your discounts 

For most customers, the best part of back-to-school sales are the sales, of course. Having favorable discounts available could mean the difference between you and a competitor for budget-conscious back-to-school shoppers. 

A platform like Lightspeed lets you set discounts so they are automatically applied at checkout. Consider offering a mix of sales and discounts, such as:

  • Clearances. The tried and true 25% off—or more, or less—sales. Consider running some reports on overstock and surplus inventory that, while useful for back to school, might not be the latest styles of shoes or notebooks. You can discount these and leave your newer inventory full price.
  • Buy one, get one… discounts. Back to school shopping often means buying supplies in bulk. If a customer can get four packs of pencils, or two pairs of gym shoes, for a buy one get one half off deal, they might use their savings to keep shopping in your store.
  • Bulk discounts. You could use these as an alternative to BOGO discounts, or use them in tandem for different goods. Let’s say you’re an apparel retailer—remember how half of parents have school kids excited for new clothes? You could set a bulk discount for $5.00 off $20.00 t-shirts if they buy 5 or more. 

Tip: You can use promotion rules from Lightspeed to set BOGO and bulk discounts. They’ll be automatically applied at checkout without any extra work from your sales associates.

4. Let customers know about your back to school promotions

With your employees scheduled and your sales set up, it’s time to let your customers know they should visit you for their back-to-school needs.

You could send an email or make a post on social media—and you might as well, because the more reach, the better. But in addition to those methods, try sending SMS messages (texts) to let your loyal shoppers know what you’ve got in store for them.

SMS messages are your secret marketing weapon. They have an 82% open rate (far above email open rates) which means you know for sure you’ll be reaching your customers.

Don’t squander your customers’ goodwill, though. 

Using a CRM program like Lightspeed Advanced Marketing, set up one or two messages—one for now, one for near the end of the back to school season—with your best sales. That way, you entice customers without annoying them. You can also have your top customers sign up for a VIP customer type through Loyalty so they receive special deals and discounts through SMS.

5. Be found by local back to school shoppers

SMS messaging helps you connect with customers who already know who you are. What about all the back-to-school shoppers who don’t know about your business?

Google is a driving force in the shopping experience—one survey found that 59% of shoppers use the search engine to research products before they buy. With back-to-school promotions ramping up all around them, potential customers will be heading to Google to find the best deals.

By using Local Inventory Ads by Google, you can be one of the top results they see… through advertising at the top of their searches. If someone within a set radius searches for backpacks near me, and you carry backpacks, your inventory will be among the results they see. 

Historically, managing local targeted ads has been a hassle because of the inventory setup time. Managing them through Lightspeed cuts down on the set up time so you can get your ads up and running for the back-to-school season sooner rather than later. 

6. Cater to customers who want to shop online but get their goods fast

Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) options remain popular amongst shoppers—almost one third of online shoppers in the US picked up their purchase in store last year. 

BOPIS represents the best of both worlds for busy back-to-school shoppers trying to beat long lines: they don’t need to wait to purchase school supplies or wait on delivery times.

To make sure you can handle curbside pickup and BOPIS orders without causing confusion, make sure that you:

  • Have an eCom inventory system that automatically syncs with your in-store inventory. You don’t want to accidentally sell the same item twice, after all.
  • Train your employees on how to monitor and close online orders for pickup, including procedures for setting items in the orders aside.
  • Give customers a contactless way to pay at pickup. Lightspeed retailers in the United States can use Mobile Tap to take payment anywhere, from the front counter to outside at the curb.

7. Offer one-on-one service for bigger purchases through appointments

In addition to apparel and school supplies, electronic devices—and other, more niche purchases, like musical instruments—are going to be on many back-to-school lists this year. 

However, these are expensive purchases. Parents and college students may want to get the right advice before making their final decision. That’s where appointment shopping comes in; customers commit to shopping local (with you!) and get an expert opinion before spending their money.

Using automated appointment-booking tools can help you manage shopping appointments without adding extra work to your day. 

Legendary musical instrument retailer Virtuosity uses appointment shopping modules to automatically send reminder emails, and Lightspeed to collect and store customer contact information. With a similar setup in your store, you can be sure appointments are kept and that you can follow up with customers after the back to school season is over.

8. Have a way to keep in contact with back to school shoppers

Throughout the back to school season, your sales associates might need to get in contact with customers, be it for shopping appointments, repairs, pickups and deliveries and more.

Calling to leave a message takes up valuable time, and in a busy store, they might not be able to communicate clearly.

Try texting customers instead. Remember, texts have a high open rate, making them ideal for communicating useful information as well as marketing. Your sales associates can send messages to multiple customers in quick succession and then get back to helping shoppers in the store. 

When it comes to communicating with customers during the back to school season (and beyond), Lightspeed retailer Riverdale Mac’s tool of choice is Ikeono, an integration that embeds texting into their point of sale. 

“Since we do a lot of computer repair, timely reporting and timely messaging makes us much more reliable to our customers,” said Myles Kesten, President of Riverdale Mac. “They really want quick communications and integrating the texting with Ikeono has really made a huge difference. You can really see it in our Google reviews; in the past 12 months we’ve gotten a lot of five star reviews.”

9. Clear out your back to school inventory to make room for the holidays

As you near the end of the back to school season, be proactive in clearing out your inventory. After all, inventory that doesn’t sell is inventory that holds you back—fresh holiday gifts are more exciting than back-to-school clearances that extend into the fall!

Identify what back-to-school stragglers you have left in your inventory (your POS should be tracking this—Lightspeed users can use the built-in inventory reports to check their levels quickly). Give them an impressive promotion—not so much that you’re giving them away for free, but enough that you won’t be holding on to that inventory for too long.

As a bonus, check your sales figures and identify your biggest back-to-school sellers; Lightspeed Advanced Reporting can find these through the Sales History report. While back to school 2024 will almost certainly be different from 2023 yet again, you can use these insights to make a few educated guesses at what you should be stocking up on next year.

Back to school 2023 is here. Are you ready?

With the 2023 back to school shopping boom about to kick it into high gear, there’s no time to wait—the sooner you get started on your promotions, the better.

To make the most of the 2023 back to school season, you need the right tools. If you’d like to talk about what Lightspeed could do for your business, get in touch.

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