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4 Top Tactics for A Back to School Sales Boost

back to school marketing

Back to school happens before most of us are ready to give up our beach gear, typically July into August. In 2016, the back to school buying season set records here in the United States with the average household spending $673 each, a figure up nearly 7% from 2015. In fact, school-shopping season is so popular and such a significant revenue generator, it’s second only to the winter holidays, namely Christmas. Sales are expected to reach $75.8 billion again this year, with clothing, electronics, shoes and school supplies showing up as the top product categories (in that order).

Head to a mall, office supply retailer, department or discount store and you’ll know the back to school marketing game is on. There are deals to be had. Crazy deals meant to bait families into bulk buys, a tactic not used during other peak shopping periods like Christmas or Mother’s Day, are employed with gusto. For brands, there are so many opportunities to sell, across a multitude of categories, back to school is impossible to ignore. The opportunity reaches far beyond ‘stock up and save’ and option abound. Here’s your quick guide to the top four sales tactics to give your brand a boost this season…

back to school marketingback to school marketing

Back to School Marketing- 4 Tactics to Boost Sales


A pretty traditional tactic, consumers are trained to wait for discounts, especially around back to school. Gap’s well-worn approach of offering 40% off older merch is employed during back to school on newer merchandise as well. In fact, many retailers like Macy’s, JCPenney & Abercrombie stray from their normal markdown process and discount brand new clothing for the back to school buyer, then level prices back up post buying boom. Discounts are widely available in-store, online and via various social channels.


Loss Leaders

Different from standard discounting, a loss leader strategy lures shoppers with an impossibly priced, top-selling or seasonally essential product. The promotional price is quite often 99 cents, $1 or the like. In 2016, Office Depot advertised an attention getting 1-cent sale on notebooks, provided the customer spends a minimum of $5.00. In 2017, they’re offering 25 cent folders. It’s rare for a retailer to make any margin on items like these; they’re banking on the customer filling their basket with higher margin items to offset some of the loss. In the case of Office Depot, the items are private label, but often the retailer will look to brands to help support these types of promotional efforts.


Stock Up & Save

During prime gift giving shopping frenzies like Christmas, Mother’s Day and Valentines Day, stock up and save strategies are nearly obsolelte. But bring that concept around during back to school and, you’re in business. Apparel, food, home goods and beauty employ discounts on bulk buys with great success. Special bonus sizes, especially in hair care, sell incredibly well during the July/August promotional period when college students are packing up supplies at their parent’s expense. Any product or brand can explore this tactic, just be aware that going too big in this direction may affect holiday buys, depending on the category, of course.


Cross Category Merchandising

Bundling is hit or miss, in my opinion, as it often locks a consumer into buying a companion product they may not have a need for (Costco is even doing less of this). But cross category merchandising can be a big win. Target’s successful collaboration with LA-based Sugar Paper comes to mind. Journals, desk accessories, agendas and DIY supplies are all merchandised together and price pointed categorically on a Target end cap. The assortment encourages deeper brand buying through effective merchandising and smart design.

Back to school is the perfect time to consider a brand collaboration with a partner that can help expand your audience or distribution reach. Jansport and Vans do a nice job partnering with Gen Z friendly designers to deliver special edition goods, perfect for school days and downtime, both.

Over 50 million students are headed back to school in grades K through 12. These students need, and want, stuff to help them stand out and do great work. Back to school marketing is an essential part of your promotional mix. What will your brand do to take advantage of the back to school boom, this year and beyond?


Source: National Retail Federation (NRF)

Images: Jansport



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