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Headline article image How to make the most of back-to-school shopping

How to make the most of back-to-school shopping

It’s a new school year – and a fresh chance to engage customers and drive sales.

Back-to-school time is one of the big-ticket events on the retail marketing calendar, with good reason: surveys estimate that in 2022 parents and caregivers collectively spent $2 billion on back-to-school shopping for their kids.

Laptops, books, uniforms and shoes take the lion’s share of spending, with stationery, school bags, lunch boxes and water bottles bringing up the lucrative rear.

This year, with rising interest rates and power bills, parents will be expecting better value and more convenience than ever before. Here are some tips on how to engage your customers, and keep them coming back for more.

1. Time it right

 Google Trends data shows searches for ‘school shoes’ and ‘school stationery’ start to climb very early in the New Year, so it’s never too soon to start planning. Tech giant Apple (Australia) traditionally starts its annual back-to-uni promotion on the first Wednesday in January, for example, with some knockout deals on gifts that Santa missed.

But that doesn’t mean you should try to pip your peers at the post and launch a campaign too early.

“We’ve generally seen most sales tend to creep forward in the retail calendar,” says Trent Rigby, director at retail strategy consultancy Retail Oasis.

“But back-to-school remains fixed in early January, which allows a good three weeks before kids return to school or uni. Running back-to-school sales earlier risks messaging getting mixed up in the Boxing Day sales.”

2. Stock up

You know the demand for school-related items will be high during the back-to-school shopping season, but how do you maximise the potential for sales? 

  • Stock up on fast-moving essentials.
  • Check out your local schools’ requirements. Identifying what’s on their Term 1 lists, will ensure your products get sold.
  • Look at the brands that are trending in schoolyards. Is there are new Disney movie on release? What is LEGO up to? Are people really still playing Pokémon? If it’s a choice between a cool lunchbox and a utilitarian one, you’ll get the kids’ vote if you stock on-trend options.

3. Make it easy

Back-to-school season is busy for shoppers, especially parents juggling the needs of children across multiple age groups. If you can simplify the shopping experience, they will choose your store.

“Back-to-school shopping can be hectic, and convenience is a huge driver,” says Rigby. “Most parents prefer to get their back-to-school supplies in one shop or trip, so retailers should think of offering bundles or pack deals.”

"Back-to-school shopping can be hectic, and convenience is a huge driver."

- Trent Rigby, Retail Oasis

Another way to streamline your offering is to provide guides or checklists of essential back-to-school items. Australia’s largest stationery retailer Officeworks has this down pat, further segmenting its back-to-school checklists by grade.

4. Price it tight 

Affordability and price are always an important consumer driver, especially at this time of year, after a period of Christmas spending. And that’s expected to be more of a concern than ever during this back-to-school sales period. “Rising cost of living pressures and inflation mean that parents are going to be on the lookout for value,” says Rigby. “Retailers will need to move beyond simple price comparisons, and demonstrate genuine value.”

Quality is likely to be in the spotlight too, with shoppers looking to make their purchases last well into the school year.

5. Leverage your online assets

While the adults are off work (and with all that free time to look at their phones), this time of year is a great opportunity to get your messages in front of the right eyes. Put up a dedicated tab on your website, compose a snappy e-newsletter to showcase your range, take photos for social. Consider organising a Facebook competition with prizes, engage your audience with a poll, sponsor a local school event and make sure everyone knows it.

“Think what additional value you can add online besides price and convenience,” says Rigby. “Blog content can be a powerful tool for building customer engagement and loyalty.”

Think school lunch ideas, recipes for fussy eaters if you’re a food retailer or advice on how to ease back-to-school stress.

Don't forget to download your free Afterpay assets for social, web and email to let your customers know all about your Back to School promos.

6. Think outside the school gates 

So, you don’t sell a product that falls into the tech/shoes/stationery basket? Congratulations for reading this far! Because this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the back-to-school fun.

“COVID-19 has shifted the traditional ideas and priorities around learning and education,” says Rigby. “Now more than ever, we recognise that it doesn’t begin and end at the classroom. A back-to-school drive can talk to children’s health and wellness, active lifestyles, sports and hobbies after school.”

We should also recognise that this time of year impacts not just the schoolies, but the whole family. Stay-at-home parents, for example, may see the return to school period as a reprieve and an opportunity to return to their beauty or fitness routines.

Sportswear giant Adidas did this so well in the 2022 northern summer holidays, with back-to-school sections for grown-ups. Coining the phrase ‘Comeback Season’, it used the opportunity to promote its latest exercise gear and “help you start the school year strong”. Well played indeed.

All references to any registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Afterpay does not endorse or recommend any one particular supplier and the information provided is for educational purposes only.

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