How to Close the 2021 Back-to-School Shopping Season With a Bang
The 2021 back-to-school shopping season is in full swing. After a challenging 2020, industry experts think this year's sales could exceed $30 billion. To get a slice of that massive "money pie," retail brands should be willing to make a number of optimizations to their existing marketing campaigns.
If you work for a brand that's already invested in the 2021 back-to-school shopping season, here are eight optimizations you should consider to make the most of the next few weeks.
Capitalize On a Preference for Local Buying If You Aren't Already
31.2 percent of shoppers are buying from local brick-and-mortar businesses this year. That means you need to call an audible if your marketing plan doesn't account for partnerships with smaller, independent brick-and-mortar merchants. It's the businesses that find a way to work together that will get the most bang for their marketing buck during the final few weeks of the 2021 back-to-school shopping season.
Start by reallocating some of your budget to form new partnerships with local, independent merchants ASAP. Doing so will allow your brand to be more successful during the end-of-August rush as parents and students hustle to complete their last-minute back-to-school shopping.
Promote these partnerships using thoughtful email and social campaigns to cultivate awareness and advertise the "can't-miss" back-to-school products that parents are still clamoring for. Deploy display and video ads that highlight partnerships with local brick-and-mortar stores. Create content that focuses on the owners and employees of the independent merchants your brand is partnering with so back-to-school shoppers can see your activity in their community.
Bundle Product Offerings in Your Promotions
All shoppers — but especially last-minute shoppers — adore convenience. As you enter the final few weeks of the 2021 back-to-school shopping season, make sure you start bundling popular products from different categories to help consumers meet multiple needs at once.
Identify the "hero" products of the season (i.e., trendy, quick-selling items) and package them with less popular products to help move stale items off shelves. Use geofencing with social media to increase consumer interest in product bundles at the specific brick-and-mortar locations you're partnering with.
Continue to Offer Consumers a Multitude of Shopping Experiences
As every retail marketer knows, consumers are tired of being limited to point-and-click buying after a year of lockdown. People are returning to stores in droves this back-to-school season and excitedly becoming tactile shoppers again.
Having said that, online buying remains extremely popular.
So, as you enter the final few weeks of the 2021 back-to-school shopping season, it will be important to continue offering customers a variety of fulfillment options, such as:
- curbside pickup;
- at-home delivery;
- same-day pickup;
- free delivery; and
- buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS).
The retailers that can offer customers the greatest number of fulfillment options will be those best positioned to maximize sales this back-to-school shopping season.
Make Better Use of SMS
To finish this year's back-to-school season on a high note, retailers must continue optimizing the omnichannel experience for consumers. In particular, they must pay special attention to their order notification process. For one thing, consumers value immediate, transparent communication above all else when it comes to last-mile fulfillment. For another, anxious parents and students will be worried about getting their purchases in time for school due to all the news about fulfillment delays related to COVID.
Make SMS an integral part of the fulfillment experience for the rest of the 2021 back-to-school shopping season. Overcome email fatigue and inbox overcrowding by using SMS more aggressively to promote last-minute back-to-school sales, offer special coupons, address cart abandonment, and more.
Deploy Last-Chance Promotions
Even with record-breaking household savings, many back-to-school shoppers remain price conscious.
- Thirty-five percent of consumers are spending less than $100 on back to school.
- Twenty-three percent of consumers are spending between $100 and $500 on back to school.
That means many people are waiting for final, "blowout" sales to make their big purchases.
Use this to your advantage by planning events and promotions centered on price sensitivities to encourage consumers to do as much buying as possible in their stores. Coupons, discounts and other incentives for students, parents and teachers are a MUST this back-to-school season. Lean into loyalty data to understand which products are most sought after, and implement dedicated social hashtags promoting special offers on those items.
Harmonize the Buying Experience Across Channels
From digital to in-person, smartphones to direct mail, this year's back-to-school shopping experience is the most complex on record. That complexity means you'll need to finish the season the same way you started it — by understanding and catering to the channel preferences of consumers.
Continue to execute a unified strategy that encompasses all the ways people want to shop.
Funnel all your back-to-school marketing through a single platform to avoid potential disasters (e.g., serving an ad for an out-of-stock product) and provide people with a true omnichannel journey.
Close the 2021 Back-to-School Shopping Season With an Appeal to Students
Don't forget that back-to-school marketing is about more than the parents — roughly 13 percent of this year's buying is being done by students themselves.
- Teen students are spending approximately $37 of their own money this year.
- Pre-teen students are spending approximately $26 of their own money.
In other words, students can't be ignored, so analyze signals (behavioral, content, geographic, etc.) related to Generation Z and Generation Alpha across channels, and use any insights gleaned to optimize ongoing marketing campaigns by zeroing in on clear interests.
Don't Ignore the Last-Ditch Labor Day Push
Almost half of back-to-school consumers will still be shopping around the start of the Labor Day weekend. Therefore, there's still plenty of time to tap customer and prospect data to better understand what products (e.g., shoes, backpacks, pens, etc.) people are waiting until the last minute to buy.
Once you identify these products, create thoughtful promotions to capitalize on lingering consumer needs, and make the most of the final back-to-school sales push.
Moreover, pay attention to school start dates as Arizona, Texas, and Florida are the first among U.S. states to go back to class while the Northeast is post-Labor Day. Be prepared with a fire, ready, aim approach, and lean into any wasted spend that can be repurposed.
Melissa Tatoris is vice president, retail at Zeta Global, a cloud-based marketing technology company that empowers enterprises to acquire, grow, and retain customers.
Related story: What Retailers Need to Know to Blowout Back-to-School