Getting Ahead of Back-to-School E-Commerce

By Rob Zaleski
Jul 12, 2018
back to school e-commerce

Study after study shows that Pricing and Delivery Reliability are two of the most important factors influencing customers’ decisions regarding what websites they’ll visit to make online purchases. Nowhere are these factors more relevant than when it comes to date-driven sales, e.g., sales that occur as a function of a particular calendar date, such as a holiday or a widely recognized event like back-to-school shopping.

ShippingEasy has put together some tips to help you understand the potential opportunity of this date-driven sale and the timing considerations related to preparing, campaigning, and shipping for Back-To-School season.

Major E-Commerce Selling Stats: Back-to-School

The back-to-school shopping season in 2017 was the largest we’ve seen, coming in at over $29 billion according to Statistica. For a breakdown of where, when, and how that money was spend, take a look at this graphic below.

back to school e-commerce statistics

Back To School: A Huge Summer Selling Opportunity

Actual Back-To-School (BTS) dates vary considerably around the United States, ranging from late July to post-Labor Day. Regardless, there is plenty of opportunity to participate and garner a piece of the estimated $37B online back-to-school spending.

In some states, tax holidays can also boost sales—and provide their own promotional opportunities.

If you sell the highest-demand item categories (school supplies, electronics, and apparel), or if your customers tend to be concentrated in specific states or cities, you may find it worthwhile to take a more targeted approach to BTS selling activities, including:

  • Running location-targeted campaigns based on the specific back-to-school dates of specific states and/or cities. You can find these dates here.
  • Running location-targeted campaigns based on the specific back-to-school tax holidays offered by some states. You can find these dates here.

A much simpler—and for most sellers quite adequate—approach is to run national campaigns based on the latest common start date, which, in the US, is the day after Labor Day. If timed and worded properly, these campaigns can appeal to any region regardless of its start date.

How to Plan for Back-to-School Selling in 3 Easy Steps

Every good marketing campaign starts with a plan. Who are you targeting? What will you be offering? What will be the progression of how you lead customers down the funnel to conversion? Let’s break it down.

    1. Define your customers

The first step to developing a back-to-school selling strategy is to identify your customers. What are their buying habits? For example, different customer segments celebrate different holidays and/or are motivated to buy leading up to certain dates. Start by making a high-level list of the different segments you serve. If you have demographic customer data to help fill out the picture, that’s great, but even just doing this exercise based on intuition is helpful. If you find your list getting unmanageably long, try listing out the customer segments you don’t serve, so you can exclude those segments from your plan. ShippingEasy customers will make great use of our Customer Marketing tool to segment these lists to message the right audience.

    1. Choose your promotion

After you’ve identified the right segment of your customers to target with BTS messaging, it’s time to think about the promotion that will capture and engage them in to a buying mindset. There is a lot of opportunity to get creative with BTS promotions, and we’ve come up with a few for you:

      • Free Shipping
        • The stats don’t lie: A Walker Sands Future of Retail survey showed that 90% of shoppers list free shipping as an incentive to shop more online
        • Ecommerce stores can use free shipping to combat the urge to hit physical retail locations for tax-free days
      • Buy One, Get One
        • Do you have a product or two that you can offer as Buy One, Get One (BOGO) to entice your audience in to browsing your greater catalog?
        • Make sure your BOGO item is one in high-demand, but one with a margin that is acceptable for you to use the BOGO to entice further purchases
      • Sweepstakes
        • There aren’t many easier ways to generate clicks than a giveaway. Filling your funnel with engaged customers by offering a sweepstakes will help you get their attention when you run your email campaigns to get them to your website
        • Sweepstakes not only have a low barrier for entry for conversion, but they are also great for promoting social sharing and engagement
    1. Plan your campaigns

Step three is to plan out the campaigns that support your BTS promotions, so that you leverage interest at the highest dates of demand. For the highest sales volume dates, data suggests sales peak 3-4 weeks before school starts. To help you plan appropriately, we’ve laid out three types of campaigns you can use leading up to BTS.

    • Early Bird Campaign
      • Since early shoppers tend to spend more (and most shoppers tend to shop closer to the date) it pays to offer deeper discounts early
      • By building early awareness with your customers, you are more likely to engage them in further campaigns, have them share your products, and get early learnings about what’s going to sell
    • Primary Campaign
      • Send 2-4 emails/week, each highlighting different aspects of the promotion and your best product offerings
      • Test some different promotions in week 1; run the most effective promotions in week 2 based on how your audience is engaging with your content (Open Rate/Click Thru Rate of your emails)
      • Note: Be careful not to over-communicate to your customers! Sending more than 4 emails per week can fatigue customers and actually lower your open rate
    • Last Chance Campaign
      • Notify customers of order deadlines for various shipping services you offer; be sure to pad with order picking/packing time

You have plenty of opportunity to make the most of this back-to-school season. Want a more in-depth look at what you should be doing? We’ve put together a Webinar below that will give you even more tips in addition to those above to put you one step ahead of Back-to-School shopping.

Want even more tips? Watch this 20-minute webinar: 7 Actionable Back-to-School Tips to Increase Sales!

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Rob Zaleski

Head of Brand at ShippingEasy
I'm a digital content and social media nerd with a passion for telling stories, helping connect people, and finding joy in the details.

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