Back to Posts

Back-To-School Selling Guide

Author icon
By Becca - July 19, 2018- in Go-Getter Blog

As summertime is slowly winding down and days are getting shorter, online sellers are preparing for the second-biggest shopping season of the year.

Back-to-school shopping is not something sellers should take lightly.

Back-to-school shopping comes and goes in a blink of an eye, therefore we urge you to start planning after you finish reading this guide. 

To capitalize on this shopping phenomenon let’s take a closer look at where customers are planning to shop.

According to NRF back-to-school shopping is projected to reach $80.7 billion this year. That’s a serious chunk of money.

Let me guess, you thought Mother’s and Father’s Day numbers were a hit?

Wait until you see the numbers grow during back-to-school shopping.

NRF Back-To-School Statistics

Let’s take a quick look on some of Back-To-School (BTS) statistics. NRF has been conducting BTS surveys in the United States since 2003.

  • Families with college students are expected to spend an average $976.78.
  • College shoppers are really showing their school spirit when it comes to buying collegiate gear this year,” Shay said. Spending on college-branded items is expected to average $62.22, up 17 percent from last year.
  • “Consumers are in a strong position given the nation’s growing economy, and we see this reflected in what they say they will spend on back-to-class items this year,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.
  • “Members of Generation Z are clearly becoming more involved with back-to-school purchasing decisions rather than leaving the choices up to mom and dad,” Shay said. “Over the years, both teens and pre-teens are spending more of their own money on back-to-school items.”

When does the madness start?

Many families are starting to shop early, according to NRF, 71% plan to start at least three weeks before school begins, if not earlier. However, we’ve been seeing an increase in last-minute shopping to grab the best deals. 

As a marketer, you should promote back-to-school early and make sure to run deals into late September to grab the attention of last-minute shoppers. 

PRO TIP: Focus on running your promotions from mid-July to mid-August. 

Who are the back-to-school shoppers?

Back to school shoppers are large and diverse with different needs. Targeting the right audience will establish a solid ground for your online success.

Students and parents are your typical back-to-school shoppers, however, don’t forget teachers and professors who need to get ready for the upcoming school year as well.

According to Mike Baker, back-to-school clothing is heavily purchased by individuals ages 17 and below and mothers ages 35 and above.

At the college level, according to NRF, men are outspending college women by $100 due to a few hobbies, just to name a few mopeds, gaming consoles, and stereos.

What are the top destinations for back-to-school items?

Online shopping is growing in popularity and back-to-school shopping isn’t any different.

According to NRF; customers still prefer to shop in department stores (53%), with that said, online shopping takes a solid third place projected to be at 49% this year.

With free shipping options and fast delivery times, consumers are more likely to use their phones to prioritize their time – especially first-year college students who are trying to get situated within their new environment.

What are the most popular back-to-school clothing products?

Clothing varies based on demographics.

K-12 shoppers will have slightly different needs than college freshmen’s shoppers.

Your online catalog should include school colors, mascots, tailgate designs, hoodies and backpacks as you advertise your B-T-S starter pack to help you drive sales.

Back-to-school is more than competing on price alone or trying to sell across all available categories. It’s about delivering the best possible experience based on consumers’ wants and needs.

Back-To-School To-Do List

Capitalize on Social Media

Social media promotion is key to the solid-selling foundation of back-to-school shopping. Both paid and organic advertising should be incorporated into your marketing strategy.

Your campaigns should include a range of techniques to reach a wide variety of online customers. Include GIFs, Instagram stories, viral content, and FB video.

Many social media platforms offer a range of targeting options so you can target a specific group to get better results.

Customers who hang out on social media don’t want to feel like they are missing out, create content that doesn’t make a person feel alone or left out. Nobody wants to feel that way. Create campaigns that revolve around everyday activities that everyone can easily relate to. 

PRO TIP: Create content that builds confidence and connects people rather than foster insecurity with ads that depict perfection.

Go with the Flow of Trends

Utilize the latest fashion trends, accessories, and technology to draw in your back-to-school online audience.

Be ahead of the curve and study fashion trends and you will see a difference in your back-to-school sales.

PRO TIP: Use Google Trends, Reddit and People/Gossip Magazines to find out what’s trending.  

Power of Influencers

Instagram, Youtube and blog influencers continue to be a hot topic to this very day. 

According to the influencer management platform Traackr, 72 percent of major brands say they are dedicating a sizable portion of their marketing budgets to influencers. 

Partner up with micro–influencers to spread the word about your brand. If you run a blog, in most cases, you can usually work out a link exchange between the blogger and yourself without paying a significant amount of money. 

PRO TIP: Suggest content exchange partnerships with less established bloggers/influencers who’s content aligns closely with what you sell.

Create a Back-To-School Checklist

Every big retailer provides BTS checklist of “essential” college items, ranging from backpacks to wall art decor.

PRO TIP: The structure of the checklist can be similar to the image below, however, we suggest modifying and adding SPECIFIC items that you sell. 

Back-To-School Products

Backpacks/ Sling Bags: College students will need something to carry their books unlike high school, there are no lockers, so everything needs to be carried on and off the campus. CustomCat offers a variety of bag options from which your audience can choose.

Rugged Bookbag – All-purpose bag for students & student-athletes.

Laptop Computer Bookpack – Great for anyone with a laptop or a tablet.

Colorblock Cinch Pack / Pocket Cinch Pack – Perfect for anyone who needs additional storage to store workout clothes or any other personal items during a long day on campus.

Active Sling Pack – Perfect for a short day on campus.

Luggage Bag Tag – College students who go to school out of state can benefit from personalized tags that can be easily spotted at the airport.

Intuition Bag – For many, going to college may be one of the first times students leave their hometown for a longer time, to do so they will most likely need to purchase their travel bags. 

All-Purpose Tote Bags – Can be used as a weekend getaway / “going home” bag, it’s perfect for a last-minute packing were folding is the last thing on our mind.

Wall Art: Wall art decor is an important piece of dorm/apartment/ house decoration of every college student. Feel free to check out our Dorm Wall Decor Board on Pinterest to get inspired to create winning-designs. CustomCat offers wall art in different types and shapes (Canvas, Posters, and Wall Flags). 

Flip Flops: Dorm showers can get nasty, every college student should have a pair or two of personalized flip flops to wear to communal bathrooms. Here are some examples that others are selling on (link included).   


Design Inspiration

Food Print never Goes out of Style: Food print and graphic tees go hand-in-hand. Any food lovers certainly will appreciate your food collection when browsing your site.

Workout Nostalgia: The old school athleisure is coming back to town. Throwback athletic gear is gaining popularity and will be an extra hit during BTS shopping. Retro workout pieces will be incorporated into an everyday wardrobe.

Coffee Coffee Coffee: A cup of coffee can go a long way. Coffee-mania trend continues, especially on college campuses. 

Anything Plaid: This trend is just getting started. Plaid gained popularity over the last couple of years and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Plaid backpacks, jackets, and t-shirts are now in style.

Quote Inspired Clothing: Quote inspired designs are here to stay. 

One thing we can’t know for sure, trends come and go, so take advantage of everything that comes your way, from local events to worldwide news. Create unique designs and we will take care of the rest.

Back-To-School Promotion Ideas

Whatever your niche may be, you can take advantage this time of the year. – even if your small business’s products aren’t directly school-related. 

  • Run Contests 
  • Bundle a Promotion 
  • Trend Promotion (must first do the research to do so)
  • De-Stress Promotion (one last vacation with personalized flip flops)
  • Back To School Social Media Giveaway