Take Advantage of These 4 Kinds of Back to School Shoppers

How to Attract the 4 Kinds of Back to School Shoppers

Does your retail store benefit from back-to-school shoppers? You can if you sell apparel and accessories; books, music or video; computers or consumer electronics; office supplies; or toy and hobby items, such as sporting goods. eMarketer has identified these as the five core product groups that experience the biggest lift in sales during the back-to-school shopping season.

While 70 percent of back-to-school sales last year took place in brick-and-mortar stores, online shopping for back-to-school is on the rise. eMarketer projects that e-commerce for the season will grow by 14.8 percent compared to last year (although it still accounts for only 8.6 percent of all back-to-school retail sales). As your store competes against other physical retailers and online retailers for back-to-school customers, how can you come out on top?

Try viewing back-to-school season as a series of “mini-seasons,” The NPD Group suggests. The organization studied last year’s shopping activity during back to school and found that consumers shop in waves that ebb and flow during the season.

Online and off-line shopping waves come at different times. Last year, for instance, brick-and-mortar sales peaked in the first two weeks of August, while online sales peaked the week ending July 16. (That was also Amazon Prime day, which this year falls on July 11.) Tax-free shopping days, which take place in many states in August, also affect shopping patterns, particularly in brick-and-mortar stores.

How to Attract the 4 Kinds of Back to School Shoppers

NPD Group also identified four mini-seasons of back-to-school shopping:

Those Shopping for Little Kids

This generally falls in line with the traditional season, peaking in August. However, more parents are starting to shop later, and some even wait until the school year begins so they can find better deals.

How to capture shoppers: Market to parents, emphasizing value and savings, since these are key factors for this demographic. You can also appeal to children with TV ads during children’s programming on local cable.

Those Shopping for Other People’s Kids

Also called “pantry shopping,” this refers to teachers who purchase classroom supplies with their own money and/or recruit parents to buy supplies to donate to the classroom. Teachers make these purchases before school starts, while parents make them after school starts when they know what teachers want. About one-third of such shopping trips take place after August.

How to capture shoppers: Pantry shopping offers an opportunity for your retail store to do good in the community. Donate some products and spotlight sales on products that are frequently requested, like Kleenex, hand sanitizer, pens and pencils, notebooks or paper. You can even work with local schools to create classroom “wish lists” and package the products in bundles so parents can just grab, pay and go.

Those Shopping for College Kids

College students need much more stuff than younger students do — especially if they’re going away to college to live in an apartment or dorm. College-age shopping generally peaks earlier than other types of shopping, NPD Group says. In addition, this age group does lot of their own shopping (choosing products if not actually paying for them) and may prefer to do it online.

How to capture shoppers: Online advertising and social media outreach can attract college students, but you may face stiff competition from online sellers. A better bet for a brick-and-mortar store is to market to mom and dad. Parents may prefer to see and touch dorm bedding or furnishings, for example, before shelling out money for them. Parents may also see the shopping expedition as a last-minute chance to bond with students before they leave for college. NPD Group reports last year, home textile sales in brick-and-mortar stores surged the week of July 31.

Those Shopping in Reaction to Other People’s Kids

After school begins, students come home and pester their parents for the clothes, shoes, accessories and school supplies their peers are showing off. To avoid spending too much money during the season, many parents now wait until after school starts to buy at least some of their students’ back-to-school stuff. Shoes, in particular, are a popular “reaction” buy.

How to capture shoppers: Keep your ear to the ground (and the internet) to figure out which products are popular with local schoolchildren. Then promote those products like crazy right after school starts. Take advantage of short-lived crazes if you can. One year, every kid at my niece’s school was putting washi tape on their pants. Smart retailers frequented by parents and children started putting washi tape racks at their point-of-purchase.

It takes some planning, but by riding the waves of back-to-school shopping, your store can go to the head of the class.

Backpacks Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.