Competing With Big-Box Stores for Back-to-School Dollars

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on September 3, 2013
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According to data from the National Retail Federation, the average family with schoolchildren will spend $634.78 — or $836.83, if the students are in college — this year on purchases of clothing, shoes, school supplies, and electronics. Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $72.5 billion.

If you run a retail business, you have an opportunity to get a chunk of that change. But you’ll have to compete with the deep discounts offered by online retailers and big-box chains. Here’s how.

  • Tout your products’ quality. Many small merchants stock top-quality specialty wares vs. the mass-market items typically offered by big-box retailers. If your inventory fits the bill, flaunt it. “As back-to-school time approaches, we send our 10,000 newsletter subscribers a reminder about the back-to-school bags and cases we offer, so that they can order our high-quality, U.S.-made gear easily online rather than going to big-box stores to buy overseas-made gear of lesser quality,” says Heidi Waterfield, director of PR and marketing at WaterField Designs.
  • Focus on convenience. What can you do to take the stress out of parents’ and students’ lives? Package products and bundle services to make buying them convenient. “Pre-bundle items they would normally need to 
browse for to save them time,” suggests Elizabeth Kraus, a small-business marketing consultant. “Or save them money by bundling multiple services, such as a salon offering a school year’s worth of pre-booked hair appointments or 
a special price to a mom who brings in all of her kids at the same time for
 haircuts.”
  • Give back to your community. Small businesses already have an edge over big-box stores among consumers who like to shop locally. Why not run a back-to-school charity promotion to bolster the community impact of their purchases? Offer to donate a portion of every dollar they spend to neighborhood schools. In addition to supporting your community, the move makes good business sense: According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 62 percent of small-business owners say that giving back makes their companies more successful in the long run.
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