How to Capitalize on the Back-to-School Shopping Rush

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on August 13, 2012

It’s time for students — from kindergartners to MBAs — to head back to school, which means many of them (or their parents) will be stocking up on supplies.

Back-to-school shopping is big business. The average family with children in kindergarten through high school will spend $688.62 to meet kids’ needs this year, up from $603.63 in 2011, the National Retail Federation reports. Average college spending is up even more, from $808.71 in 2011 to $907.22 in 2012.

Here’s how to capitalize on those back-to-school dollars, no matter what type of business you own:

  • Offer discounts to student shoppers, particularly if you’re located in a college town. Whether you run an apparel shop or a café, you’re likely to attract new customers by offering a special discount or free item to students with school ID. You may take a slight loss initially, to get people in the door, but students will be more likely to return to — and spend their limited budgets in — your shop throughout the school year.
  • Send out email newsletters featuring advice on back-to-school shopping. If you have a sizable email list, capitalize on it by sending out a “tip sheet” that doubles as a promotion for your company. (If you can, send your message only to parents of school-age children.) Don’t just include sales pitches: Write an article full of useful advice that parents are likely to pass along to their friends. Include a store coupon in the sidebar that encourages them to act on your advice and support your company.
  • Create an in-store display that targets students. Think about what merchandise you carry that would appeal to students and create compelling displays in your window or near the front of the store. For instance, if you own a bookstore, create a few “bundles” of fun recommended reads for each age group, right next to schools’ “required reading” sections. Don’t be afraid to use creative visual elements: This designer’s back-to-school apparel display makes excellent use of those cork billboards that are ubiquitous in dorm rooms.
  • Stock up on dorm supplies. The National Retail Federation found that one-quarter of college students will live in campus housing this year — the highest percentage in its survey’s history. If you sell products like furniture, electronics, or artwork, target the dorm crowd by stocking inventory that’s affordable and fits easily in small spaces.
  • Promote gift cards to parents. The NRF’s survey also found that many parents are giving their college-age kids gift cards (instead of credit cards) to pay for food, gas, and other expenses. To cash in on this trend, offer pre-paid gift cards for set dollar amounts for your store. Companies such as Valutec, StoreFinancial, and Gift Card USA can help you set up a gift card program, which should also serve you well around the holidays.