The National Retail Federation casts a somewhat downtrodden forecast for the coming back-to-school season, due to budget restraints and cost-conscious shoppers:
NRF's Back-to-School Spending Survey, which polled 6,500 shoppers, found that total spending for school-age and college students is expected to reach $68 billion this year. That's down from $74.9 billion in 2014, with revenues from electronics projected to be particularly weak. Among K-12 parents, spending in this category is expected to drop 7 percent, whereas for college students, it's anticipated to fall 15 percent.
It isn't all bad news, and it's also just a prediction — analysts note it's impossible to fully predict sales on school supplies and gear this far out when there's always potential for change in the economy, and that the overall market outlook is still positive as we move further into the year and toward the holidays.
While it isn't cause for panic, it's still important news to keep in mind for stores that also offer computers, tablets, binders and other school supplies as the fall term approaches.
So how do you offset a potential slump in sales during the busiest time of year for college stores? There's no one-size-fits-all miracle plan, but we've got some suggestions that have proven results.
1. Sales, Sales, Sales
If people want to spend less at the beginning of the school year, then one of the best ways to encourage students to buy from your store is to make it more cost-effective for them to do so.
For smaller, lower-cost items like pens and pencils or folders, you can offer two-for-one sales or credit on so many units sold. For mid-tier items that tend to have higher margins like apparel or backpacks, consider cutting a percentage or dollar amount off the price to make them even more enticing. While it can be harder to drop prices on larger items like laptops or MP3 players, you might consider throwing in accessories like a mouse or set of headphones to provide added value cost-conscious shoppers can't get elsewhere.
Experiment with what works best at your store: if you need more ideas, check out some of the sales these stores did on National Student Day.
2. Cross-selling to grab attention
Placement is everything, so keep in mind who would need what merchandise and why. If a student is picking up their math textbooks, they'll be more likely to buy a new calculator or bundle of graphing paper if it's on display right next to the shelf. If they're looking ahead in the year and buying a new sweater with your school's logo, they might also appreciate foam fingers, football facepaint or other spirit wear to have on hand for the next big game.
It may seem simple, but cross-promoting really works, in-store and online.
3. Market and sell in-store and online
The best sales in the world won't do you any good if your audience doesn't know you're having them. Make sure students are aware of what you have to offer with effective marketing. Reach students where they are on social media. (Images do wonders for generation attention, and if you're using Facebook, you might consider spending a few dollars on a promoted post to increase visibility.) Don't underestimate the old-fashioned approach, either. When foot traffic is especially high on campus, a few eye-catching visible posters in key locations can get a lot of eyes on your sale.
Though it can feel challenging to flex your promotional muscle during busier times of year, it really pays off when you do. And as always, keep an eye on our Monthly Marketing Plans for free promotional materials, sales and event ideas!
No market forecast is a guarantee. With the right plan and the right execution, you can still have a stellar back-to-school season.