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How to Capitalize on the Back-to-School Boon

Posted by Lori Reese on 6/18/18 5:30 AM
Topics: back to college, college stores, Bookstore marketing

Good news at last: Back-to-school retail sales will increase 4% this year, according to eMarketer Retail. The time is ripe to set up displays, target items for markdown and put the word out. Embrace the back-to-school spirit.

How to Capitalize on the Back-to-School Boon

The mid-to-late summer months mark the second-largest shopping season of the year after the winter holidays. More than 70% of consumers will shop for supplies one to two months before the first day of class, with one-quarter starting as early as July 1, according to the National Retail Foundation’s study of 2016 back-to-school trends. eMarketer Retail predicts total retail sales in July and August will come to $857.18 billion, accounting for 17% of 2017 retail sales.

How shoppers spend

The average family budgeted nearly $674 for back-to-school items in 2016, up from $630 in 2015, according to the NRF. The 4% boost in back-to-school sales should increase the average budget about $27 to $701 in 2017.

 Pro tip:

While the weather is hot, consider a body-positive campaign that shows authentic models of all sizes dressed in your summertime attire.

Families set aside money for items other than course materials and budgets will go to much more than pens and notebooks, so prepare your staff accordingly. Households spent the most on clothes last year, portioning funds in this way:

  1. Apparel: $235.39
  2. Electronics: $204.06
  3. Shoes: $126.55
  4. School supplies: $107.06

Ensure your marketing builds on students’ search for the right clothing and accessories. If your store is like the State University of San Diego Bookstore and stocks upmarket designer items, include images of your offerings on your website and on social media. Appeal to students’ wish to keep up with the latest trends.

Display the latest electronics and schedule knowledgeable associates on-site who can help families navigate choices between desktops, laptops and tablets.

 Pro tip:

Use Instagram Stories to market electronics and apparel. That will give your sales top-of-the-page placement and allow you to show off several items at once.

Where shoppers expect to spend

Most families will shop at more than one store, according to the NRF. The back-to-college crowd looks for discount store bargains and shops online, but brick-and-mortar college stores are not excluded from plans.

Here’s how percentages lined up in 2016 for the top four shopping locations:

  • 43.7% planned to shop at discount stores — the lowest ever in the study’s history.
  • 42.5% planned to shop at a department store, down from 44.9% in 2015.
  • 37.5% planned to spend online, down from just over 39% in 2015.
  • 34.4% planned to shop at the college bookstore, down from 39.1% in 2015.

Where was the fall-off from the top four going? More than 12% planned to spend at a local or small business compared to 10.6% in 2015.

Capitalize on your identity as a campus store. Encourage students to invest where their loyalties lie. Promote logoed clothes, supplies and accessories —  smartphone cases, laptop bags, dorm décor and, of course, t-shirts and hats for campus games.

 Pro tip:

Appeal to students’ shop-local ideals with a sidewalk sale and a branded Snapchat geofilter. Also, try a Snapchat spirit wear fashion show, featuring students modeling your coolest logoed offerings.

Retailers everywhere will benefit from this year’s increased spending, a welcome boon after months of grim news for brick-and-mortar stores. Let back-to-school excitement fill your store and students will be sure to return after classes begin.


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