August 18, 2021 By SmartBiz Team

Back-to-school time is the second biggest shopping season of the year. Despite 2020/2021’s economic uncertainty, consumers seem ready to spend money and prepare for this popular time.

Back to school marketing is traditionally a big driver of retail sales, second only to the holiday season. With the numerous uncertainties and disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, you should start planning now for how to approach consumers in the months ahead.

See if you pre-qualify

New considerations

Technology and home furnishing spending increased more than apparel, because of the switch to at-home learning over the last year. Shoppers increasingly prefer the convenience of online purchases instead of store-to-store comparison shopping. Regardless of where in-school learning will stand this upcoming school year, it’s important to take advantage of these long-term changes.

Sponsor a giveaway

If your store doesn’t carry specific back-to-school items, you can still get in on the season. Put together an “Essential Back-to-School” gift basket to giveaway. Get creative! You can even include a treat for the parents like a bottle of wine to help kick off the school year. Masks and travel size bottles of hand sanitizer would be appreciated these days.

Cross promote

Pair up with another business and offer special bundled deals or discounts. You might go in on an event together or share advertising costs highlighting both businesses.

Create promotional items

Everyone loves free swag. Order up some water bottles, recyclable bags, or branded pencils that customers can take with them. This type of promotion can reach far and wide and encourage repeat business. Research shows that promotional items stay around a long time, reminding customers about your business.


To target parents, donate products, services, or cash to a local school in exchange for a banner or other highly visible promotion. You can donate specific items to support a sports program, library, or art class. If the school has a special event coming up, offer to provide water or other needed goods. This is a great time to giveaway branded items.

As you know, being prepared for potential sales spike is vital. Start planning for the holidays (starting with Halloween) now. You’ll be ahead of the game – always an important small business strategy.

Embrace social media

The number of social media users continues to skyrocket, especially during the pandemic when getting connected was crucial. More and more consumers turned to online shopping for everything from toilet paper to clothing to gifts. If social media isn’t part of your marketing strategy, now is the time to actively pay attention to your accounts.

Valuable content is key. A popular way to get your content in front of the right audience is hosting articles of interest to your key demographic on a blog. You can then link to specific articles in your social media posts. You can also link blog posts in a newsletter or email campaign.

Topical information at this time might be setting a back-to-school budget, consumers or teacher’s reviews of products, or an exploration of the latest fashion trends. For a small amount of money, you can easily ramp up Facebook advertising. Facebook ads let you specifically target your audience like ads to parents of children in a certain age group, in a specific school district or in the neighborhood near your store.

See if you pre-qualify

Create a pop-up shop

According to recent research, the pop-up business segment has grown to be valued at $50 billion in the U.S. A pop-up shop is a temporary retail space created for a short-term run. It’s an area where brands—usually ones without a physical presence—can interact with current and potential customers.

Whole Foods frequently features pop-up shops in neighborhood stores. Small business vendors display their health and economically sustainable-related products like clothing, self-care items, and healthy foods. The vendors benefit from a built-in audience and Whole Foods benefits by drawing in customers who will more than likely shop throughout the store.

The Shopify blog has an article packed with information about this retail option and how it can work to your advantage: Pop-Up Shops 101: Everything You Need to Know to Try Temporary Retail.

Target teachers

Don’t forget about educators! Teachers make up a consumer group of 6.7 million spending an average $1.5 billion per year. They also spend an average of $490 out of their own pockets to fund their classroom needs. Offering a teacher discount is a great way to show support.

A survey from Agile Education Marketing asked teachers what type of promotions get their attention. They reported:

  • 83% like a free gift with purchase
  • 35% like free shipping
  • 34% like a small discount off the whole purchase
  • 25% like Buy One Get One (BOGO) specials
  • 21% like a larger discount

Use these insights to craft promotions that teachers will appreciate.

Don’t forget about parents

Back-to-school can be a joyous yet stressful time for parents. They’re busy trying to figure out drop off and pick up logistics and after school activities all while spending lots of money. Consider putting together a prize basket stuffed with creative goods targeting parents. You could include items like a bottle of wine or a gift card to a local restaurant. After all, parents control the purse strings and everyone wants to feel appreciated.

Partner with an online influencer

A growing digital marketing tactic is to partner with online influencers to promote your products or services. There’s no shortage of “mommy bloggers” and others who are well-known in the parenting space. To find the right fit for your business, look at the influencer’s audience to see if it aligns with your target customer base.

Check out their reach and other promotions they might have participated in with a small business. Remember, partnering with an influencer is a direct reflection of your brand. Make sure it’s the right fit.

Throw a party

If you have a physical location, consider holding a “Back-to-School Party”. You can offer special discounts or product bundles along with a fun atmosphere-think balloons, face painting, snacks, and music. Parents are the ultimate decision makers but creating a kid-friendly party can help draw them into your store. Use social media and signage to promote your event and be sure to have plenty of inventory and staff on hand.

Hold a school supply drive

It won’t be hard to find a school or organization in your community in need of school supplies. Ask customers and employees to donate school supplies for children who don’t have access to what they need. Have a donation box in your store or an online link where shoppers can participate. You’ll get customer’s attention and support a worthy cause.

Consider outside funding

Review your sales for previous years to determine if you need to hire extra help, increase marketing, or purchase inventory for the back-to-school season. Remember, the busy holiday season is coming and you need to be prepared.

Consider a low-cost SBA loan, a bank term loan or an accounts receivable credit line to help you prepare. Not sure how funding can help your business? Check out this article from the SmartBiz Small Business Blog: 5 Ways Successful Companies Can Benefit from a Loan.

Additional tips

Stay on top of all holidays and calendar observations to determine where else you should focus your marketing dollars. We have a list of dates that can be helpful: Marketing Calendar 2021: When to Promote Your Business.

 See if you pre-qualify