Back-to-school 2020: 6 marketing ideas to attract shoppers amid a downturn.

Nov 05 2020 | Alice Wong, PayPal Editorial Staff

Back-to-school season almost always comes with a sense of anticipation, but it will be especially heightened for 2020. As students, parents, and teachers wrestle with what it means to go back to school with coronavirus top of mind, the coming school year will be unlike any other.
But there's still reason to be optimistic about the fall buying season. General merchandise sales are up 21% compared to last year and 1 retail is also rebounding well. Total purchasing traffic (the number of online and in-store transactions) has hit the pre-crisis baseline for the first time since the outbreak began.2

So while buyer behavior will undoubtedly be different this year, families will still need certain back-to-school items – regardless of whether students return to a physical classroom or continue learning from home. There will also be greater demand for products and services that make the lives of students, parents, and teachers safer and simpler.

Pandemic-proofing your back-to-school marketing plan.

Things are changing rapidly in response to the coronavirus, so it's important to be agile in your back-to-school marketing approach. Make sure you're keeping on top of things so you can adapt quickly. This means:
·       Staying on top of news about potential school re-openings or closures in your area.
·       Surveying your audience to find out what their concerns and needs are heading into the fall.
·       Preparing contingency plans in case you have to pivot quickly in the face of new information.

 

Marketing strategies to focus on this year.

As a retailer and small business owner, you can still take advantage of this buying season no matter what you sell.
 

1. Build on buyer behavior.

Many consumers are currently in what's known as the "save and stockpile" phase, meaning they're more spending more on essentials that they think their families will need most in the coming months.You can appeal to this mentality by offering deals to buy in bulk or consider creating a loyalty program. You can even offer incentives to students who get good grades to enhance your relationship with younger buyers.
 

2. Think safety, comfort, and connection.

Consumers are also shifting their spending toward the essentials – such as health and hygiene items – and creature comforts, part of what McKinsey calls the "homebody economy." 4 In your marketing, look for ways to put a back-to-school spin on these trends. For instance, food vendors can highlight how their products make for tasty, immune-boosting school lunches, while a clothing retailer could showcase althleisure items that let you go from the gym to the classroom (or Zoom room). If you sell home furnishings, you could create an at-home office essentials checklist and show customers how they can decorate their spaces using items from your store.
 

3. Promote the perks of shopping with you.

As back-to-school season begins this year, parents will be balancing remote work with having the kids at home, since most summer activities are cancelled. Recognizing this balancing act, offering and promoting convenient solutions can be a saving grace for the busy parent. And you can attract long-term customers by making your purchasing process seamless, like offering online and mobile checkout options on your website. In your marketing materials, highlight these perks and promote the value it brings customers by saving them time and energy.
 

4. Leverage digital channels.

Consumers are turning to digital commerce now more than ever. In fact, social media use is up 51%5 and e-commerce sales jumped 49% in April 2020 alone.6 That's why it's crucial to step up back-to-school content across your digital channels. You could:
  • Create a banner or dedicated section on your website highlighting fall deals.
  • Host a giveaway and team up with bloggers and online influencers to spread the word.
  • Share positive customer reviews in your newsletter to boost social proof.

Beyond promotional marketing, you can also leverage digital tools to easily create listings and directly sell products via social, email, and chat without having to set up an e-commerce platform. (In case you do want to go the e-commerce platform route though, here's a guide on finding the best e-commerce platform for your business.)
 

5. Don't forget teachers.

Show appreciation for educators by offering "Teacher Appreciation Days" throughout the summer and fall. On these days, offer teachers special deals, free samples, or other bonuses like additional discounts or complimentary gifts. Add value by sharing downloadable classroom resources like lesson plans or calendars with your business's branding on it.
 

6. Run a school supply drive.

Give back to the community and help kids succeed by collecting books, backpacks, and other items. A donation drive builds goodwill and gets shoppers in the door. A touch-free merchant point of service tool allows customers to add a donation onto their purchase simply and safely. All you need is a PayPal account and card reader that works with a compatible device. You can also host virtual drive, collect money using online payments, and give away proceeds away to a worthy cause.

Having a few butterflies in your stomach is par for the course for a new school year, right? Tap into that energy and excitement, be ready to pivot when necessary, and you won't just appeal to new customers – you might even learn new ways to run your business.
 
The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent business, tax, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.
 
1-2 How COVID-19 is impacting consumer spending, NPD, 2020.
Future consumer index: how COVID-19 is changing consumer behaviors, EY, April 16, 2020.
Survey: US consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis, McKinsey, June 26, 2020.
Uptick in US adults' social media usage will likely normalize post-pandemic, eMarketer, June 22, 2020
2020 Digital Economy Index, Adobe, May 2020.
 

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