The Ultimate Back to School Marketing Checklist

Retail marketing professionals take note—back-to-school spending for 2021 is expected to reach $32.5 billion. That’s almost 17% higher than pre-pandemic levels (2019). As students return to in-person learning, retailers must be ready to answer the call for new clothes, book bags, binders, laptops, and more. To help retailer brands ensure their marketing is relevant, timely, and capable of captivating consumer attention, we composed this back to school marketing checklist to ensure nothing is left to change.

  • School supplies

    • Pens, pencils, book bags, notebooks, three-ring binders, etc.

  • Clothing and accessories

    • Tanks, tees, shoes, hats, hoodies, etc.

  • Electronics

    • Smartphones, tablets, wireless headphones, laptops, eReaders etc.

  • Health and hygiene

    • Hand sanitizer, masks, disinfectant wipes, etc.

  • Educational materials 

    • Textbooks, course materials, online classes, etc.

Bundle popular products from different categories to help back-to-school shoppers meet multiple needs at once. Or bundle trendy, quick-selling products with less popular items to help move stale inventory off the shelves. 

Many consumers are tired of pointing and clicking all day long—they want a return to tactile back to school shopping. By the same token, the convenience of online shopping isn’t going away, so don’t leave customers disappointed. Advertise a variety of fulfillment options to match individual shopper preferences: 

  • Buy-online pickup-in-store

  • Same-day delivery

  • Curbside pickup

  • Click and collect

  • On-demand delivery

With many Americans still out of work and inflation on the rise, consumers will still be price-conscious this back to school season. Therefore, coupons, discounts, and other offers that incentivize students, parents, and teachers to do their back to school shopping with your brand are a MUST this year.

Back-to-school marketers vested in brick-and-mortar should strive to identify the most lucrative designated marketing areas in terms of foot traffic. Focus additional budget on the key geographic areas where a surge in consumer shopping is expected to maximize the ROI of each dollar spent. 

This year more than any other, consumers will NOT be doing all their back to school shopping in a single trip. Lines, capacity restrictions, and other obstacles will entice people to break buying up across multiple days or weeks. To that end, it will be critical for retail marketers to build campaigns that capture consumer attention at multiple intervals and drive purchases across multiple dates.  

Consumers are growing increasingly fond of SMS as a marketing channel—they love that it’s a direct way to get real-time updates. Zeta’s data suggest that at least 20% of shoppers expect the retailers they do business with to contact them via SMS. To that end, it’s critical for retailers to have a strategy in place to activate SMS this back to school season. 

The most effective back to school marketers will be able to optimize in real-time by capitalizing on a wide array of consumer signal data. They’ll use these signals to uncover unique, back to school buying trends that amplify acquisition effectiveness, maximize retention, and increase their ability to upsell.

Many retail brands over-index on early back to school marketing—almost half of back-to-school consumers will still be doing their shopping in September. The smartest retail marketers will tap known customer and prospect data to understand which items back-to-school shoppers are most likely to buy, and when they’re most likely to do it. 

Consumers report feeling compelled and motivated to “shop small” and save local businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. As such, 64% of back-to-school shoppers will buy from local brick-and-mortar businesses this year. Retail marketers must capitalize on this by forming partnerships with smaller, independent brick-and-mortar merchants, then promoting those relationships using thoughtful email and social campaigns to cultivate awareness.

Looking for more back to school marketing insights?

If you’re interested in getting even more granular with your back to school marketing—talk to us. From our Zeta Data Trends to our back to school marketing guide, Zeta has everything retail marketers need to stay ahead of the game. 


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