Back to School Marketing for Small Business Retailers

The back to school shopping season isn’t over yet. Although the kids are definitely back at school (whew!), many parents are not done shopping for supplies.

In fact, according to the research of the National Retail Federation, only 17% of school shoppers and 15% of college shoppers finish getting their supplies before the end of summer. Moreover, 21% of school parents and 23% of college students haven’t even started their shopping.

Deloitte’s 2018 Back-to-School survey found that consumers spend about $1 billion on back to school shopping in the month of September.

All this means that it’s not too late for your business to embark on some serious back to school marketing.

Back to School Marketing Stats and Trends for Small Business Retailers

Back to School Shopping Trends


As the above mentioned surveys show, the shopping season for school supplies is getting longer, with shoppers biding their time until the last minute to land the best deals.

This gives more time and opportunities for retailers’ back to school marketing efforts to reach consumers, beat your competition, and schedule deals to catch your customers’ attention.


Besides scheduling, the other most important back to school retail trend is shopping channels.

According to Shopify’s 2018 report, 45% of consumers (44% in case of college shoppers) choose ecommerce when shopping for school supplies.

In 2018, online shopping is split evenly between desktops and mobile. Most consumers use both when researching products before a purchase (49% use desktops and 53% use mobile).

When it comes to actually buying a product, desktops are still more popular, with 53% of consumers reaching for their keyboards when making a purchase. Currently, mobile has a 43% market share in all online back to school purchases.

Currently, mobile has a 43% market share in all online back to school purchases.

This means that (if you haven’t already done so) you can’t avoid optimizing your ecommerce store to accommodate mobile shopping as well. Losing customers because of technological issues is bad for business as well as your image.

This is especially important since, according to Deloitte, people who tend to spend more on back to school shopping are usually buying their supplies online. Electronics are also the most popular products chosen online by back to school shoppers.

However, this is not set in stone. Shopify found that 22% of people are undecided about their shopping channel and won’t make up their minds until the last minute before making a purchase.

Now is the time for retailers to jump in with a timely promotion and guide those undecided shoppers toward their stores, both brick-and-mortar and online.


The majority (83%) of customers who choose brick and mortar shops pick mass merchants for their shopping, and another big chunk (36%) go to dollar stores to save a buck or two.

While your business can’t turn into a mass merchant or a discount store overnight, there’s still something you can do to reach potential customers and steal them from your competition.

Deloitte’s research shows that price-sensitive retailers (stores that offer the lowest prices) get the most customers from all income groups. A whopping 81% of low, 76% of middle and 70% of high income families choose the best deals they can get.

Your back to school marketing efforts should definitely be built around price and offering the best deals to your customers. Retail’s a big industry. Make a splash.

Back to School Shopping Statistics

The Size of the Market

According to Shopify, back to school sales account for $83.6 billion in the US. Elementary and high school purchases amount to $29.5 billion, while college students spend around $54.1 on supplies.

Deloitte’s research found that $5.5 billion is up for grabs for retailers who can convince undecided shoppers to get school supplies from their store.

Aggressive and highly targeted back to school marketing efforts can help your business grab a significant chunk of sales during the first weeks of September.

Distribution of Purchases

The main items on a typical back to school shopping list are school supplies, apparel, shoes, and electronics.

As Shopify’s data shows, the average American family spends $688 on back to school shopping. The majority of that is spent on apparel ($229), while shoes ($130) and electronics ($204) are also high on the list. Actual school supplies “only” amount for $114.

Unsurprisingly, back to college shopping requires consumers to dig deeper into their pockets. An average household spends $970 on getting their college-aged kids back to campus. The list of items to grab is a lot longer, with furnishings, food, and personal care items making an appearance as well.

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Back to School Marketing Ideas

Use Social Media

Social media platforms are your best bet at reaching potential customers. Use your followers to spread the word about your back to school promotions, and offer creative incentives like contests or prizes to engage with customers.

Market to Influencers

According to Deloitte’s study, over $21 billion of back to school shopping is influenced by children.

While marketing to kids certainly has its moral do’s and don’ts, you can delicately aim your campaigns to attract the attention of the people actually causing the whole back to school shopping uproar.

Showcase Your Products

Design a shop window and/or a section of your ecommerce website dedicated to back to school products. Create an atmosphere that gets shoppers in the mood for browsing items that can make the incoming school year easier or more fun.

Create Events

Build an event around your back to school merchandise. Come up with an original premise that would draw customers in and help them make up their minds about making a purchase right away.

Make sure not to overdo it, though. Displaying a classroom with a surprise pop quiz may scare away more than a few customers.


As the back to school shopping statistics show, the season provides retailers with great selling opportunities. The staggering amount of potential revenue is well worth the extra marketing effort.

If you get started right away, targeted marketing campaigns as well as smartly scheduled promotions can draw many last-minute back to school shoppers to your store.



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