Retail Tips for a Successful Back-to-School Selling Season

Aug 3, 2022

As the summer season comes to a close and families start their back-to-school (BTS) shopping, retail’s second busiest season of the year comes at a time when there are extraordinary pressures within the economy that we have not seen in quite some time. Surging inflation is top of mind for consumers this year and as pressure mounts on everyday expenses, more parents may feel they’ll have trouble affording their children’s BTS needs, compared to previous years. Supply chain issues are also weighing on consumer’s minds as concerns on whether the items they need will be in stock or available grow.

To help retailers navigate various BTS challenges, the DHW Retail Team offers the following tips on how to maximize sales and ensure a successful BTS selling season.

Pricing – There are several school supply shopping motivators, but price is number one. In fact, many BTS shoppers largely see school supplies as a commodity, meaning price and value are key drivers of purchasing decisions, especially this year with record inflation. As a result, consumers will be very price conscious and deal-hungry this year and may shift to more of a need-/price-based buying methodology.  As such, it’s critical that your store(s) promote sales and discounts to the extent possible and consider keeping factors such as competitive/everyday pricing and price matching in play.  Consumers will also be quick to take advantage of shopping events such as Amazon Prime Day, state sales tax holidays, and Labor Day sales. Signage, shelf tags, ads, and coupons will continue to appeal to consumers as will discounts on bundling and multiple quantity purchases.

Product – Having the right product in store (and enough of it) is also key for BTS shoppers. While having the core necessities on hand is essential, it’s also important to know your local schools and colleges as most of them typically issue specific lists of supplies and items that students are required to have.  Consider working with your local schools to understand these needs and align your product offerings and associated merchandising strategies around them.

Merchandising – Even with the rise of online shopping, the vast majority of BTS purchases will continue to occur in person.  On a category level, school supplies and clothing tend to be purchased more in stores, while electronics and books are more likely to be purchased online. Even so, stores should understand and utilize the primary ways to attract customers to displays and areas within their stores that offer BTS merchandise. Also, consider cross merchandising school supplies with other items such as snacks and other grocery items as examples to increase the basket size and capture incremental sales.

Online – Digital channels are still vitally important for the BTS season as many consumers will still shop online. Digital advertising, especially with mobile, is an ideal way to reach consumers to advertise, enhance product discovery, and allow consumers to browse the various products and services you offer.  As such, it is critical that online or mobile channels are continuously updated for key areas such as pricing, stock levels, and deals. It is also important to always offer a seamless checkout experience.

Other “Quick-Hit” Considerations:

Sales Tax Holidays – If you operate in a state or local jurisdiction that offers sales tax holidays, make sure your systems are equipped to handle the change in sales tax rates during the checkout process. Also, it is critical that you train your store employees on what is taxable and non-taxable during the holiday as consumers will undoubtedly have many questions.

Carry Baskets and Carts – Increase the shopper’s physical capacity to carry more by placing carts and carry baskets near the BTS areas/displays and make sure they are clearly marked for shoppers use.  Customers bare-handed will only buy so much; customers with a cart or handbasket can buy more.

Social Media – Customers are increasingly engaging with social media to make purchasing decisions.  As such, utilize as many channels as possible to communicate and promote your BTS offerings and be creative with your online presence to attract attention. Target parents, not students.  Parents, especially those with younger or middle school-aged children, are much more likely to spend more than parents with older kids. Consider utilizing data from any loyalty program databases to assist with identifying your target audience.

Signage & Displays – Customers are influenced the most by light, smell, color, movement, and signage.  As such, consider incorporating these concepts into your BTS areas as they are critical components to driving traffic to these areas.

As previously mentioned, this BTS selling season may look and feel a little different than the past due to the current economic conditions and perhaps how the pandemic may have changed or impacted supply needs. However, in the end, we believe the average consumer will be seeking affordability, value, and convenience during this BTS shopping season. It is also critical to remember that no matter what time of year it is, all consumers like money-saving opportunities, friendly and helpful customer service, clean stores, and expect full shelves with no out-of-stocks. As such, the BTS shopping season also offers you a chance to showcase your store and potentially gain new and repeat customers in the long term!

To learn more about these and other concepts that can help your retail organization increase profits, reduce risk, and achieve operational efficiencies, please contact Tim Reynolds at or at 828.322.2070.