US school children wearing backpacks on way to school

How to Optimize Back-to-School eCommerce Sales

Alison Wiltshire

26 Jun 2024

School may just have let out for the summer, but according to the National Retail Foundation’s (NRF) annual back-to-school survey, 1 in five of consumers have already started shopping for the 2024/25 school year. It’s a time when parents and students of all ages get ready for a new year and are on the hunt for everything from notebooks and backpacks to the latest tech gadgets or dorm room essentials.

In an upward trend, back-to-school spending in the US reached $41.5B in 2023, up from $36.9B in 2022. Back-to-college spending, which typically includes larger dormitory purchases, jumped from $73.9B in 2022 to $94B in 2023. While back-to-school sales surged as students returned to in-class instruction following the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts anticipate less aggressive growth in 2024.

The real pressure of back-to-school shopping

For parents especially, back-to-school shopping can be stressful – there are so many different options at different price points, not to mention the added pressure of getting the “right” items. When did the Stanley water bottle become the must-have item for elementary students?

Most back-school-shoppers look for answers to the questions below in order to make the best purchase decisions:

  • Is it popular? As a parent, unless you’re “in the know”, it is not an easy task to find and select the popular items that most students want, especially if you’re time-strapped and shopping online without a store associate to readily ask.
  • Is it good quality and good value? Popularity is not the only criteria for making the right decisions. Parents, especially, will be on the lookout for high-quality products at the right price points.
  • Will it fit? One of the hardest things about online shopping is determining if a product will fit correctly to avoid having to return the eCommerce purchase.
  • Is it sustainable? Sustainability is becoming increasingly important, especially among younger shoppers, who favor eco-friendly products and ethically sourced ingredients.

Retailers and brands that focus on helping shoppers easily find the answers to these questions are much better positioned to deliver stress-free and easy eCommerce shopping experiences that will lead to a greater share of back-to-school spending.

How to make back-to-school shopping less nerve-wracking

While you may have already kicked off your back-to-school digital commerce strategy, it is not too late to make your business stand out even more, this season and secure a greater share of the back-to-school wallet. Social proof messaging, for instance, can be implemented in just a few weeks and yields immediate results. By aggregating and analyzing real-time purchase trends and the behaviors of other shoppers, this powerful solution delivers relevant messaging that makes back-to-school shopping less nerve-wracking – essentially helping parents make the best purchase decisions and, as a result, significantly increasing sales.

Popularity/Trend Messaging: Helping parents buy the latest must-have items

Whether shopping for a backpack, a water bottle, a tech gadget or even school uniform essentials, most students will ask for the latest and most popular styles and brands. But how can parents confidently determine what products are the most popular? Social proof trending messaging surfaces items that are viewed most and selling fast, providing back-to-school shoppers with a quick and easy way to pinpoint the most popular products within a category and subcategories. Unlike traditional bestseller badging, social proof messaging is delivered in real-time with quantifiable data like “67 purchased in the last hour”.

M&S back to school range on their website

eXtended Messaging: Helping parents navigate feature-rich products

The right product information is vital to helping shoppers make better purchase decisions, but too often, critical product data is buried in product descriptions and hard to find.

With eXtended messaging, key attributes such as organic cotton, leakproof, or lightweight are highlighted upfront, making it easier for shoppers to navigate a myriad of choices faster.

school uniform jumper in phone graphic with message 'organic cotton. 37 purchased in the last 24 hours'

Review Messaging: Helping parents shop with confidence

By aggregating reviews and incorporating them into social proof messaging, you can help shoppers make more informed and confident purchase decisions. Messages can include fit advice, such as 87% say size runs large or impressions of quality like 90% of shoppers rate this 4 stars for quality.

Aggregating review messaging and harnessing the power of other customers’ opinions increases conversions but also reduces the risk of returns, ensuring customers get the right product the first time rather than having to re-order days before the new school year begins.

Very.com website unisex 3 pack school sports t shirts - white

Inventory Messaging: Helping parents shop in time

Inventory messaging helps warn shoppers when the inventory of items they are browsing is running low. This is especially vital given how short the back-to-school window can be and the inevitable back-to-school shop rush when parents realize that what they bought earlier in the summer no longer fits or that the new year is looming faster than they realized.

The value of social proof messaging throughout the back-to-school shopping journey

Social proof messaging and each of the above messaging types have different roles throughout the back-to-school shopping experience. The combination of relevant messages, delivered at the right time and customized to your brand’s look and feel, can significantly impact your sales results during this peak season.

Whether targeting budget-conscious shoppers or those that prioritize sustainability, back-to-school shopping is never easy, but with social proof messaging, you can help your customers shop with confidence.

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