Educate Yourself to Take Advantage of Back to School Sales

7/28/2010

As kids, while we probably didn't look forward to the actual start of the school year, there was something exciting about getting brand new, crisp folders, a box of never-been-used crayons, a pair of scissors that didn't have glue all over them, and all the other supplies. Not to mention the new clothes that came as part of the back to school package.

As adults in the retail industry, back-to-school season is likely more exciting than it is for students. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics this season, compared to $548.72 last year. In fact, back to school is second only to the November/December holiday season in total sales.

It's clearly obvious that back to school is an important time for apparel retailers. But what if you don't have the huge marketing budget of the major stores — or even what might be considered a traditional, school-oriented product mix? Below are some things you can do to carve out your share of this lucrative market anyway.

Start early, email often.
Begin sending messages as soon as possible announcing that your back to school inventory will be coming soon. Send follow-ups to help the excitement build. Perhaps offer a sneak peek of merchandise or special pricing you'll be offering.

When it's time to officially launch your back to school sales, send a major announcement. Continue to send reminders each week, or every other week, always featuring either your hottest-sellers or the merchandise the media reports is the hottest-seller. If you know the actual start date, set up a couple of reminders you can send before the big day.

People have short memories, especially during the busy summer months. Make sure they remember you.

Accentuate your local presence.
It can be tough for small businesses to compete with the major brand stores on a pricing basis. So rather than go head-to-head with them on their turf, you need to use your local roots and/or small size to your advantage.

That makes it easy for customers to shop with you instead of fighting the crowds. For example, offer free alterations over a certain dollar amount, or a choice of locally themed products such as a water bottle or baseball cap. Mention school attire specifically, including any local school colors in stock.

Jump on trends.
There are plenty of media outlets and "experts" who predict what the hot trends will be for the school year. With a quick online search you can find these ahead of time and promote the ones that will do you the most good.

If there's a hot new clothing item and you're selling it, make it the feature of a back to school email. If the hot item is expensive and you have a less-costly (but valid) substitute, you can promote that instead. Offer music download gift certificates with purchases over a certain dollar amount. Just remember, youth trends come and go quickly; you don't want to get stuck with an inventory of Lizzy McGuire socks.

Another great idea is to give VIP customers a chance to see new back-to-school fashions before the public sees them, which is an event you can schedule for the day after your new shipments arrive. This would appeal to the teenager shoppers and their parents and the "early warning" gives them a reason to be on your email marketing list.

Find a way to tie in.
To give you an idea of the creativity you can use in marketing for back to school, we can look at other retail segments. If you're a retailer that sells No. 2 pencils, book bags and the ever-popular protractor, it's not that tough to tie in to the back to school hoopla. If, however, you own a lamp shop or an ice cream parlor it may take a bit more creativity.

A lamp shop can promote the importance of good lighting and/or a good environment to promote better study habits. Remind parents of students moving from middle school to high school that the old lamp with the pictures of ponies or racecars is really not be appropriate to a teenager, and perhaps it's time to move to something more "young adult."

An ice cream parlor can email about a "last chance before school" week — bring in the kiddies before the summer's over and there's no time. When school starts, what better way is there to get over the "back to school blues" than Rocky Road in a waffle cone? Offer a free small cone for good grades at the beginning of the semester. All it takes is a bit of imagination and you can make your apparel business a part of the back to school season.

Keep parents in mind.
Many parents, especially the stay-at-home ones, look forward to the back to school time period almost as much as you do. Think of things you can do for them.

You might offer a "My baby just started Kindergarten" get-together for parents who need advice on attire for school. For parents of older kids, you can talk about the bonding time they get helping their kids buy clothes, and helping them make good decisions.

Back to school is an opportunity you don't want to miss. It's a time when even the most frugal open their wallets and get themselves and their children ready for the coming year. With a little imagination, and the right email marketing service to take advantage of it, you'll find yourself singing "School Days" all day long.

Mélanie Attia is Product Marketing Manager for Campaigner, an e-mail marketing solution that enables organizations to have personalized one-to-one e-mail dialogues with their customers, measure how they respond, and analyze those responses. To download the free eBook The Small Business Guide to Email Marketing: Top Tips to Get You Started visit http://www.campaigner.com/ebook. Campaigner is provided by Protus, provider of my1voice, the cost-effective, feature-rich virtual phone service, and award-winning MyFax, the fastest growing Internet fax service. Mélanie can be reached at [email protected].

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