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Author Biography:

Stephanie Taylor Christensen  is a freelance writer who covers personal finance, career, health,and small business news. She is the founder of Indebtedless and Om for Mom prenatal yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter.@STCWriting or www.stephanietaylorchristensen.com

How to Capture Back to School Business
By Stephanie Taylor Christensen Wednesday, July 30, 2014
The National Retail Federation calls the back-to-school season the second-biggest consumer event behind the winter holidays. But how do you attract compete with the onset of advertising and price-related ploys the big retail brands unleash on consumers? By being prepared to present compelling messages that will capture the attention of your audience and make them want to spend with you—well before they make a purchase decision. Here are a few ways small businesses can capture a piece of the highly lucrative back to school business.

Offer convenient purchase options. Last year, the NRF estimated that consumers would spend nearly $700 on K-12 back to school related supplies, and just over $900 for college-related purchases—and that was in a “down” economy. Thanks to a strong housing market, low interest rates, and a stock market that is setting records, consumers are beginning to feel some relief from the recession-type sentiment of years past. According to research by MasterCard, times of economic despair tend to work in favor of payment tools like cash, checks, prepaid gift, and debit cards that limit spending, but, as the economic outlook becomes more positive in the mind of the consumer, the reverse happens, and consumers begin to use credit cards more freely. If you do not currently accept credits cards at the point of sale, which includes online, in store, and even at a temporary location you may attend to promote your products, you miss a key opportunity to capture back to school business.

Don’t miss the bus.  Time recently reported that major retailers like Wal-Mart, JCPenney and Target began promoting back to school offers in mid-June this year.  Don’t wait to start thinking about what you can offer back to school shoppers, and talking to your customers about those promotions, even if it seems far too early in the summer. They may not buy right away, but when they know what you have to offer, you become part of their consideration set when they are ready to tackle their back to school shopping.

Keep your audience in mind.  It’s estimated that people now check smartphones and mobile devices more than 100 times a day to engage apps, read email messages, and browse/shop online. To market effectively to today’s consumer you must serve the smartphone, mobile and desktop user effectively. Email marketing campaigns should have a compelling subject line, be functional and visible on a variety of screen sizes and orientations (ensuring that images are visible on a variety of email clients, like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook), and allow the consumer to click directly from the email to your website to purchase. Likewise, your website should be “responsive” in the sense of automatically adjusting the screen orientation and imagery to fit a variety of devices, and functional enough that consumers can search, add items to a shopping cart, complete checkout, and contact your place of business by clicking on the phone number on your site for an automatic phone connection.

Make your promotions meaningful.  Back to school sales and discount codes are only effective to the degree that they solve a problem for your audience that another retailer cannot. Before you design your back to school campaigns, consider what will “speak” to the different audience segments you wish to target, and how you can position your products in such a way that shoppers cannot find the same (or better) offer elsewhere. For example, teachers may welcome the idea of a safe and simple craft kit that they can bring into the classroom to facilitate learning, while parents who are preparing to send a college student back to campus may respond to a ready-to –go shower caddy. Parents of younger kids may be interested in creative but inexpensive school-themed gift basket that parents can gift to their child’s new teachers, or coaches.
Back to school presents plenty of “needs” for consumers. The better you can simplify their experience and offer solutions, the more equipped you are to capture their attention during this time of extreme marketing clutter, and avoid having to compete on price, or with larger competitors with a bigger marketing budget, and product selection.

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