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The Why and How of Back-to-School Advertising for eCommerce Brands

Back-to-school advertising lets eCommerce brands benefit from the 2nd largest retail event of the year. Here’s how and why to do your own school campaigns.

Kelly McNulty
Kelly McNulty

Jul 20, 2021

Students head back to school soon. And in many locations, students will return to the classroom after a year of remote learning. That means new school clothes, backpacks, computers, pens, notebooks, and more. It also means it’s time to prep the back-to-school advertising strategy for your eCommerce brand.

The Back-to-School 2021 Forecast

The school shopping season is the second-biggest annual retail event of the year. It comes in second only to the holiday shopping season. US eCommerce sales grew 33.6% in 2020. They’re forecast to grow 13.6% in 2021. So parents are sure to be doing a lot of back-to-school shopping online this year.

16-increase-spot-min-300x294The “2021 Deloitte back-to-school survey,” forecasts an increase of 16% in back-to-school spending in 2021 over 2020. It also forecasts spending per US child to average $612 in 2021 — up from $529 in 2020.

According to the survey, sales of technology items will increase 37% increase over 2020. Sales of traditional items and COVID-related items are forecast to rise, 2% and 42% respectively. And 49% of sales in 2021 are expected to be made in online stores — up from 44% in 2020.

A National Retail Federation (NRF) survey though found that 49% of parents said their kids are most excited to buy new clothes in 2021, up from 42% in 2020.

Deloitte forecasts that 59% of back-to-school sales in 2021 will happen in July. That leaves 41% of sales to the August and September timeframes. Lands End CEO Jerome Griffith though anticipates school shopping will kick off in August.

Either way, if you haven’t started your back-to-school PPC campaigns yet, it’s time.

Back-to-College Is Coming and Offers Unique Marketing Opportunities Too

Your promotions don’t have to be just about back-to-school. Many retailers target back-to-college-themed promotions as well.

Calendar-spot-min-281x300According to Statista, back-to-college shopping is greatest from mid-July and mid-August but can last through October. US parents and students were projected to spend $67.7 billion on back-to-college items in 2020.

And with two years worth of college students going on campus for the first time in 2021, spending is likely to be even higher.

Start Planning — and Running — Your Back-to-School Advertising Campaigns Now

With school and college starting soon, buyers are shopping or will be soon. And according to NRF research, 61% of shoppers plan to shop sales events, like Prime Day or Labor Day, for school items. Prime Day 2021 is over, but Labor Day is coming up on September 6, making the time ripe to start advertising.

Start by picking what you what to accomplish — your goals. Your goals can include added sales, acquiring new customers, clearing inventory, and more.

Find an easy-to-follow three-step guide for planning, running, and analyzing your back-to-school campaigns in The 3-Step Guide to Successful eCommerce Promotions.

Once you know what you want to accomplish:

    1. Plan your budget — plan on maxing out your budget and on spending more, but know that you’ll also earn more revenue from your campaigns.
    2. Pick your promotion types. Decide whether you’ll run a single-day event, a multi-day event, different offers each day, countdowns, coupons, percent or dollars off, free shipping, or what.
    3. Decide which channels and platforms to use — paid search, shopping, display, social, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon.
    4. Set up your campaigns.
    5. Start running your ads.

Back-to-School Promotion Types

You can run any number of back-to-school promotions — discounts, free samples (for the kids to try, or even mom and dad), flash sales, rewards programs (to fill junior’s ongoing needs), and more. Find different promotion types and the drivers behind them in How to Use Buyer Psychology in eCommerce Promotions.

82-spot-min-300x294Even if you don’t offer discounts or actual promotions, you can use back-to-school advertising as a great brand awareness play. You can also fall back on free shipping. A RetailMeNot survey in 2020 found that 82% of Americans prefer free shipping over faster delivery.

Set Up and Run Your Ads

Once you’ve determined your promotion type(s), the process of setting up your campaigns doesn’t have to be lengthy.

  • Start by creating your target audiences, which can include parents, students, and/or teachers.
  • Then, set up your paid search and shopping campaigns a week in advance and start running them.
  • Display ads ideally need 6 weeks to set up, so maybe reserve display campaigns for Labor Day shoppers. Although, you can do Amazon Sponsored Display ads faster than traditional display.

Best Practices for Back-to-School PPC Advertising Campaigns

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind as you kick off your back-to-school promotions.

Setup and Planning

  • If you run discounts and use Google Shopping (through Google Ads or the Finch Platform), update your product pricing on your site first and then in your feed. This helps ensures your ads aren’t disapproved.
  • Mark the products you’re offering deals on in your feed or create a supplementary feed — this lets you optimize bidding.
  • Consider using multiple channels to maximize return on ad spend (ROAS) and campaign success.
    • Running shopping campaigns with search campaigns increases the likelihood of a shopper visiting a website 90% according to Google.
    • Display ads help build awareness, drive retargeting and conversions, and acquire new customers. They extend your reach because shoppers see display ads almost anywhere online. And up to 95% of purchases for Finch clients are tied to a view-through conversion.
  • Set your ROAS and ACoS targets higher during your promotions. This ensures they’re high enough to deliver but not so high that you spend more to advertise than you earn.
  • Use all available Google Ads extensions, including those for promotions, call-outs, price, and site links.
  • Use Google Shopping promotions that show shoppers a “special offer” link (for example, 25% off, free shipping, etc.) to help increase your click-through rate (CTR).

Basic Best Practices for Ad Copy and Keywords

  • Use “back-to-school” or “back-to-college” in your headlines and product names.
  • Combine “back-to-school” or “back-to-college” with product-specific keywords, especially the ones your know work well.
  • Maximize success with a granular keyword structure that uses a separate ad group for each keyword.

Advertise on Multiple Platforms and Don’t Leave Out Social Media!

If you’ve tried advertising on Google, Amazon, and Microsoft (AKA Bing) and found that one works better than another, okay, just advertise there. But if not, consider a strategic mix of all three, and don’t forget social. Why? Because:

34-spot-2-min-300x294Most importantly, each platform lets you reach different audiences and for different costs.

Start Your School Shopping Campaigns and Find Help if Needed

That covers the why of running back-to-school promotions and the basics of how and what to consider.

You’re not alone though. If you want help creating a strategy and implementing your campaigns — for school or otherwise — contact Finch. We have strategic paid advertising experts and campaign optimization to run ads and make adjustments in real-time and at scale. And Finch Insights reporting lets you see the results of your campaigns across channels and platforms in one place.



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