This article was originally published in Total Retail and has been edited for length and clarity. 

The end of summer marks the start of back-to-school (BTS) shopping for students and their parents. With an average of $519 expected to be spent per child, according to Deloitte, the BTS season is second only to the Q4 holiday shopping season. 

If you haven’t already, now is the time to start preparing for how your business can better serve students and their parents as they start the school year. For small retailers, just implementing one of these strategies can truly make or break meeting revenue goals during the BTS season.

Curate Your Shopping Experience

As a small business, one of the biggest advantages you have compared to big-box retailers is that you’re a part of the local community. In fact, 96 percent of consumers believe local businesses provide more personalized service than national chains, and 80 percent think local businesses provide better overall customer service.

Capitalize on this sentiment during BTS season by working with your local school districts to create a curated shopping experience for students and their parents. For example, have pre-made lists of supplies that various schools require separated by grade available in-store and online, helping to save parents’ time and sanity. You can also give customers the option to pre-order an entire list for their child and have it ready for pickup before school starts.

Highlight Your Products

Your company might be the greatest destination for BTS products, but it won’t matter if no one knows about your business and — more importantly — where to find and purchase its products, whether in-store or online.

Targeted ad campaigns across local publications are a great place to start. You can also connect with your local school districts to see if they plan to share lists of local providers with students and parents ahead of the school year to ensure your brand is included. For brick-and-mortar businesses, it’s important to have a designated BTS area with the most frequently requested items altogether. Create a designated aisle or display near the entrance where it’s easily spotted and accessible to shoppers.

Omnichannel All the Way

While many small businesses have some established web presence, they’ve been slower to adopt mobile platforms. However, with smartphones now impacting one-third of all U.S. retail sales, optimizing your digital experiences for mobile is crucial. Beyond mobile on its own, it’s important that you provide shoppers with a seamless, cohesive omnichannel experience — i.e., they can easily browse and make purchases from all of the channels your brand offers, across in-store, mobile and web. You can also incentivize consumers to shop via your digital properties by offering free shipping on BTS orders or buy online, pick up in-store orders.

Financial Flexibility

Perhaps the most critical consideration for a stellar BTS season is ensuring you have the financial flexibility to implement the above strategies.

It’s important that all retailers take a close look at cash flow ahead of any peak sales period and take the necessary steps to bolster it as needed. For example, a revolving line of credit that provides the extra wiggle room in financing on an as-need basis may be a wise consideration for any retailer looking to seize the opportunity BTS season has to offer. Your business and shoppers will thank you for it.


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