How to drive sales when selling back to school products online

By Paul Watson

This article will cover some of the points to remember when selling back to school products online.

  • Understand who your customers are
  • Ensure you have the information and capability to maximise performance
  • Consider automation and analytics
  • Focus on value, not just price
  • Promote through social media
  • Remember the mobile experience
  • Learn from the competition

These principles apply to just about any online retail proposition, but each interacts with the back to school proposition in specific ways.

For most online retailers, summer is typically a slower period, but as an increasing number of consumers prefer to do their shopping online, from the comfort of their homes or on the go, many sellers are now using summer to gear up for an important peak period - back to school season. 

The beginning of a new academic year brings a significant uplift in sales for many online retailers and the most successful sectors are:

  • Apparel and accessories
  • Books, music and video
  • Computers and consumer electronics
  • Office equipment and supplies
  • Toys and hobbies, including sporting goods

So when the next back to school peak period rolls around, what should online retailers do to drive sales and maximise profits when selling back to school products online?

Start with understanding who your customers are and what they need

During the peak period your biggest target is parents. They have significant decision and purchase power so brush up your listings and create inspirational content that grabs their attention to inspire them to add your products to their much coveted shopping baskets.

Even if you don’t sell popular back to school items this period is still a great opportunity to test new products and cash in on parents being in ‘buying mode’. 

Another key segment to target is university students. They have some purchasing power and are much more likely to be shopping for themselves or at least researching the products they want. Be creative, research the latest and upcoming trends among students and pair products in a way that makes them attractive for students while still delivering good value for parents. 

Schools and teachers are also an important market segment you should target. Items like school supplies, storage, and computer-related products could generate large sales if you know how to appeal to this sector and create interesting offers for education providers. 

Check if your ecommerce ecosystem is shipshape

Once you understand your audience it is time to check your own inventory, stock and warehousing capabilities.

Try to understand what items were high performers in previous seasons, how to best expand your product portfolio and what areas need improving in order to increase your performance in terms of delivery and customer service. Nowadays, customer needs are becoming increasingly complex and you have to be able to make swift deliveries, process returns with speed and offer a high quality shopping experience

Smart ecommerce

Thankfully, there are many smart ecommerce solutions that can integrate and automate all aspects of a multichannel ecommerce business from purchasing, supply, inventory and stock levels to orders, fulfilment, despatch, refunds, returns and customer service.

At the same time, smart ecommerce platforms can also deliver comprehensive analytics and reporting capabilities across all ecommerce operations, thus enabling online retailers to access historical data at a granular level to quickly gain valuable insights into their business. 

Through accurate visibility of margins you can improve profitability and decision-making, which in turn enhances productivity and reduces risk by eliminating manual data entry.

Now you know what your customers want and what you can provide, it’s time to create a smart strategy to maximise this opportunity and deliver significant growth in profits.

Focus on value, not only price

While most shoppers will look for discounted prices and money-for-value offers, competing only on price is a dangerous strategy especially when in the same market as commerce giants such as Amazon. 

Focus on promoting the unique aspects of your products and try to create original bundles and promotions that will help your customers to save time and enjoy their shopping with you. Back to school is ideal for that, since online shoppers will likely need to purchase several related items, like pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks etc.

Leverage social media

Use popular social media channels to promote your offers and products. Even if you don’t have a big advertising budget, a smart promotional campaign can significantly increase visibility and drive sales on your channels. Obviously your target market is young, and you can expect a great ,many of them to be active social media users.

Mobile is critical

Mobile shopping has skyrocketed in recent years.

If you fail to adjust to this trend you risk being left behind and losing an increasing number of customers.

It will not happen because you don’t have a good product portfolio but rather because potential customers can’t relate to your offers which will seem less attractive than your competitors.

As a result, it’s of paramount importance to optimise your listings, product description and overall sales content to be mobile friendly. An increasing number of shoppers are browsing, researching or purchasing items straight from their phones.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Even though many parents prefer online shopping during the back to school period, (because it is less stressful than dragging their children to stores and crowded aisles), that doesn’t mean they don’t want to see lots of detail on their desired items.

Seize this opportunity and make sure you enhance your listings with high quality pictures that make your products stand out amongst the millions of other competitor products.

Short product videos have gained significant traction in recent years and there are many creative, user friendly tools that enable you to create interesting videos about your products to give you a significant competitive edge.

Keep an eye on the competition

Even if you put together a great strategy for driving sales and maximising profits during the back to school peak period don’t forget to keep an eye on your competitors. You can learn valuable lessons from what they’re doing very well and also their mistakes.


The beginning of a new academic year is an exciting time for students, parents and retailers alike. Like any peak, selling back to school products online requires a good deal of planning. But if you prepare ahead of time, strive to deliver a great customer experience and put together a smart ecommerce strategy you are bound to see your sales rising and your business growing. Good luck!


By Paul Watson, CEO, Volo

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