Back to School: A golden opportunity for brands

Ebay's Harmony Murphy explores how retailers can be sure that they’re ready to capitalise on this wider ‘back to school’ opportunity.
Ebay's Harmony Murphy explores how retailers can be sure that they’re ready to capitalise on this wider ‘back to school’ opportunity.

With millions of people — both young and old — in England having returned from their summer holidays this September, and now re-entering the classroom or the office (after weeks, or months away), the ‘back to school’ feeling is well and truly here.

And, as people embrace this ‘fresh start’, and shopper confidence ramps up after a longer than usual break from normality, this period promises to exceed expectations. In fact, retail sales are already expected to grow by 12% the month up to September 19th, compared with the same period in 2019 (pre-pandemic).

This is great news for brands across the board. But with this ‘back to school’ feeling potentially influencing many different audiences and categories, brands need to understand consumers and engage with them in the right way to get cut through.

So how can retailers be sure that they’re ready to capitalise on this wider ‘back to school’ opportunity?

Here are some things to bear in mind…


A fresh start for all

We know that every year as summertime comes to a close, parents open their purses to stock up on everything from school supplies to new uniforms — and everything in between. But the ‘back to school’ period isn’t just for kids; adults also have a tendency for a ‘back to work’ mindset. And as many people start returning to the office this autumn, after 18 months of remote working, we may see an even bigger boost in this mindset, which could spur on spending.

Fashion may well be a big winner here, with people looking to change up their office outfits and start afresh. At the same time, though, with sustainability increasingly front-of-mind – and regular trips to coffee shops back on the cards – we could see more people arming themselves with the latest reusable cups. Meanwhile, for others, back to the office might signal the return of afterwork gym sessions – and stocking up on trainers, gym-wear or the latest wearable tech.

With the return to the office influencing people’s lifestyles, priorities, and shopping habits in myriad ways (some more and some less predictable), brands need to bear in mind that a ‘one size fits all’ strategy just won’t work. In order to capture their share of the back-to-work spend, brands need to invest time into truly understanding their different target audiences and what their back-to-work mindsets are.


Real time data for real time engagement

Brands have a brilliant opportunity to engage with audiences looking to stock up on everything they could possibly need this back to school – or back to work – season. But with consumer behaviours having see-sawed dramatically over the course of the pandemic, and preferences now shifting faster than ever, how can they be sure they’re hitting the mark when it comes to their marketing strategies?

The answer is simple: fresh customer data insights.

An absolute goldmine, up-to-date data insights can help brands to understand their customers’ buying patterns and zero in on exactly what they’re interested in, in real time. Rather than guessing what people might want to buy based on historical data or trends, fresh data takes the guesswork out of marketing and can even shine a spotlight on shoppers who may not fall into their usual audience segments but are in-market for their product at that time.

For example, with many employers now moving to a hybrid working model, might we see a noticeable spike in ‘backpack’ sales over the coming weeks, as handbag lovers are forced to cart around their office equipment wherever they go? Or could there be a rise in purchases for headphones and office chairs as previously reluctant remote workers finally invest in getting their home office properly set up?

By spending time to analyse their fresh data insights — paying attention to metrics such as search results and conversions— brands can understand where a customer is within their purchase funnel and make informed decisions around their campaign strategies. Whether helping brands to know when, how and where to approach audiences for most impact, or understand the right tone of message, offer, and channel for that audience, using fresh data insights will ensure brands reach customers with the most relevant marketing this back-to-school period. Not only does this mean more precision – and less wasted advertising to uninterested shoppers – it means boosting ROI and giving brands a significant competitive advantage.

But brands also need to remember that the power of fresh data insights isn’t in the numbers alone. To get the most out of data and truly engage their customers, brands should consider how they can bring it to life and use it to connect with their customers in a personal and personalised way that truly enhances their user experience.

Now, with the summer holidays having drawn to a close, brands have a great opportunity to engage customers with messages that will really resonate with their ‘fresh start’ mindset in the here and now. And with the critical Q4 push on the horizon – a time that’s make or break for brands – retail marketers need to ensure their digital sales are working harder than ever.

So, while ‘back to school’ shopping may seem like a once-a-year type of occasion, by delivering relevant content and building a solid relationship with customers now, brands can also harness this moment to set themselves up in good stead for peak period.

Harmony Murphy, GM Advertising UK at eBay

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