SMS Marketing

16 Back-to-School Strategies From E-Commerce Marketing Leaders

back to school
Posted in
SMS Marketing
Published on
Jul 15, 2021
Written by
Marissa Sanford
Marissa is a Editorial Director on the Content Marketing team. She spends her logged off hours walking her two dogs, doing DIY manicures, and drinking way more coffee than necessary.
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After a year of Zoom, many students, teachers, and parents are ready to return to in-person learning. Get your brand prepared for the back-to-school season with these marketing strategies. 

We’re all too familiar with the challenges of the last year and a half—work from home desks (or WFH dining tables), hours spent on Zoom, and more delivery food than ever. For parents, there was another layer of change to adjust to: the virtual classroom.

This fall, many students and teachers are finally returning to physical classrooms. And according to a recent Deloitte survey, 40% of parents expect to spend more on back-to-school items this year (compared to last year).

We reached out to marketing leaders at Biblio, Michaels, Paper Source, Zulily, and more to tell us how they’re thinking about this back-to-school shopping season, what strategies they’ll be implementing, and the number one thing you should know to be prepared.

With most students and teachers heading back to in-person learning this fall, what text messaging strategies will you implement for the back-to-school shopping season?

This will be the largest back-to-school season that we’ve ever seen. We believe back-to-school shopping will begin much sooner than previous years, so we’ll start messaging in early July. We’ll use data from 2018 and 2019 to develop customer segments we can target in our paid social and SMS strategies. We’ll also develop messaging that resonates with students and students’ parents to reach both demographics.

- Mark Stallings, Co-Founder & CEO, Casely, Inc.
Biblio has almost 20 years of experience with back-to-school seasons, but this will be the first year we’re using text messaging to complement our other marketing strategies. We've noticed that our text audience is very engaged, and we're excited to learn how to send the right messages to the right people, and get them the textbook information and discounts they need.

- Amber Shehan, Marketing Coordinator,
We know parents are busy, and text messaging is an easy and low stress way for them to receive information and take action. For this back-to-school season, Rockets of Awesome’s key strategic initiatives will be customer-first messages that are scheduled and segmented based on the customer's journey. We’ll also send a back-to-school “teaser” SMS to get them excited for the season and prepare them for shopping. Then, we’ll follow up throughout the season with timely and need- or milestone-based product recommendations. All strategies will ensure we're making life easier for our customers, and helping us capture both the early-bird and last-minute shoppers.

- Aastha Shah, Digital Marketing Manager, Rockets of Awesome
This year, we're leaning into 1:1 communication with our customers by asking engaging, interactive questions to gauge back-to-school readiness. We want to hear from customers about how they’re preparing for the school year, while also offering special offers to help get them ready.

- Kylee Okazaki, Senior Marketing Specialist, Zulily
This month, we’re launching our Teacher and Student back-to-school products. We’re sending an MMS about the launch and promotion as we normally do, but this time we’re running an A/B test with two different message variations. One will ask our subscribers if they’re ready to get back into the classroom this year. We’re really curious to see what will resonate better with customers when it comes to this new collection.

- Cherise Bottorf, CRM Manager, E-Commerce, The Happy Planner

Are you testing any new strategies to drive engagement and revenue during back-to-school shopping?

We'll continue to implement robust language testing for our text messages during the back-to-school season. We're also looking at the impact of both inspirational and promotional content. While we make sure our text subscribers get the low-down on good deals and new products, it's also important to communicate in "non-salesy" ways that inspire our customers to MAKE; we love providing inspiration by way of DIY project ideas, Free classes, Maker Spotlights, and more.

- Bernard Liad, Targeted Marketing Specialist - Lead Text/Push, Michaels
We're really excited to use Attentive's Two-Way Journeys keyword feature. We'll be asking our subscribers what back-to-school product they’re most excited about getting—whether it's a planner, notebook, accessories, or other. Then based on their answer, we’ll send them directly to that category page to start shopping.

- Phi LeQuoc, Sr. CRM Manager, Erin Condren Design
We work with a variety of back-to-school shoppers, from homeschooling parents and learning pods to academic librarians and special collections. We also cater to the more traditional college students trying to save money on textbooks. To reach the people who need to be in the loop about textbook deals, we’re going to test out a keyword-driven campaign. This will help with the back-to-school marketing fatigue from those customers who are not interested, while better equipping our engaged textbook audience with the information they need.

- Amber Shehan, Marketing Coordinator,
A strategy we tested during last year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday holiday that we’ll implement for this year’s back-to-school shopping season is letting our audience of busy parents know they have multiple purchasing options, including buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS).

- Izzy Darby, Senior Marketing Manager, Paper Source
This back-to-school season is a major milestone for nearly all customers—it means a return to "normal" life. This is a moment to celebrate more than ever before. We believe this is a particularly relevant and celebratory time for any brand that meaningfully participates in the back-to-school season. Our primary messaging will be centered on our subscription box business, articulating the solution-oriented and magically fun experience—thoughtfully designed for busy parents. We get it, parenting can be busy, hectic, and chaotic. Let us take some of the pressure off; or as we like to say, “Your hands are full, let us handle the clothes.” Secondary messaging will continue to emphasize how comfortable, stylish, and accessibly priced our clothes are.

- Aastha Shah, Digital Marketing Manager, Rockets of Awesome

What's the #1 thing e-commerce marketers need to know to be prepared for this back-to-school season?

Be agile, and if needed, be scrappy! If COVID-19 taught us anything, it's the importance of being able to step up to the times, of considering the current needs of the customer. 

- Bernard Liad, Targeted Marketing Specialist - Lead Text/Push, Michaels
Competition will be high. Start the back-to-school communication early. What worked last year will not work this year. Segmentation is key. Leverage learnings from 2018 and 2019 and magnify those with lookalike audiences on paid social. A/B test early in the back-to-school season, and use those learning to develop your messaging later in the season. 

- Mark Stallings, Co-Founder & CEO, Casely, Inc.
Relevance and choice are king! It’s a hard thing to do, especially when the rules of marketing and engagement are always shifting, but using segments to reach the right people is always worth the time and effort put into it. Self-selecting segmentation techniques like surveys, journeys, and keyword campaigns are especially effective because your audience is choosing their own path forward, taking the guesswork out of your planning.

- Amber Shehan, Marketing Coordinator,
Last school year was very challenging for teachers, students, and parents, and we've noticed that our customers held off purchasing new school supplies until later in the summer. This year, we plan to extend our back-to-school marketing period at

- Phi LeQuoc, Sr. CRM Manager, Erin Condren Design
The back-to-school season is noisy and fast. It's critical customers understand what differentiates your brand from the competition, and how you can uniquely add value to their lives. More specifically, demonstrating how your products make the customer’s (in our case, parents’ and kids’) lives easier.

- Aastha Shah, Digital Marketing Manager, Rockets of Awesome
Although this year will hopefully start to feel "normal," everyone's "normal" looks a bit different these days. We're looking to interact with our audience by being a one-stop shop for back-to-school readiness, however that may look for them.

- Kylee Okazaki, Senior Marketing Specialist, Zulily 

Looking for more inspiration to help you engage shoppers this back-to-school season? Explore Texts We Love to see text messaging examples that engage shoppers, drive revenue, and build loyalty.

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