Why is “Back to School” campaign becoming the new “Black Friday”


We are just beyond another successful Back to School online season. Many retailers and online merchants have realized the success of this campaign and are now starting promo campaigns on time – even couple of months before the school season. There is no need to mention that every seasonal campaign comes mostly from the U.S. and becomes adopted in other regions very fast. European market is one of the most influential players when it comes to seasonal promotions.

“How to prepare for school?” is the next “big thing” to think about besides major holidays like Christmas or Easter. We are witnessing the increase of market demand for this promo season: as seen on Google, there are almost 1B searches for Back to School term. Online merchants and retailers already know how it works – many of them appearing on Google with top promotions and campaigns. The significance of the late-summer sales campaign can be now compared with all major holidays and sales seasons, including Black Friday.

Most purchases for Back to School sales season happen in August (data is for the U.S. market). Furthermore, U.S. citizens spend $828 billion annually on Back to School shopping, while 17,2% of entire year’s retail sales happen during this shopping season. Taking into consideration type of device used for online purchases, majority of them happen on mobile devices, where parents are more likely to shop when they have mobile coupons available. They use their mobile phones to: 1. Browse Back to School shopping opportunities; 2. Explore product categories; 3. Compare prices. That’s why mobile shopping could bring even more revenue than it did just a few years ago.

The following statistics clearly shows the trends in the past couple of years, divided to Back to School and Black Friday / Thanksgiving season.

back to school in US

Back To School, Sales in billion U.S. dollars (Source: Statista)


 Black Friday and Thanksgiving in US

Thanksgiving and Black Friday, online revenue in millions of U.S. dollars (Source: Statista)

One of the aims for Back to School online campaign is to start the holiday season even before Thanksgiving. In that way, merchants and online marketers will fill-in the gap between summer sales and the next bigger sales period. Furthermore, end of summer usually represents major stock clearings and introduces products for fall/winter.

This campaign is very effective because it aims at younger population that is in real need for new school supplies (at least items and registries for school). Apart from creating a market demand, this occasion IS a market demand, i.e. customers create the need for purchasing goods and services. With a good and appealing campaign, positive revenue becomes a must. So, which are the elements of a successful online campaign for Back to School?

Back to School campaign usually consists of:

  • Call to Action: Back to School! This is not a usual call-to-action (CTA) like “Order Now”, “Get Now”, but it’s rather: “Go back to school with your new equipment”, or “It’s time for school… don’t forget your notebooks, pens and rucksacks”. This simple slogan works better than traditional CTAs that can, at some points, reject the customers because they’re seeing it everywhere. Au contraire, slogan works like a classic sales word, but tells a lot more (new beginning, school and friendships, education, etc.)

  • Good design: webshops that sell school-related equipment will emphasize these products through good homepage banners, excellent prices, good campaign slogan and images of the target groups (children or students)

  • Special offers: there should be a special product category that lists only products that are on sale during Back to School campaign. These products should have special prices or be listed as “must haves”

  • Social media campaign: a cool campaign that gets more webshop clicks and orders should be part of every successful Back to School promotion. For example, first 5 Facebook fans that buy the item(s) from the image posted on fan page will get 30% discount

  • Coupons: as we mentioned above, if online merchants aim to increase purchases on mobile devices, they should generate coupons for customers and enable easy and fast mobile shopping for school

But, before starting a successful Back to School campaign, there are a few things that should be considered prior to get any concrete steps. This campaign is very specific, since it lasts only for a few months. Usually, Back to School campaign starts in June, when most people are planning to go on vacation. However, according to Google Trends, majority of population in 2 chosen countries (we chose the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), are mostly searching for “vacation” during winter months. Surely, vacations are much cheaper then. On the other hand, searching for “school supplies” starts more frequently in the beginning of summer – usually in June when people are taking off for vacation. The images below illustrate the correlation between search terms “vacation” and “back to school” from January to September 2016 in the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

 Netherlands Google Trends

Blue search term is “Back to school” and red search term is “vacation”. Country: Netherlands (Source: Google Trends)

UK Google Trends

Blue search term is “Back to school” and red search term is “vacation”. Country: United Kingdom (Source: Google Trends)


The conclusion is simple: as Back to School campaign is getting closer, there are more search terms connected to “back to school”. Besides the exact match, people are also searching for “school supplies”, “school gadgets”, etc. On the other hand, vacation is always a popular search term, while its peak is usually during the winter, but it seems to be consistent during the year (because of different national holidays, Easter, etc.).

Let’s see how Back to School campaign looked like at one of the most popular retail chain, Walmart. Walmart is best known for effective social media marketing, but they also run effective campaigns through their webshop. For this year, they’ve made sure that all steps for successful campaign listed above were included into the promotion.

 Walmart homepage

 Banner design and “Back to School” CTA on Walmart webshop’s homepage


Walmart category page

Product category (Walmart) created especially for Back to School campaign

                                                                                                 Back to School Facebook video

Campaign is followed-up on social media (Facebook). Walmart has used the power of video to create effective results and enable more webshop sales.


  1. Preparation: Back to School campaign has a lot of potential for seasonal sales. Furthermore, with the constant rise of e-commerce sales, short but effective campaigns will help merchants to speed-up sales, offer new items and engage their customers. But, first of all, the campaign needs to be planned on time – images and video footages need to be created, the entire story around new school year needs to be written and stocks need to be filled-in with supplies needed for this promo.

  2. Go to mobile: more and more customers start, but also finalize their search and purchase on mobile devices. This is a growing trend, which merchants need to take into consideration when planning a Back to School campaign. Coupons for mobile purchases are good thing to start from.

  3. Gamification and introduction of VR (virtual reality) e-commerce: Back to School campaign opens the door for many creative ideas around it. Online marketers should be aware of the power of gamification, especially when it comes to children and their parents (who are shoppers). Furthermore, the potential of VR, which is increasing in e-commerce industry, is essential for driving more online sales, compared to traditional shopping methods where parents shop in-store together with their children. By having a creative and useful online experience (of course, through a carefully planned Back to School campaign), more parents will be attracted by it and will decide to shop online in order to: 1) get more; 2) pay less and 3) spend less time and efforts searching for the right product.