Want an A in back-to-school sales? Try these tips
With Sept. 4 the first day of school for most of Hampton Roads, the next few weeks are a gold mine for retailers. Nearly half of all back-to-school shoppers will do their buying now, according to a National Retail Federation survey.
But how can smaller merchants compete with Wal-Mart and Office Depot? Whether you sell clothes or school supplies, here’s how to go to the head of the class:
Distinguish yourself. Sure, big-box stores offer cheap prices and one-stop shopping for a variety of low-end products. But mom-and-pops have an edge with specialty merchandise and brand names. To stand out, promote your niche, whatever it may be. The White Rabbit, a children’s clothing store in Norfolk, specializes in gently used items that appeal to brand-conscious kids.
“Our back-to-school clothes are a really good deal because they’re consignment and we have very high standards,” said co-owner Cherie Cahill. “Kids can find The North Face and UGGs here. They just want the brands they want, and parents are delighted to pay $9.”
Use the Internet. Offer special discounts on products and shipping for Internet customers, a rapidly growing market. The NRF found that online school-supply purchases have quadrupled since 2003. Maybe your stationery store sells designer notebooks and pens. Run an Internet special on those items. Entice last-minute online customers with shipping discounts or upgrades.
Don’t have an e-commerce site? Post printable coupons on your website, so customers can bring them to the shop. Promote in-store back-to-school specials through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“Coupons are really good, as are gift certificates,” said Ray Mattes, president of the Retail Alliance, an association of Hampton Roads retailers.
Create eye-catching displays. The White Rabbit lures in back-to-school shoppers with lunchboxes, backpacks, soccer uniforms and other school-related merchandise. Office-supply retailers should fill end caps with binders, USB flash drives, notebook paper, earbuds and highlighters. Clothing retailers can dress window mannequins in trendy outfits – Juicy Couture, wedge sandals and polka dots are hot right now – to attract teenage shoppers.
“Make sure that your displays are big and colorful,” Mattes said. “And start early.”
Think outside the crayon box. So you don’t sell pencils, calculators or T-shirts? Your business might still benefit from this busy shopping season. Beauty salons can offer discounts on haircuts for kids or pedicures for high school girls. Retailers that stock housewares and home decor might target college freshmen who are moving into student housing.