Back-to-School Email Marketing Ideas

A Back to School email strategy will help you create campaigns that tap into the big Back to School/Back to College market.

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The back Back-to-College and Back-to-School season marks the second-biggest retail event after the Christmas holiday period.

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans planned to spend $109 billion on Back-to-School essentials such as books, classroom supplies, and electronics but also on clothing, shoes, athletic gear, and more. If you don’t run a Back-to-School email marketing campaign, you’re missing out on a lot of potential revenue.

No matter what you sell, many of your customers are also thinking about Back-to-School and Back-to-College shopping almost as soon as school lets out for the year. Shoppers will appreciate your help to check off their lists faster and collect their goods with less hassle.

Back-to-School Email Examples and Subject Lines

Nail the College Experience

Bed Bath & Beyond goes all out for college shoppers, The subject line of its Back-to-School email highlights the brand’s Back-to-School sale and creates a sense of urgency. The email itself offers a Back-to-School savings pass that’s valid in the entire store. It also makes it easy to shop both online and in-store.

The quoted student tip adds social proof, while the product images show BB&B products in college rooms. Unlike many other brands, BB&B’s emails also include guys in the images. They (or their moms) buy bedding and room organizers, too.

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Offer the unexpected

This back-to-School email by Office Depot combines an online-only sale with different daily Back-to-School deals. All the products in the email can be bought both as Back-to-School supplies and as regular office supplies, which means Office Depot didn’t have to segment out its Back-to-School shoppers.

The animated mystery offer at the top of the email invites subscribers to click through to the site before the offer ends And at the bottom of the email, the design highlights three additional benefits of shopping at Office Depot: free shipping, free curbside pickup, and a rewards program.

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Get creative

Think your brand doesn’t have a natural tie-in to the new school year? Think again. Purple proves you can put a creative spin on your products so they fit the Back-to-School theme. The brand organized a Back-to-Sleep Week with content for everyone from babies to college students and beyond. The editorial content flows into a giveaway that is also the focus of the subject line and pre-header text. Lastly, the email includes a Back-to-School sale near the end of the email to nudge subscribers over to the store once more.

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Help parents shop for Back-to-School basics

While it’s great that more shoppers are willing to buy from ecommerce businesses, it can also be a bit tricky as they might miss the in-store experience of being helped. Pottery Barn doesn’t just offer a Back-to-School sale, it also helps parents select backpacks for their kids with a handy size guide and invites them to their physical stores where kids can try out their backpacks.

Another thing the brand does well, is sell sets of backpacks and lunch boxes, making it more enticing for parents to buy multiple products from them.

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Make shopping easy

French Toast is aware that the start of a new school or academic year can be an expensive affair and so it doesn’t just give its subscribers a discount, it also offers them a payment plan.

The animated hero image showcasing different Back-to-School styles dominates the email design but we want to draw attention to the Digital Resource Hub at the bottom of the email that includes activities for both at-home and in-school students as well as valuable information for teachers and parents. It’s a great way to drive traffic to their site while supporting kids, parents, and teachers.

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Let your customers segment themselves

Segmentation lets you send more targeted and relevant emails. You can use your own customer data to create the segments – but if you let customers segment themselves, your targeting becomes that much more accurate. Another great thing about this Back-to-School email are the clear calls to action that lead to specific areas of the website. Never make your customers wander all over looking for what they want.

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Target style-sensitive parents

Peek’s target audience consists of style-sensitive parents and so their Back-to-School email promotes T-shirts that make kids look school cool all week long. To make the buying process easier, Peek also suggests bottoms to pair the T-shirts with, and it offers free shipping on purchases of $30 and up, as well as free returns. An extra incentive included in this Back-to-School campaign is the note that Peek offers at least 1% of its annual revenue to environmental causes.

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Creatively tie into the Back-to-School season

This email by Jacobsen Salt Co. is a great example of how you can create a Back-to-School email campaign when don’t sell the typical Back-to-School must-haves. The subject line plays with the Back-to-School theme and the email itself contains two recipes parents can try to make with their kids when it’s time to put the schoolbooks away for a bit. The email layout divides the email into three clear sections: the hero image accompanied by a little text, the two recipes, and two ingredients subscribers should shop if they want to make the recipes. The email design truly guides the recipients to the calls-to-action.

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Show customers your products in action

This Back-to-School email by Dormify is low on copy but high on inspiration. The start of a new academic year is an exciting time and a chance for new beginnings – in a new dorm room, for example. The prints and lights Dormify promotes help students make their rooms their own and the images within the email give them an idea of the different kinds of vibes they can create.

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Promote a capsule collection

Capsule collections aren’t just for grown-up clothes anymore. Marie-Chantal features a coordinated collection of luxury apparel for young children but the concept would work for clothing at any price level. Collections like this one also make Back-to-School shopping easier for time-pressed parents who don’t want to browse around multiple stores, and for those looking for the perfect first-day-of-school outfit.

The name of the collection makes it very clear that it’s a Back-to-School collection, and the lined paper backgrounds of the hero image at the top and the image carousel at the bottom of the email evoke the Back-to-School theme as well.

Lastly, note how the animated image carousel allows you to call attention to a lot of products without requiring the recipient to scroll through a long email.

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Back-to-School Email Strategies

The Back-to-School emails above show that there are various ways you can promote your Back-to-School sales, as well as that it’s not even necessary to do a sale. You can share ideas for Back-to-School gifts, remind parents of frequently forgotten items when shopping for school supplies, or creatively showcase how your products can make the transition from summer break to the new school year easier for kids, parents, and teachers alike.

Before putting together your Back-to-School emails, it’s a good idea to develop a Back-to-School email strategy you can improve on as you try out different Back-to-School marketing ideas. To do so, take into account the strategic tips listed below.

Aim for the college market

The Back-to-College shopping list is longer than the typical Back-to-School list, and the items on it more likely to cross over into your other product categories. College-bound shoppers and their parents spend more than $1,000 on average, mainly on electronics, clothing and dorm furnishings.

Been out of school for a decade or longer, or years away from packing someone off to college? Use the MailCharts app to search for brands like IKEA, The Container Store, or Bed Bath & Beyond, and discover how they use Back-to-School emails to capture the college dollar.

Although parents usually foot the bill for Back-to-College, students themselves have major buying power. The Refuel Agency estimates students have about $131 billion in discretionary spending alone. Students are open to products that aren’t traditional Back-to-School supplies, such as appliances, convenience foods, music, storage, and athletic gear.

If college students aren’t your target market, you probably have customers who are shopping for a college-bound friend or family member and would welcome a back-to-school gift suggestion.

Add value with help and advice

You know that big discount merchants will win the price game almost every time, especially with Back-to-School sales. Many Back-to-School products – especially school supplies – are loss leaders for discounters who gamble that families coming in to buy 10-cent boxes of crayons will stay in-store to buy clothing and shoes as well.

Instead of going head-to-head on price, your email marketing strategy can center around value. Put together a Back-to-School guide to help parents buy the right things and guide students through the latest trends in dorm decoration. You could even add a checklist for new or returning college students that mixes your products in with other suggestions.

Follow good email practices

Your email campaigns will have plenty of competition in the inbox. So, you’ll need to write informative and captivating Back-to-School email subject lines to get good open rates. To get recipients to click through, you’ll also want to design easy-to-navigate Back-to-School email templates, use descriptive, benefit-focused copy as well as attractive images.

Pay close attention to email length and data weight, too. Gmail and other email services will clip messages that exceed their weight limits – which forces the reader to click a link to view the whole email. That can reduce conversions.

Give shoppers more reasons to shop with your brand

Your first step is to get noticed in the inbox. Once your customers open your email, the next step is to give them as many reasons as possible to buy from you. Today, that can include prominently displaying all the ways customers can shop with you. 

Payments: Do you use PayPal or other online cashless services? What about the buy-now-pay-later services that let buyers divide their cart totals into multiple payments? If you accept Klarna, Afterpay, Affirm or similar services, make sure customers can see those logos.

How to buy: Even though more shoppers are returning to stores, they’re just as willing, or more so, to buy online. Post your store hours and physical locations. Or, if you have access to real-time location data, add a map that shows each customer your nearest location. Still offering curbside pickup or buy online/pick up in store? Let them know that, too.

Target your Back-to-School emails: Query your database to find shoppers who buy school-related products mainly at this time of year. If they signed up for your emails in summer and buy matching products only at this time of year, they might be ripe for special reactivation/re-engagement offers that redirect them back to a journey with your brand.

Start early

Back-to-school shoppers start looking for deals in early summer and rev it up as soon as the school supply lists go up. Mid-July is a good time to start your Back-to-School campaigns.

A Deloitte study estimated that early-bird shoppers will spend an average $9 billion by the end of July, but there’s still plenty of shopping for those who wait until August or scour store aisles for bargains through mid-September.

Remember the procrastinators

Although most school shopping takes place by mid to late August, not everyone has crossed off every item on their list by the time the school bell rings. Scan your inventory for products that people might overlook or that were out of stock earlier in the season, and promote these in a late-season email campaign.

Coordinate email with search and social for wider reach.

Besides sending Back-to-School email campaigns to your subscribed customers, you can set up PPC and social media campaigns as well. Tie your search and social campaigns to a landing page that features your product assortment but also include a prominent, benefit-focused invitation to join your email list. Even if shoppers don’t find what they want, they might still sign up for your emails.

5 strategies for Back-to-School email subject lines

1. Put the offer up front: The back-to-school inbox crush isn’t the time to play guessing games with your subscribers. Let them know exactly what they’ll find in your email. Use both the subject line and the preheader (the first line of copy in your email body) give customers extra reasons to open your email.

2. One email creative, six subject lines: Find ways to save time. French Toast School Uniforms developed a signature email template for its “It’s Never Too Early for Back-to-School” campaign using animated GIFs to display different combinations of tops and bottoms. It sent the campaign for six out of seven days in a week. Each email had the same body and preheader, but a different subject line:

  • July 18 subject line: Save 20% Off Sitewide & Get Ready for Back to School Now. Preheader: FRENCHTOAST.COM Pay in 4 Interest-Free Payments On Qualifying Purchases.-
  • July 19: Look Smart from the Start: 20% off Sitewide for Back to School
  • July 21: Save 20% Sitewide: Shop Now for Back to School
  • July 22: Beat the Back-to-School Rush: Save 20% Sitewide Now
  • July 23: Save 20% Sitewide | Shop All Their Back-to-School Style Must-Haves

3. Have fun with the subject line: School and college shopping can be exciting, a hassle, a financial wallop or a combination of all three, depending on your perspective. We love this subject line from Dormify because who can’t relate to the horrors that lie in wait under a student’s bed: don’t look under the bed 👀

4. Focus on the benefit: That’s good advice for any kind of ecommerce email copywriting, but especially in the subject line. How does your product fit into your customer’s life? How does it make it better or solve a problem?

That’s what we like about one of Champs’ Back-to-School email campaigns. It invites kids to brag about wearing their shoes without actually saying “brag:” Flex on your classmates with these back to school fits! 🔥📝

5. Tap into customer emotions: These two subject lines capture how customers, or their kids, are feeling with school approaching:

  • From June & January: 🌈 New! Perfect for the first day of school! 🌈
  • From Oshkosh B’gosh: However you go back to school… we’ve got your back!