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Analysis

Head Back To School With These Brands: A 2018 Campaign Report

See how companies’ back-to-school emails stack up

Lauren Dowdle
September 10 2019

As the new school year rolls around, brands eagerly strive for a spot at the top of the marketing class–and for good reason.

Back-to-school spending hit an all-time high in 2018. Although the per-family spending is expected to set a new record this year — $696.70 for grade school and $976.78 for college — overall retail spending dropped due to lower enrollment percentages.

To put those numbers into perspective, the per-person spending for back to school is greater than the spending for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day combined. The National Retail Federation predicted that back-to-school spending will reach $80.7 billion in 2019 in categories such as school supplies, clothing/accessories, shoes, and electronics.

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To capitalize on this spending trend, companies created back-to-school email campaigns to drive engagement and revenue. Unlike the holiday season (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, day after Christmas, etc.), this shopping period isn’t spread out for several weeks or months; the majority of customers make all of their purchases within a week or two. So, how many emails are companies sending, and what type of metrics are they seeing in return? We’ve broken down four top brands and their school-themed campaigns.

Staples

Sales campaigns score high marks for brands and consumers. The NRF found that more than half of back-to-school shoppers held out for sale events: 59% shopped Prime Day deals on Amazon, 26% shopped other online retailers on Prime Day, 23% shopped in-store deals that day and 25% said none of the above. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that brands are highlighting their deals and sales to catch consumers’ attention during the online event.

Though Staples started their 2018 back-to-school campaign on June 28th,  the office and school supplies brand sent a notable email on July 15th, a day before last year’s Prime Day. Its subject line read, “How low can these back to school prices go?” Staples who shares a 52% audience overlap with Amazon, sent out their campaign to 7.9 million customers and earned a read rate of 12%. According to eDataSource, Staples sent 119 back-to-school campaigns last year.

Best Buy

Best Buy was one of the first to send back-to-school emails last year, just after Amazon and eBay. Their first campaign went out June 3rd. Although getting an early start on the ‘season,’  Best Buy sent out just 21 themed campaigns during this duration.

Of all of the brands eDataSource analyzed for 2018, Best Buy’s email metrics were the most impressive: all of their campaign emails had greater than 90% deliverability and 52% of them had a read rate of 20% or higher. One email with the subject line, “New school year? New DEALS!” went out to 178,000 subscribers and had a 29% read rate.

Amazon

Amazon had the next highest-performing back-to-school emails just behind Best Buy. Amazon sent 95 campaign emails during the school-shopping timeframe: 92% of their emails had 90% deliverability and 49% had a read rate above 20%. They sent six fewer school-related emails in 2018 compared to 2017.

Last year, Amazon ran their school campaign alongide their annual Prime Day event to tie the two sales together: 67% of online shoppers surveyed by Berkeley Research Group said they waited to shop until they could take advantage of Prime Day sales. With the majority of consumers completing their back-to-school shopping in July and August, Amazon’ll likely capitalize on these ‘seasonal’ shoppers.

The e-commerce brand also released digital and TV spots for its back-to-school campaign, teasing the videos during Prime Day. One 30-second clip features a countdown with a variety of children and products, both from their own lines and outside brands.

Walmart

Competitors Walmart and Target sent about the same number of back-to-school themed emails (104 and 105, respectively). Walmart, however, had one of the lowest read rates, with only 1% of its campaigns reaching 20% or higher (Target had 9%). Its deliverability rate was more respectable, with 82% hitting 90% or above.

According to BRG, Walmart will benefit from the fact that 80% of shoppers say they will visit a physical store location for their school apparel and supplies. And with many waiting until the last minute to grab items, in-store purchase rates aren’t suffering so heavily just yet.

Keep acing the test

Back-to-school and back-to-college spending continue to hit new records each year; we’ll likely see more themed email campaigns that capitalize on getting back to school, supplies in hand. Your brand won’t be the only one trying to catch consumers’ attention during this shopping frenzy, so it’s even more important to set your campaign up for success with engaging content, images, CTAs, and deals.

Retail Pulse

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Lauren Dowdle

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing — plus being interviewed by Jay Leno and winning a backhoe-operating contest. When she’s not behind the keyboard, you’ll find her spoiling her four furry babies and exploring the city with her husband.

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