Competing With Big-Box Stores for Back-to-School Dollars

According to data from the National Retail Federation, the average family with schoolchildren will spend $634.78 — or $836.83, if the students are in college — this year on purchases of clothing, shoes, school supplies, and electronics. Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $72.5 billion.

If you run a retail business, you have an opportunity to get a chunk of that change. But you’ll have to compete with the deep discounts offered by online retailers and big-box chains. Here’s how.

  • Tout your products’ quality. Many small merchants stock top-quality specialty wares vs. the mass-market items typically offered by big-box retailers. If your inventory fits the bill, flaunt it. “As back-to-school time approaches, we send our 10,000 newsletter subscribers a reminder about the back-to-school bags and cases we offer, so that they can order our high-quality, U.S.-made gear easily online rather than going to big-box stores to buy overseas-made gear of lesser quality,” says Heidi Waterfield, director of PR and marketing at WaterField Designs.
  • Focus on convenience. What can you do to take the stress out of parents’ and students’ lives? Package products and bundle services to make buying them convenient. “Pre-bundle items they would normally need to 
browse for to save them time,” suggests Elizabeth Kraus, a small-business marketing consultant. “Or save them money by bundling multiple services, such as a salon offering a school year’s worth of pre-booked hair appointments or 
a special price to a mom who brings in all of her kids at the same time for
 haircuts.”
  • Give back to your community. Small businesses already have an edge over big-box stores among consumers who like to shop locally. Why not run a back-to-school charity promotion to bolster the community impact of their purchases? Offer to donate a portion of every dollar they spend to neighborhood schools. In addition to supporting your community, the move makes good business sense: According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 62 percent of small-business owners say that giving back makes their companies more successful in the long run.

About Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is a principal at the content marketing agency Eucalypt Media. She's written about business, marketing, and entrepreneurship for publications including BNET, TheAtlantic.com, Inc.com, and owns and operates the positive news site Gimundo. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynhawkins.
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