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Labor Day is just a few weeks away, and while the holiday marks the unofficial end of summer, it also means that it’s back-to-school time. While some districts with early start dates are already in full swing, others are just gearing up to head back to the classroom. But no matter when the kids go back, there is always a laundry list of items they need, from clothing and accessories to supplies and electronics.

Back-to-school shopping is always a lucrative time for brands and retailers, but this year is expected to be record-breaking as many school districts shift back to traditional schooling after being virtual last year. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that this year’s back-to-school shopping season will generate record sales, with combined spending for K-12 and college reaching $108 billion. And, according to this article, the majority of shoppers will shop in-store instead of online.

So how can brands and retailers capitalize on this lucrative shopping season to attract and retain consumers? With experiential retail, that’s how. Today’s consumers want more than the products you sell; they want experiences that leave a positive, meaningful, and lasting impression on them.

With people feeling more comfortable about shopping in-person this year and the increase in foot traffic, the back-to-school shopping season is the perfect time to incorporate experiential retail into your brand strategy.

5 Experiential Retail Ideas for Back-to-School

Whether your company operates out of a brick-and-mortar location or exclusively online, you can use experiential retail ideas to engage your target audience and generate more sales.

1. Set Up a Pop-Up Shop

Pop-up shops are a popular and budget-friendly experiential retail option that works well for brick-and-mortar and online retailers. These temporary retail spaces generate brand awareness, have the ability to reach new and existing customers, and create brand buzz. For online businesses, pop-ups allow you to showcase your products to customers with a tangible experience that enables them to see, touch, and feel your products first-hand. Brick-and-mortars, on the other hand, can use pop-ups to expand their reach into new markets.

back-to-school pop up shop

Photo:  Aerie

2. Entice Customers with Giveaways and Contests

Any parent would agree that back-to-school shopping is crazy expensive.  Just how expensive are we talking?  Per the NRF, families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $849 this year, and those with college-age students will spend $1200.  With this in mind, parents are always on the lookout for giveaways.

Freebies and giveaways create a ton of buzz and entice consumers to shop with you.  Consider offering a must-have gift with a purchase, gift card giveaway, or host a contest with a sweet prize package.

back to school contests and giveaways

CVS and Burt’s Bees team up to offer the Discover U Sweepstakes with several great prizes that include gift cards to dorm room makeovers.

3. Engage the Senses with Product Demos

Show consumers how your products will fit into their back-to-school routine by allowing them to see your product in action while demonstrating how it can benefit them.  Product demonstrations afford you the opportunity to showcase your products or services and answer questions right on the spot.  Additionally, you can explain why your products are unique and how they are superior to your competitors’ offerings.  The result:  increased sales.

Tip: Be sure to have experienced brand ambassadors on hand who can comfortably demonstrate your product or service while relaying your key talking points to consumers.  

product demonstrations

Keurig’s college campus demonstrations showed college students just how easy it is to make a fresh cup of coffee on the go.

4. Host Special In-Store Events 

Host a one-of-a-kind in-store event that kids and their parents won’t want to miss. To drive traffic to your event, create FOMO by offering exclusive discounts and incentives that are for attendees only.  Once there, give customers a reason to stick around by offering entertainment and interactive activities, as well as super-shareable photo ops.

back-to-school experiential retail in-store event

Avalon, a mixed-use development in the Atlanta area, hosts a back-to-school luau complete with music, activities, exclusive retailer discounts, and even cocktails for parents.

5. Let an Influencer Take Center Stage

Teaming up with mom bloggers or social media influencers can be a strategic way to generate buzz for your business.  The key is to find an influencer that your target audience knows and admires.  Bring them into your store for a meet and greet with customers and have them show off your products. When an influencer promotes or recommends your products or services, you’ll reach an even wider audience and drive even more traffic to your store thanks to their followers.

influencer marketing

The Container Store brought in mom bloggers who paired their organizational tips with the retailer’s product solutions to help parents get ready for back-to-school.

Don’t Miss Out on the Back-to-School Shopping Season

Back-to-school is the second-biggest shopping season of the year, giving you the perfect opportunity to connect with your target audience. With so many creative ways to engage with customers and produce unforgettable experiences, you’re bound to find the ideal strategy to make an impact at the start of the new school year.

Whether you go the pop-up route, host an event, or demonstrate your product, you will need a team of individuals that can attract a crowd, engage with your customers, and get people excited about your brand.  From brand ambassadors to product demonstrators, ATN Event Staffing can handle all of your experiential retail staffing needs.  Click below to learn more about our staffing services and how we can help you be back-to-school cool.
Originally published in August 2019, updated  in August 2021