4 Ways Advertisers Can Win the Back to School Season

May 28, 2019
Written by Lisa Hein

To learn how affiliate marketers can best take advantage of the Back to School season, CJ Affiliate turned to Lisa Hein at performance marketing agency, PartnerCentric.


As an affiliate program manager at PartnerCentric, I’m always on the lookout for the newest and most innovative ways to help our clients reach their goals. For many Advertisers, the Back to School season poses a great opportunity to capture new customers and increase sales. Last year, according to eMarketer, online sales accounted for 10% of all US back to school sales and grew 15% YOY.

With Spring in full swing, now is the time to start thinking about how to fully take advantage of the Back to School season. We took an in-depth look at CJ Affiliate’s network data from 2018 and below are some trends we uncovered, as well as a few ways you can take advantage of the Back to School season in 2019.


1. Start Plans for Back to School Earlier in the Year

Back to School traditionally spans the months of July, August, and early September. Advertisers who sell Back to School relevant products should start securing placements in May or early June at the latest. When you nail down placements early, you secure the best spots and can see the highest ROI.

Last year, August was the peak month in terms of orders and revenue in Back to School categories (i.e. shoes, books, office supplies, clothing, computers and apparel). Orders in August increased 14% YOY and revenue increased 10% YOY. While July and September are key months as well, last year shoppers purchased more in August than they had the prior year. This perhaps signals that shoppers are more apt to respond to offers and promotions during the month of August.



2. Know Your Audience and Target Accordingly

It's always important to secure placements with Coupon/Loyalty Publishers so your offers are receiving the most traction, however there are other great Publisher verticals to consider. The more exposure you can get via different Publisher models, the greater the opportunity to meet consumers at every part of their purchase journey.

The following types of Publishers offer different experiences to meet a variety of consumer needs:

  • Mommy bloggers look for the best offers to share with their loyal and receptive audiences.
  • Mobile apps such as Acorns and Affirm are great for parents who need to purchase large ticket items for college students.
  • Student-focused Publishers such as StudentBeans and target students by providing brand discounts with the use of their student IDs.
  • Advertisers with a brick and mortar presence can work with Card-Linked Offer partners like Augeo and Dosh to drive in-store traffic.
  • Mobile shopping apps like Ibotta, who also have a loyalty aspect and can drive traffic in-store, usually run special cashback sales for the Back to School season.
  • Video Publishers like can help push larger ticket items for college students. Drop (a customer loyalty program) and Ibotta can feature a short video clip (15 - 30 sec) that a shopper must watch to "earn" their cashback or points—and these videos can have a Back to School theme.

Whatever the Publisher model, the key is to understand your audience and their behaviors and reach out to the Publishers that meet their needs. According to CJ network data from 2018, mobile use is on the rise and has increased YOY during this season, particularly for apparel purchases. On average, smartphones account for 30% of all apparel purchases in the CJ Network. This is something to consider when choosing the right Publisher partners for the Back to School season.

In addition, 2018 sales from Ad Network and Social Publishers in the traditional Back to School categories increased 120% and 63%, respectively, from the year prior. This growth underscores how these Publishers are increasing their stake in the share of sales driven by the affiliate channel. It also proves the importance of recruiting Publishers with reach via social channels as they will support sustained growth during the Back to School season and beyond.


3. Think Beyond Clothing and K-12

There are many verticals outside the traditional realm of retail that can effectively take advantage of the Back to School season. For example, an Advertiser in the financial services space realized that there is an increase in the number of checks written at the beginning of the school year. They were able to take advantage of the season by pushing Back to School offers on checkbooks.

According to 2018 network data, other verticals experience sales lift during Back to School as well, especially those focused on a demographic older than K-12. New college students require so much more than computers, books, book bags, pencils, and planners. They often need furniture, housewares, and bedding. Advertisers in these verticals should leverage this shopping season as well.

Last year, retailers in the Computers & Electronics category also benefited from a sales spike. This was caused by the increased interest in electronics purchases generated by Amazon’s Prime Day (July 16 – 17, 2018). The next peak for the category occurred during mid- to late-August when many students, particularly college students need a new laptop for school and the best computer deals are released.


One more thing to consider: College students like to support companies that stand for something and have a mission or purpose. Partnering with Publishers like Change Commerce, who allows Advertisers to give a percentage of purchases to causes they believe in, helps drive increased loyalty, conversions, and higher AOV.


4. Think Beyond Labor Day

While Labor Day and Fourth of July used to be known as THE summer shopping holidays, Amazon Prime Day continues to grow every year and Advertisers in all verticals need to take advantage. Historically, this day always falls sometime in July—right in time for Back to School shopping.

According to eMarketer, “In just its third year of existence, Amazon Prime Day 2017 drove all-time sales records for Amazon while posting huge gains from the previous year. By featuring aggressive promotions on both hot-sellers and everyday products, Amazon captured the attention and interest of American shoppers to the tune of $1 billion in sales.”

In addition, a study by online coupon purveyor RetailMeNot found that the number of retailers that offer Prime Day deals on its site jumped from 27 in 2016 to 119 in 2017 (eMarketer)—and this number continues to grow. Advertisers that aren’t working directly with Amazon should still have their own discounted promotions on that day to be able to effectively compete. This allows them to be part of the conversation and to make sure they are top of mind with consumers, particularly as they prepare for Back to School spending. By using their own marketing campaigns, these Advertisers will be poised to capture incremental sales. Large retailers can take it a step further and create their own discounted shopping holidays to entice shoppers and increase awareness.


With June just around the corner, it’s time to get cracking on those Back to School offers and plans. We hope these insights and strategies help you have your best season yet!

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