The back-to-school retail season is second only to the winter holiday season in consumer spending, and the good news for email marketers is that most of that shopping takes place online. But with schools starting earlier and earlier each year, you should be planning your back-to-school campaigns before kids are even out for the summer. About 90 percent of back-to-school shoppers are active from late July to early August, a time which accounts for two-thirds of all back-to-school spend — and shoppers who start early spend about $100 more. Even if you don’t sell backpacks apparel, you can make the most of the season with a little creativity. Here are some back-to-school email marketing tips and email examples below to help you get an early start on your planning.

Back-to-school email tips for all marketers

Once you’ve worked out your promotions, there are a few considerations to make sure your back-to-school emails are set up for success.

1. Keep your back-to-school email subject lines simple

Your best bet with your back-to-school subject lines is to be straightforward and to the point — if you’re offering a discount, put it in the subject line and make sure that you call out that it’s a back-to-school email. Inbox attention is high and so is the competition, so make sure to make your promotion clear — and clearly about back-to-school shopping. Feel free to use emojis, but save the themes and clichés for the email copy, because the subject lines need to speak for themselves. Try something simple and clear, like these:
  • ? Back to School Sale: Up to 50% Off Footwear →
  • Your #1 Destination for Back to School Looks ?
  • Save big on Back to School + Free Shipping
  • 40% off all Back to School must-haves!
  • Last days of our Back to School sale
And of course, always test your subject lines.

2. It’s an opportunity to re-engage last year’s shoppers

Like the winter holidays and other major internet shopping seasons, many of your back-to-school shoppers may be one-time or once-a-year purchasers. Consider launching a re-engagement campaign focused on contacts who only purchased or engaged with your emails during the last season. These shoppers may be primed for a campaign with a strong incentive to bring them back into your engaged segments. And, if they don’t respond to your campaign, this is a good time of year to start cleansing your list in preparation for the major holiday push coming up.

3. Add a sense of urgency

Though we’re recommending that you start sending messages earlier in the season to make sure you don’t miss out on any shopping, be sure to follow up with last-minute campaigns for procrastinators all the way through the season.

A+ back-to-school email themes

With shoppers in a spending state of mind this time of year, you don’t have to sell school supplies and laptops to get in on the game — but if your brand sells clothes, electronics, shoes, and supplies, you’re in luck: Shoppers spend almost $700 each year on these items. You’ll want to keep your messages light and fun, focusing clearly on the value you’re offering. Also, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you find some way to relate your message to the time of year instead of throwing out a subject line that says “back to school sale” and not relating the content to it at all. Here are some emails to serve as inspiration, with tips and best practices that might help you create winning back to school campaigns.

1. Combine it with other holidays

Most back-to-school shoppers start their buying during July and are active until September, which means that you’ll also have Independence Day and Labor Day to consider. You can avoid inbox fatigue by combining your holiday promotions in the same email, but you’ll want the focus to stay on school shoppers. Consider the email below: You see red-white-and-blue with Labor Day callouts in the body, but a hefty back-to-school callout and discount in the subject line. Brand – Hanna Anderson Subject Line – Up to 75% off clearance + 50% off select back-to-school

2. Provide useful content

Offering expert advice and guides in your emails is a good way to provide value to readers without affecting your margins through discounts — especially if you sell products that don’t fall into the typical back-to-school product categories. DockATot’s message did this well, because they offered content that is still relevant to the time of year, even though they don’t offer a back-to-school product. Brand – DockATot Subject Line – Back to School Sleep Tips from Experts

3. Back-to-school shopping for anyone

Back-to-school shopping is becoming a retail event, like the winter holidays. With so many retailers offering great deals during the season, even shoppers without any school shopping to plan for are primed to look for related emails. The email below taps into the spirit of the holiday, with a message that could appeal to anyone in their audience: moms, teachers, college students, or anyone who appreciates their brand. Brand – Recreo San Miguel Subject Line – Back-to-school shopping isn't just for kids Petplan offers another example of a brand seizing the spirit of the season with an email that touches upon the school theme while offering a product that is, more or less, not at all related to back-to-school beyond the creative. Brand – Petplan Pet Insurance Subject Line – Get back-to-school savings on pet insurance

4. Talk to the kids themselves

Gen Z is the first truly digitally-native generation, and if you’re able to get enough customer info to create a segment for your younger audience, consider messaging that works for them — they’ll be able to guide their parents’ purchasing decisions for the first-day-of-school outfits. The email below is a great example of an abandoned cart email that does just that. And if you haven’t been able to create a segment off of your data, you can use sizes as a guess at your audience’s age group. Brand – Footasylum Subject Line – You forgot about these

5. Try a giveaway

Discounts in your subject line stand out, but “free” can work even better. There’s been a growing trend of companies trying out giveaways during this hectic season, and a giveaway sent to a segment with low engagement is a great way to bring them back to you — and one winner may cost you less than a list-wide discount. Epic! did a great job of making their offer clear in the subject line, and they get extra points for using an offer that back-to-school shoppers will almost certainly find useful. Brand – Epic! Creations Subject Line – Win $1,000 in Back-to-School Essentials!

6. Remember the parents

Email marketers are savvy to holiday gift buyers who are looking to self-gift — back-to-school is no different. Parents are already looking for discounts, and email copy that encourages a bit of self-gifting is a solid strategy. H&M’s email is a well-rounded example of this, offering a “survival guide” that appeals to both college students and parents. Brand – H&M Subject Line – 20% off purchase + the Back to School shop is live!

7. Use a little urgency

Urgency is always a solid subject line technique when you’re running a strong incentive, and in the case of back-to-school it might especially appeal to late shoppers. Even though the majority of back-to-school shoppers get an early start, studies show that 42% of shoppers will be active through September. Brand – The Sport Authority Subject Line – ? Up to 50% OFF Back-to-School Deals End Tonight

8. It’s also back-to-college

While the focus is primarily on back-to-school for elementary and secondary schools, this is also back-to-college season — which is expected to account for more than $55 billion in spending this year. Alex and Ani focused on the general back-to-school season in the subject line, and they did a great job of honing their message to college students with the “major” copy theme in the body of the email. Brand – Alex and Ani Subject Line – New Harry Potter™ back-to-school styles are in.

Final thoughts on back-to-school email campaigns

Even if you don’t sell backpacks and kids clothes, if you’re creative you’ll find a way to relate the products and services you sell to the season. Any holiday, even the back-to-school season, is a solid time to connect with customers and reconnect with irregular shoppers. Remember, you’ll want to begin email marketing promotions as early as July if you want to connect with customers during the prime shopping seasons. Whether you run a brick-and-mortar store or an online shop, every retailer – no matter what you sell – you can use email marketing to generate sales this season.