10 back-to-school email marketing tips to inspire your next campaign

Back to school email marketing

Did you know the ‘back-to-school’ and ‘back-to-college’ season is the second largest retail event after the Christmas holidays?  

Seriously. The estimated spend on back-to-school and back-to-college goods is a staggering $108.1bn in the US alone.  

National Retail Federation. (2021). Total combined planned back-to-school and back-to-college expenditure in the United States from 2007 to 2021 (in billion U.S. dollars). Statista. Statista Inc. Accessed: July 18, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/747852/combined-back-to-school-and-back-to-college-spending-us/

And we’re not just talking about standard school supplies either. In fact, only 17% of back-to-school expenditure last year went towards the traditional books and classroom supplies. Clothing and accessories made up the largest proportion (38%), with computers, hardware, and electronic goods coming in a close second (36%).  

Share of back-to-school spending in the US in 2021

Statista. (2021). Share of back-to-school spending in the United States in 2021, by product category. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: July 18, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/896649/share-of-back-to-school-spending-by-product-category-us/

It’s clear that if you’re not running a back-to-school campaign, you’re missing out on a lot of potential revenue. Whether your audience includes the back-to-school or back-to-college target demographics, it’s a good idea to begin thinking about how you can begin incorporating it into your email marketing strategy.  

When to kick-off your campaign

Do you remember back when you were at school, and before you’d even broken up for the summer, the shops were full of back-to-school signs? It was heartbreaking as a kid, but today, it’s the perfect opportunity to get your hands on some new goodies.  

In terms of customers’ shopping behaviors, the most popular times for bagging some back-to-school bargains are the last two weeks in July and the first two weeks in August.  

When will you likely shop for back-to-school supplies

Deloitte. (2020). When will you likely shop for back-to-school supplies?. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: July 18, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/286408/estimated-time-to-begin-back-to-school-shopping-among-us-consumers/

This nicely marks the halfway point of the year. Your Christmas and January sales are long behind you, new financial years have started and new targets have been set. It’s the perfect time to launch a fresh campaign. Let’s look at some of the top back-to-school campaigns out there.  

Back-to-school email marketing campaigns

1. Apple

Back in 2005, Apple changed the mobile phone industry for good. There’s no going back. It changed the way we use technology and the way we regard and consume content from the industry. Its marketing strategy is one we as marketers envy and strive to emulate.  

And, at its core, is its understanding of customer loyalty. It’s created a brand where people queue overnight to get their hands on the latest model. Its fanboy and fangirls have helped raise the brand to cult status.  

Saying all this, you’d assume the tech giant doesn’t need to utilize the back-to-school sales period, wouldn’t you?  

Apple back-to-school email marketing example

The simple fact is that Apple knows loyal customers are an essential part of its growth. Targeting the back-to-college market is just the first step in a long strategy of driving customer retention. Using a tactic used similar to Student Bank Accounts offered by the banking industry, Apple knows that these shoppers will likely use its products for the next two to three years. During this time, they’re likely to buy more add-ons and products.  

What’s even more impressive is how the brand navigates these sales periods without slashing prices. In this offer, they’re giving away a pair of AirPods when college students purchase a Mac or iPad.  

2. Dormify

In this example from Dormify, we have another example of how brands can get involved in a sales period, without a sale.  

Dormify back-to-school email campaign

We all know that customers want a fair value exchange when they interact with brands. That means, they want to feel as though they are getting as much, if not more out of the relationship than the brand. 

Running competitions are well known to engage topics, but they also go a long way toward customer loyalty. Customers will associate your brand with one that goes over and above to provide a service for them. What’s more, you have the added benefit of partnering up with brands with a similar target audience, helping you reach even more potential customers.  

3. Pottery Barn Kids

Pottery Barn Kids

There’s a lot going on in this back-to-school email marketing campaign from Pottery Barn Kids, but it’s executed with such attention to design and the customer experience that the reader at no point feels overwhelmed by the size of the email.  

First and foremost, it immediately hooks the reader with above-the-fold CTA drawing readers to its summer sale. Aligning your summer sale with your back-to-school campaign is a genius move. Shoppers are on the lookout for a bargain and you’re there to provide it whilst also providing inspiration for back-to-school purchases.  

Secondly, Pottery Barn Kids have taken a staple of holiday email marketing campaigns – the gift guide – and made it work for the back-to-school season. The section ‘School Essentials for Little Learners’ is packed full of clear CTAs, plenty of white space between blocks, and short, sharp thumb-stopping copy.  

What makes this email even more engaging is the inclusion of personalization. ‘Take Another Look’ pulls in the most recent page viewed by the email recipient, and ‘Our Picks for You’ uses AI-powered product recommendations to showcase similar items in its catalog.

4. Clinique

Beauty brand Clinique is changing the rules with this back-to-school email campaign.  

Clinique back-to-school email marketing

Gamification is always going to be a winning marketing tactic, and Clinique has created an exciting ‘spin to win’ game for all purchases over $45.  

Traditionally, you’d expect clothing, stationary, and school supply brands to be participating in back-to-school campaigns, but Clinique is tapping into the market by making science-backed skincare accessible for teenagers and young adults.  

Even smarter is the fact that this offer is not limited to a specific age group or demographic. Anyone making a purchase over $45 can play. By doing this, it’s giving existing customers a reason to repeat purchases.  

We especially love the section at the bottom of the email outlining the brand’s bespoke personalized services. This is a great addition, especially for a new shopper who may not know what products they need or want to purchase.  

5. Nordstrom

In this example from Norstrom, the brand integrates its back-to-school offer with its loyalty program.  

Nordstrom back-to-school email marketing campaign

It’s ingenious really. Our latest report on customer engagement found that loyalty programs are now the third biggest motivator behind new email sign-ups. Shoppers are on the lookout for loyalty programs that will reward them for their business. Offering a free personalization service and triple points is just the kind of reward customers are looking for.  

We also like the language they’ve used in this simple but effective email campaign.  

‘Custom gear for them – 3x the points for you!’  

It outlines the key benefits in under 10 words.  

Plus, the whole campaign is centered around driving customers back to Nordstrom stores as the offer is only redeemable in-store. Impulse buys are significantly more common in-store and Nordstrom is playing to win. Driving customers back to its stores and offering triple loyalty points increases the likelihood of shoppers spending more than they would online.  

6. NYX

For teenagers around the world, heading back to school after summer break is all about making a statement. Cosmetics company NYX taps into this sentiment in this back-to-school campaign. 

NYX back to school campaign

What really stands out in this campaign above the rest is the inclusion of star ratings for each of the products showcased in the email. Social proof is a huge factor in the decision-making process, and ratings and reviews contribute to this. The fact that the ratings they display aren’t all five stars adds to the brand’s authenticity.  

We also love the inclusion of ‘vegan formula’ stickers and the ‘cruelty-free’ bunny logo which visually demonstrate the brand’s values and its commitment to them. Again, this will help the conscientious consumer when making purchase decisions.  

7. Stitch Fix

Back-to-school offers a unique opportunity for brands to expand their target market. Personal style service Stitch Fix understands this and uses the back-to-school season to introduce its child range to parents.  

Stitch Fix email marketing campaign

It understands its target audience well. Getting the kids ready for a new school year is stressful enough, without thinking about buying new clothes to replace the ones they’ve outgrown over the summer. Stitch Fix offers a simple solution. Its team of personal stylists will send 10 curated outfits to fit your child’s personality.  

It’s always important to remember that its parents make the purchasing decisions during the back-to-school season. Appeal to what’s important to them. In Stitch Fix’s case, it’s helping parents prepare for the new school year.  


MR PORTER proves that it’s possible to get involved in the back-to-school season without needing to appeal to the parent-child demographic.  

How does it do it? With artfully crafted editorial copy of course.  

MR PORTER back-to-school email campaign

‘Back to school with the breakout star of Sex Education’. 

That subject line is enough to catch the eye of the unsuspecting email subscriber. Back-to-school campaigns are probably not what the young, fashion-conscious men MR PORTER targets would expect to land in their inbox. However, a smart approach to content marketing makes it possible.

9. Sunwing Vacations

Can you believe this email from Canadian travel company Sunwing is the first back-to-school sale email? 

Sunwing back-to-school email marketing campaign

This one is super simple, thankfully effective marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. After all, is there a better time to sell adult-only holidays than at the end of summer? It’s the perfect spin on a back-to-school campaign. ‘Now that the kids are away, it’s time for the grown ups to play’ 👌. Smart and funny, it’s our favorite kind of copy.  

Re-emphasizing the limited availability of the offer in the CTA ‘Book by August 31’ also adds a sense of urgency to an otherwise chilled-out campaign, spurring readers into action. It’s smart, simple marketing and we love it (although a touch of personalization could never go wrong).

10. Gucci USA

Gucci proves even high-end luxury fashion isn’t immune to the marketing opportunity that is the back-to-school season.  

Gucci back-to-school marketing campaign

Showcasing its Ouverture collection, Gucci lets its catalog do the talking. With such a simple campaign it might be hard to convince an undecided shopper to convert, but Gucci ends its email marketing campaign with a couple of simple CTAs to remove any roadblocks.  

It includes a direct number to its customer services and the ability to book private appointments to maintain its luxury customer service. With a brand where the logo alone does most of the talking, keeping it simple is oftentimes the best way to go.  


Jenna Paton, Content Marketing Manager
Jenna expertly writes thought-leadership content about cross-channel marketing and customer engagement and manages the creation and execution of Dotdigital's content marketing strategy.

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