Back to SchoolWe’re entering the final stretch of the back to school buying season, and barring Cyber Monday, you’d be hard-pressed to identify a more crucial time of the year for online marketers.

eMarketer estimates a 16% increase in digital spending for the season, which should be reason enough for online retailers to scramble to make the most from this short, but lucrative, period. But if you haven’t been maximizing your traffic pop, there’s still a little time left to rectify things: last-minute and carryover shoppers still comprise a sizable percentage of back-to-school shoppers.

The traffic increase from periods like these can keep marketers so busy that tactical minutiae can take a hit, so, every now and again it helps to step back a little and review your plan for last-minute back-to-school shoppers.

1.  Start Outside Your Web Site

One of the key mistakes you can make is to start with what worked and didn’t work last year. Yes, that’s important later in the game, but what you want to start with is the state of things this year. Have you consulted AdWords Keyword Planner for keyword volumes this year?

This helps you in two ways.

First, if you’re smart about testing keywords, you’re likely to find high-intent keywords that are closer to the end of the funnel, for people who are doing this last minute and being super specific about their terms, as opposed to those in the research phase of their search.

Second, it helps to mix your successful PPC keywords from the last few years with a new set that you’re trying this year. That ensures that you are going after maximum gains, and that you can develop a new set of winners for next season.

It also helps if you fail fast: if you are trying out new keywords and they aren’t working despite theoretical matching with intent to purchase, stop the campaign and move on.

2. Don’t Chase After Everyone

With remarketing and exit surveys designed to get emails, marketers have two very powerful tools to chase after people who abandon their cart. Those two certainly augment the toolset quite well, and there’s no reason not to test both to try and get back some of the visitors who abandon their cart.

Still, this is an area where you absolutely need to know what you are doing.

Before you enable remarketing, you need to make sure there are exceptions for people who are just checking the price lists, especially on mobile. Mobile visitors who check prices tend to convert on other channels, so remarketing to them may increase your ad spend without getting any meaningful returns.

For exit survey emails, you can send visitors discounts after an hour and then again after a day, but be careful to make the discounts reasonable. You don’t want to damage your brand on the way to making a sale, and you don’t want to have a race to the bottom, using price as the only incentive.

3. Use Scarcity to Drive Sales

I’ve talked about why some product detail pages are more persuasive than others before, even if they have a number of usability issues. For the purpose of back-to-school planners, here’s the least you need to know: scarcity is an important lever for persuasion.

Scarcity is what you use when you display the number of stocks left for the promo or the product, and it helps convert visitors who would otherwise leave something in the cart and not push through with the purchase.

This is especially helpful at this phase of the season. Toward the end, you’ll be more likely to close sales for last-minute shoppers who are hoping to complete their lists before school season starts.

4. Inspire a Sense of Urgency

Urgency is similar to the concept of scarcity, only this time you’re emphasizing time sensitivity in your offer.  Putting deadlines in your discounts (eg. limited-time offers), for instance, is very effective for nudging back-to-school shoppers, especially those who’ve collected items in their online carts but haven’t completed their purchase.

Another tactic is to emphasize shipping deadlines or delivery countdowns (eg. buy now and get it by this date), which is useful for last-minute shoppers who presumably need to get their orders when school opens.  Flash sales are also great tools for creating a sense of urgency, but retailers really need to stick to the deadlines they set for these types of promotions and do them sparingly.

Again, when running flash sales or discount promotions, make sure that your retargeting and remarketing tools are fine-tuned to exclude shoppers who’ve already converted. Otherwise you’ll risk triggering shoppers’ remorse for back-to-school shoppers who bought earlier without the promos.

Back to school, like Cyber Monday, is hard. It’s hard for marketers scrambling for a larger piece of the pie, so it pays to start with stats from outside your web site, stay smart about whom you try to go after, and use scarcity to help your site close sales.  Just don’t wait too long; you might be too late and miss the opportunity.

To learn more about back-to-school shoppers and other ways to maximize your traffic pop, take a look at Monetate’s Back-to-School Shopping Study.

Back to school image courtesy of Shutterstock.