Like all good things, summer will soon come to an end. And once the kids come home from summer camp, the school year begins, which means it’s back-to-school shopping season. The National Retail Federation estimates that total combined spending for back-to-school and college will reach $68 billion this year and the average family with kids in grades K-12 will spend $630.36 on back-to-school shopping in 2015, the second-highest amount since the recession. This is what motivated us to get into the weeds of how retailers and e-tailers get ready for the back-to-school shopping season. Randy Antin, Jumpshot’s VP of Marketing, shares his thoughts on September sales, back-to-school marketing strategies and the ever important cross-platform shopping experience.

What’s your experience with back-to-school shopping?

I spent three years at Gap Inc. managing the company’s global search marketing efforts across Gap Inc’s brands including Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, and Piperlime. I’ve seen how each of these brands craft their messaging and outreach around seasonality, holidays and events. What Old Navy does around back-to-school shopping is extremely different from Athleta’s efforts – it all depends on the brand and their targeted audience.

How do you see retailers tailoring their messages according to this time of year?

Back-to-school shopping is big business and it’s all about sales. Ask yourself ‘Who’s offering the best deal?’, because that is what your customers do. September sales are specifically set around clothing and school supplies, with retailers tailoring their messages this time of year according to education stage. You see clothing brands like Urban Outfitters and H&M specifically targeting middle-school through college kids, and retailers like Gap and Old Navy reaching out with options for the whole family. And then you have department stores like Macy’s, Target and Best Buy offering discounts on all school and work-related supplies from clothes to electronics and dorm room necessities. If you look at the home pages of any major retailer or e-tailer you’ll see kids toting backpacks, looking thrilled to go back-to-school, balanced with a deep discount message – sometimes as much as 70% off. Even e-tailers that don’t typically have sales, like Apple, offer discounted student and education prices this time of year.

How do marketers get ready for this time of year?

The first thing direct-response marketers do to get ready for back-to-school shopping campaigns is they look back at what worked in the previous years. From there, they make sure current inventory is ready and properly included in their structured data feeds / XML product feeds (used for Google PLAs, Facebook Ads, Affiliates, Comparison Shopping Engines, Dynamic Display Ads, and Retargeting), and get their creative messaging/graphics set to accurately reflect the website and the pages that they will be driving people to.

The National Retail Federation found in a recent survey that 28 percent of children wear a school uniform. Identifying strong keywords such as “uniforms” and creating landing pages and website sections around them is crucial for brands to fully capitalize the potential of back-to-school sales and revenue. It’s important for marketers to look at the keywords that have been driving people to their site (and other sites), like “back-to-school,” “school supplies” and others. Keywords can make a world of difference, especially in generated organic search traffic. Of course, this has gotten very difficult lately since Encrypted Search rolled out on Google and other search engines, but marketers can still mine their own Site Search to understand what people search for on their site, and SQRs where their paid keywords are still provided.

Where should marketers looking for e-commerce traffic focus their efforts?

Retailers are in a unique position due to the nature of the ever-evolving industry. While deeply reliant on in-store interactions, the retail industry has been migrating online more and more every year as consumers spend more of their time online. Despite the turbulence, retailers now have the exceptional ability to reach consumers at different touchpoints throughout the consumer journey, and perhaps more importantly, they can personalize that experience.

New ad platforms and native advertising formats like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter’s Buy Now Buttons are exciting new channels for online marketers to experiment with but the bread and butter remains under the realm of online advertising, mainly paid search, affiliate marketing, paid social, programmatic display advertising, and retargeting. All of these opportunities are segmented according to customer personas and the devices used – desktop, tablet, and mobile. And as we all know, mobile is the name of the game.

More than three-quarters of college shoppers own a smartphone and 41 percent plan to use a smartphone to research products and compare prices prior to purchase. Brands need to make sure they are front and center wherever their potential customers are. Mobile marketing involves everything from making sure existing digital marketing campaigns are mobile-optimized, to ensuring website’s are mobile-friendly, and even partnering with strong mobile shopping companies, like Shopify and Ibotta.

Marketers also need to understand mobile’s impact on online-to-offline. How does mobile and web traffic influence in-store purchase behavior? Most people are online all the time, whether it’s on their phone on their way to work, shopping on their laptop during office hours, or surfing the web on their tablet while watching TV at night. All of these activities influence a customer’s decision to eventually purchase either online or in-store. Having a sound cross-device strategy, consistent messaging online and in-store, as well as continuity in terms of user experience  across devices and platforms will lead to the winners in the space.

Similarly, it’s no secret that native advertising and content marketing specifically carry a lot of weight nowadays. Utilizing content marketing with buzzworthy articles, such as Top 10 lists, is a stellar way to generate traffic through content syndication networks like Outbrain and similar-style “news” sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Everyone loves a good Top 10 list – they’re easy to digest, quick reads, and you can skim them on your phone in less than 30 seconds.

Segmentation is also key: utilizing custom audiences in Facebook and keeping track of the company’s own best customers especially those who have made previous purchases during the back-to-school timeframe is a must. It’s a lot easier to remind an existing customer why they love you than to convince a new one. Of course, most back-to-school campaigns are targeted towards mothers because they are typically in charge of the back-to-school purchases, so I’ve seen a lot of successful marketing strategies utilize sites like Polyvore, Wanelo, RewardStyle’s Blogger Network, and Mommy Blogs.

Bottom line: Customer segmentation and multi-platform experiences are key to generate sales from your current and past customers. Keywords and content marketing are crucial in generating new traffic and optimizing current and future marketing campaigns. Retailers need to combine targeted messages with keywords and a consistent cross-device experience to craft tailored brand messaging and user experience to engage, attract and sell to consumers.