Retailers with Effective Back-to-School Campaigns: A College Student’s Review


Abigail Patenaude

August 1, 2019 | 4 min read

Class is in Session

As the school year approaches you’ll notice a new back-to-school campaign with each day — emails, ads, pop-ups, there has never been more encouragement to stock up for September. If back-to-school shopping is on your to-do list, you probably have a favorite spot you go to for all those needs, but have you ever considered what other options you have? 

I was actually asked to write this article because I am the most recent employee in the New York office to go back to school shopping, and it’s crazy to see all the new changes and additions that have been made lately. When I was going back to school shopping for high school, my school would send a general list to everyone and something would always be missing from that list. Growing up in New York City, my go-to spot was always Staples because it was closest to my school, and it was really my only option in the area I was living in. 

Something I noticed this year is that Staples has teacher lists so that you can find your specific school supply list without wondering if you’re missing something; this is a great offer considering that me and my classmates would always find ourselves back at Staples a few days after school began in order to pick up that extra binder that we didn’t know we needed.

Back-to-School Sales

Staples also offers 20% off school supplies when you purchase a backpack, which I wish they offered when I was a student, especially considering the combined cost of backpacks and supplies. One thing I really like about Dollar General is that it provides discounts to teachers on stationery items because educators never stop school shopping. In fact, I remember teachers offering extra credit to students who would bring in reams of paper. The costs of all these supplies add up just that one time a year when families go back-to-school shopping… now imagine facing those costs year-round. 

As a current college student, I will take any opportunity to shop, especially if a sale is involved. As the fashion and, mainly, sneaker-obsessed member of my family, I am always looking for cheaper options so that I can continue to fund my shoe habit without breaking the bank. On that note, Rack Room Shoes offers $10 off purchases of $75 and above, and to top it off they are offering a BOGO 50% off the second pair of shoes you buy. 

Another great shoe store that I frequent is DSW, and I love that DSW has afterpay so that you can make smaller payments over time and still get your product right away. It’s this kind of feature that is pre-set with the number of payments you make; for example, you’ll see the retail price online and directly below it’ll suggest four smaller payments over time while giving you the product after the first payment. As a college student with a limited budget for shopping, it is a tool that myself and my friends at school all use. The feature really makes a difference for me because it means I can make my payments in smaller amounts rather than going in completely and breaking the bank. This also helps me because while I enjoy products for the value I think they have, I love when a sale or promotion comes around because it’ll make me more inclined to shop for the things that I need and at a lower price. 

Cool Features from Retailers

I’ve already mentioned that a great place for back-to-school shopping is Dollar General — they also have a similar system to Staples’ teacher lists, and you can search for your supplies list by entering your school’s zip code. But everyone knows back-to-school shopping is not just about notebooks and pens, and many students (myself included) will spend a good part of their budget on clothing. 

One problem for me as a student was that although my school had a dress code, it was not clear-cut. This was great for me and other students, as it allowed us an outlet to be expressive… however, it was not so great when the principal roamed the halls shaming people for not following the unwritten guidelines for attire. DSW offers a good solution with its Uniform Shop, which allows you to browse for the coolest shoes in school without breaking the dress code. 

Back-to-School Campaigns Set on Giving Back

Aside from offering great deals on back to school shopping, another thing that attracts me to one store over another is when the brand partners with nonprofit organizations. Something that I’ve noticed in myself and my peers as shoppers is that they’re more likely to shop more within a brand if there is a way to give back involved. For example, Burlington has partnered with so that customers can nominate schools for a chance to win 1 of 10 $10,000 grants for school supplies. 

I think this is a great way to bring attention to the fact that not all schools are created equally, and when schools are underfunded, it’s ultimately the students that pay the cost. DSW has partnered with Be Strong with the goal of raising $150,000. Be Strong is a student-led movement that empowers students to rise up against bullying. This is a great cause for DSW to be paired up with because bullying is an ever-present problem within schools, so much so that it has come to be considered normal. 

Lastly, Rack Room Shoes has partnered with Shoes That Fit, and is matching each donation up to $300,000. Shoes that Fit is an organization that provides new shoes for children in need. In my opinion, if you can afford to go buy new shoes, why not go to a store that is raising funds to provide shoes to others? 


As I finish writing this post, I ask myself if this was written with enough lead time to the start of the back-to-school shopping season. If you’ve already started shopping, I’m impressed by how far ahead you plan… now let’s see if you can plan further — you can! 

We spent some time understanding the mindset of the early-bird back-to-school shopper by analyzing the digital journeys of shoppers stocking up on stationery supplies and backpacks. Take a look at our Back-to-School Report for a holistic view on how shoppers maneuver through websites for common back-to-school purchases. 

If you haven’t started back to school shopping, don’t fret, you’re not the only one! I haven’t looked at what textbooks I need to buy or even thought about how many notebooks and folders I’m going to need.