Back-to-school spending is reaching new heights: 8 lessons to help you ace your Q3 revenue goals

Profile photo of author Emily Riedy
Emily Riedy
11min read
Email marketing
June 7, 2024
Image has text that reads Back to school spending has reached new heights, 8 lessons to reach your Q3 revenue goals

If you were planning to postpone your back-to-school marketing campaign until August, we’ve got news for you.

If you were planning to postpone your back-to-school marketing campaign until August, we’ve got news for you.

In 2023, in an attempt to spread out their budgets, people started shopping for back-to-school supplies in July.

Inflation rocked a lot of people’s finances last year, but that didn’t stop them from spending. In 2023, back-to-school spending was estimated to reach $41.5B, up from $36.9B in 2022 and the previous high of $37.1B in 2021.

So how do you know whether you can capture some of that revenue? If you sell school supplies and/or apparel, the answer is obvious. But spending categories are also looking good for electronics, personal care items, and food.

Image shows two horizontal bar graphs under the heading “Back-to-class items still on consumers’ lists.” The top graph, called “Back-to-school,” features orange bars at 72% for school supplies, 64% for clothing and accessories, 48% for shoes, and 27% for electronics. The bottom graph, called “Back-to-college,” features blue bars at 51% for school supplies, 44% for clothing and accessories, 34% for electronics, 30% for personal care items, 27% for shoes, 25% for food items, 24% for dorm or apartment furnishings, 19% for collegiate branded gear, and 7% for gift cards.

Source: National Retail Federation

We’ll kick it off with a few back-to-school campaign examples from brands that sell back-to-school supplies and apparel. Then, we’ll highlight a few brands that don’t, to inspire you to get creative if your brand doesn’t fit neatly into those more traditional categories.

Here are 8 brand examples of back-to-school campaigns that would get an A in any classroom.

1. Day Owl communicates what their products can do—visually

Subject line: 🎒Back-to-Backpacks!

Lesson: Let your images do the talking.

Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from bag brand Day Owl, featuring a gorgeous, aerial-view product shot of one of their backpacks laid out on a flat surface, surrounded by all the back-to-school items that fit in it—from a laptop to a binder to glasses, lipstick, and deodorant. The headline reads, “a fresh start is in the bag,” and the CTA button reads, “shop the bags.” At the top of the email is a neon yellow banner that promises 10% off with a discount code.

Source: Klaviyo Showcase

On weekday mornings, parents are racing to pack lunches, braiding hair, signing permission slips, and keeping track of peanut allergies and birthday party invitations. The last thing they need is their kid complaining that they can’t fit everything they need in their backpack.

In this email, bag brand Day Owl follows one of the most basic email design principles and lets the images do the talking. Thanks to minimal copy and an aerial shot of one of Day Owl’s backpacks along with everything that can fit in it, a busy parent may only need a few seconds to be convinced of the value of the product.

Add in a 10% discount and a clear, well-placed CTA button, and an email like this has the potential to drive a lot of revenue. (The brand also reported a high open rate for this one.)

2. Hari Mari piques curiosity with their subject line

Subject line: Back To School Means…

Lesson: Create a curiosity gap to increase open rates.

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from footwear brand Hari Mari, featuring a vintage-style illustration from the knee down of someone walking in a pair of sneakers. In a circular banner around one of the shoes, email copy reads, “Back to school style!” Underneath the illustration, the email copy reads, “kit yourself out in new kicks that promise to keep you in constant comfort from the classroom to the quad,” followed by a bullet list of product details. At the very bottom is a CTA button that reads, “shop back to school.”

Source: Hari Mari

Footwear brand Hari Mari knows back to school means different things to different people. For some, it’s a great time of year—a time to reconnect with friends, feel productive, and work toward a goal. But for others, it’s not as great—it’s stressful and brings up a lot of uncertainty about the future.

Hari Mari creates a subject line tailor made for this uncertainty. Their subject line asks the reader to finish the sentence, which instantly creates a curiosity gap and encourages opening the email for an answer.

3. Quay aces their product photography investment


Lesson: Invest in product photography that shows your product in use.

Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from glasses brand Quay, featuring a model wearing their frames and looking upward at the email copy, which reads, “study (or scroll) in style: refresh your on-screen wardrobe. Blue light glasses in trendy, new torts.” The CTA button reads “starting at $65,” and a neon green banner at the top of the email reads, “free shipping on orders over $60.”

Source: Quay

The return to school means spending a lot more time in front of a computer screen. Quay’s bluelight classes are exactly what students need to avoid hours of eye strain and uncomfortable headaches.

With clean design, high-quality product photography, and bright colors, this back-to-school campaign nails important elements of email design that draw in the reader.

Quay also understands the experience of shopping for glasses—namely, that it can be difficult to find the right pair for your face. The image of the model wearing the glasses makes it easier for people to picture what the frames might look like on their own face.

4. OSEA Malibu empathizes with teachers

Subject line: A Little Back to School Appreciation

Lesson: Target a specific audience.

 Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from skincare brand OSEA, featuring a photo of a teacher grading papers on the quad in a fuzzy purple sweater with a bottle of OSEA nearby. The email headline reads, “School is in session & your skin has never looked better.” Beneath the photo, the email copy reads, “Prep your bathroom like you prep your classroom. We know your job isn’t easy. You’re shaping our future leaders and we think that’s huge! To celebrate all that you do, we want to say thanks! Take 20% off your purchase now through Friday. Code: TEACHERAPPRECIATION.”

Source: OSEA

Skincare brand OSEA opts for a targeted approach in this back-to-school campaign. Instead of focusing on students and their parents—typically the main target audiences for brands this time of year—they tailor their messaging specifically to teachers.

Teachers are the heroes of the back-to-school season—they spend months planning for the upcoming year, and their lessons shape the experiences and minds of younger generations. OSEA hopes teachers will use their products to practice a little self-care, offering them a discount in appreciation for all they do.

5. Native Deodorant tries to make puberty a little less awful

Subject line: Check out these back to school scents!

Lesson: Solve deep pain points for your target audience.

Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from deodorant brand Native, featuring a photo of a student wearing a backpack and holding up a bar of the brand’s deodorant, smiling at the camera with a rocky beach in the background. The email headline reads, “Smell great for the first day of school.” A circular sticker over the photo reads, “Formulated for ages 8-18,” and the CTA button reads, “Shop teen deodorant.” A banner at the top of the email promises free shipping and free returns.

Source: Native

Puberty—it’s a lot of things for different people, but one thing parents can probably agree on is that it’s smelly.

Native Deodorant leans into this fact in a way that’s helpful for both teens and parents. Their back-to-school email encourages parents to help their teenagers “smell great for the first day of school” (and hopefully avoid any cruel comments from teens who don’t know any better).

Students have enough to worry about on the first day of school, and Native Deodorant wants to make sure how they smell isn’t one of them.

6. She’s Birdie shows up for on-campus safety

Subject line: 🐥10% Off Back to School Sale Starts Today!

Lesson: Insert your product where it’s most helpful.

Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from She’s Birdie, featuring an up-close photo of a student on the quad, with the brand’s signature handheld safety alarm looped around their hand. The headline reads, “listen to your gut,” and a banner underneath the photo reads, “back to school sale!” The CTA button reads, “shop birdie.”

Source: Klaviyo Showcase

According to RAINN, 26.4% of female undergraduate students experience sexual violence on campus (and 6.8% of undergraduate men).

She’s Birdie is the brand behind a personal safety alarm trusted by over 3M people—and in this back-to-school email, they remind students their product is there as an option for protecting themselves in the case of an emergency.

On a basic level, this email demonstrates that She’s Birdie understands the risk the back-to-school season poses for some people, and they show up when their product might be most helpful.

7. Candylab uses nostalgic imagery

Subject line: 30% Off Just In Time For Back To School 📚

Lesson: Design your email to spark a specific ✨vibe✨

Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from toy brand Candylab, which features a photo of a toy bus on a desk with a stack of books and an apple in the background. The email headline reads, “Back-to-school sale,” and the copy under that reads “time to pack your books and catch the bus! Embrace your back-to-school spirit with our 30% off sale.” Under a CTA button that reads, “explore sale,” the email lists out 4 different toy vehicles paired with vintage-style illustrations. A banner in the upper right corner of the photo reads, “30% OFF.”

Source: Klaviyo Showcase

September can trigger nostalgia for fall: the leaves are beginning to turn, there’s a nip in the air, and kids are headed back to school. With this email, Candylab Toys evokes this exact feeling.

The toys themselves—retro cars and trucks—invoke Americana, but the brand takes it one step further with art featuring a canister full of pencils, a shiny apple on a desk, and a stack of books.

While today’s children may be tapping at an iPad or reading their schoolwork off a desktop, these images feel quaint and bring about positive memories.

8. MONSTERBASS leaves school out of their marketing strategy (almost) altogether

Subject line: Bass to School

Lesson: Don’t sell back-to-school items? Get creative.

Image shows a back-to-school email marketing campaign from MONSTERBASS, featuring 3 distinct sections: one called “Unpacked: how to rig and fish everything in the August bag,” with a photo of a man in a baseball cap holding up items from the month’s subscription box; another called “How to target schooling bass,” with a photo of a bearded man wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap holding up two fish; and one called “Poppers vs. walking style topwaters,” with a photo of a man wearing sunglasses holding up a type of bait. Each section contains its own orange CTA button that reads, “learn more.”

Source: Klaviyo Showcase

MONSTERBASS, a fishing equipment brand that specializes in subscription boxes, uses “Bass to School” as their subject line in this back-to-school marketing email—and when it comes to referencing the actual return to school, that’s about it.

We think that’s really smart. Not only did their wordplay earn them a high open rate, but they don’t try too hard to link the content in this email to the academic year.

Instead, MONSTERBASS shows subscribers how well they know them by giving them the content they want: what’s in the August subscription box, techniques on how to catch schooled bass, and inside info on the best types of baits to use.

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Emily Riedy
Emily Riedy
Content marketing manager
Emily Riedy is a content marketing manager at Klaviyo where she works to publish content to educate and inspire online businesses owners and email marketers. Owned marketing channels are a means to building a substantial customer base for the long-term, and the content Emily is most passionate about helps business operators create strong business foundations in owned marketing principles. Before Klaviyo, Emily worked at a paid ads agency helping businesses transform their approach to digital advertising. When she's not strategizing marketing content, she is running around the streets of Boston training for whatever race is next up on the docket. She lives in the South End with her 2 year-old basenji Fig and frequents (probably too regularly) the local Spanish tapas spot.