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How—and What—to Source and Prep for Back-to-School Sales

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Staff (Retired)
Last Edited 11:59:12 AM

In 2017, back-to-school and back-to-college spending reached a whopping $86.3 billion in the United States, making it the second-largest retail moment of the year. And yet, many sellers don’t prepare as well as they could.


Even 2017 SHINE Awards Winner Angie Cardona-Nelson of Angie’s Go Green Surplus says that last year she was caught off guard and unprepared for the end-of-summer rush. This year, she’s learning from her mistakes and putting as much planning into back-to-school as she does for Holiday.


We spoke to Angie to find out which of her time-tested Holiday tactics she’s putting in place for this year’s back-to-school retail moment. Here are her tips for how to source and prep for a successful back-to-school season.


Start prepping early.


According to the National Retail Federation, about one-third of consumers do their shopping two months before school starts, and nearly half shop three weeks to one month before. That means early-bird shoppers may start as early as June, while the bulk of buyers make their purchases from late July through mid-August.


To be ready when the earliest shoppers begin, Angie’s already getting started with her preparation for back-to-school sales. By the end of April, she’ll start taking photos and drafting descriptions so that her listings are ready to publish. And, when shopping starts in June, she’ll already have great stock available for early buyers.


Stock items in a range of prices.


“Give customers different options in the store so they can find something to buy,” Angie says. She stocks refurbished laptops in various price points and she sells accessories; the lower-priced items can lure in customers who might end up spending more once they’ve browsed.


Put policies in place for busy periods.


Buyers and sellers know that during the busy Holiday season, opportunistic criminals have been known to steal packages from porches. Unfortunately, this can happen during other busy times, too, and package thieves know that back-to-school shopping often means pricey purchases like laptops and tablets.


To give herself and her buyers peace of mind, Angie ships her laptops with signature required. “It only costs $2.55,” she says. “I started doing this during Holiday and got a lot of compliments.”  Angie doesn’t make this an optional upcharge; she adds the cost right into her selling price.


Angie also has a policy in place for quickly responding to offers. “When you get a best offer, don't wait 48 hours just to decline the offer—like if you're waiting one more day to see if someone else buys it.” She recommends you reply quickly, and move on to the next sale.


Make sure your listings are in their best shape.


Prior to back-to-school, Angie reviews her listings, making sure that she doesn’t have any duplicate listings so she doesn’t accidentally sell an item twice. “You don't want to deal with these issues in the rush season,” she explains.


She makes sure her listings are consistent in terms of fonts, layout, policies outlined, and services offered. And, she creates a category in her store for seasonal back-to-school sales. By making sure buyers have the best experience when they find her listings, she increases the likelihood of a sale.


Bundle items to encourage multiple sales.


Back-to-school shoppers have long lists and a lot to do. Angie makes it easy for them to cross several items off their lists in one purchase by offering bundles. She also uses Promotions Manager to create promotions such as order size discounts like “buy two get 10% off” and “buy one laptop, get one accessory,”  which can encourage buyers to spend more.


“We did this over the holidays and broke records in sales with these changes,” she says.


And, she saw another benefit that convinced her to offer similar deals for back-to-school: “It’s time-consuming for our shipping team to pack different keyboards and mice into shipments. But when selling items together as bundles, it’s easier, more efficient, and saves us time in labor.”


Stock up on shipping supplies.  


More sold items means an increased need for shipping supplies. Don’t let a lack of supplies slow you down. Angie says she stocked up on eBay tape in November, so now she’s using her shipping supply coupons for items she’ll need later on in the year.


Remember best practices.


First, make sure your items get found! Listing using the eBay catalog will be required starting in May 2018, and, if you’re selling products in certain tech categories (listed here), we recommend you start using the eBay catalog now to ensure your product are visible to buyers.


Angie’s final tip: Even though you’re busier, stay in the loop on what’s happening. Angie says she likes to listen to webinar replays and eBay Radio while she's doing research or helping with shipping. She says one of the most useful things is hearing from other sellers, learning about the issues they’ve faced, and their solutions.  


What to Source


Now that you know the how, it’s time to talk about the what. When it comes to sourcing for back-to-school there are some categories that are always in demand. These categories will also be merchandised on eBay, meaning sellers who sell these items have a chance for extra promotion.


The top categories for back-to-school and back-to-college include:

  • Fashion for kids and young adults in a range of ages
    • Popular brands include Levi’s, True Religion, American Eagle, Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Hollister, Lucky, Aeropostale, Gap, Old Navy, The North Face, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Calvin Klein, Joe’s, Free People, Zara, J.Crew, Banana Republic, Lululemon
    • College-branded apparel
    • Boys and girls school uniforms
  • Tech of all kinds, including laptops, tablets, printers, routers, smartphones, headphones, and accessories
    • Top brands include Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Cannon, Beats, Sony, and Vizio
    • Student-friendly laptops that are small (13” and smaller) and under $699
    • Accessories like monitors, mice, keyboards, and cases
    • New and unlocked or certified pre-owned Apple phones under $299
  • College décor, furnishing, storage, and bedding
    • Dorm-friendly appliances like mini-fridges, fans, microwaves, coffee makers, and hand-held vacuums from brands like Haier, Frigidaire, Keurig, Mr. Coffee, and Hamilton Beach
    • Storage solutions include shelving, storage cubes, bookcases, shoe storage racks, hangers, small trash cans, and under-bed storage
  • Self-care items like shampoo and skincare
  • Media, such as books, and other school supplies such as backpacks, folders, calendars, planners, pens, pencils, and notebooks
    • Totes and messenger bags from Vera Bradley, Longchamp, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors
    • Textbooks


If you sell in a relevant category, it’s time to get prepped. There’s no better time than now to begin to source inventory in a range of prices, make sure your listings are in top shape, and get your policies set up for success. The back-to-school and back-to-college retail moment is second only to the Holiday season, so don’t miss out!


What a great sharing. We know many of these tips but we sure need reminding. AND its almoat time for these items. Right on time katie! Thanks bunches!!


Mary Green



Thank you for the article.  It was very informative and gives me more ideas.


Great tips for a novice like me. i cant believe how much is spent on BTS last year.  So many useful items I wouldn't think of having a large family. But for the single college student.  Your tips are very very helpful thank you so much for sharing with us beginner sellers. 

by hylt-chri · Adventurer

Thank  you very much for for the article now i will be more prepared for back to shcool.


Thanks more to buy!