Back to School Round Up – Who Made the Grade?

As we head into the fall and the start of the 2016-2017 school year is well underway, we wanted to take a look back at the retailers profiled for our back to school blog post and see if their 2016 back to school email marketing campaigns made the grade. Back to school season is one of the most lucrative times of the year for most retailers, with parents spending the most money on technology, clothing and accessories according to and we’re curious to see which tactics our featured brands used to help them stand out in the inbox and capture some of this market share.

Using data from Return Path’s Consumer Network we’re able to get an inside look at the sending tactics employed by each brand during this year’s back to school season from July through August. So let’s take a closer look and see how each brand fared in comparison to the previous year.

Dicks’s Sporting Goods
Specifically looking at subject lines containing back to school related keywords, it appears that Dick’s Sporting Goods put less focus on their back to school emails this year than they did in the previous back to school season in 2015. Not only is their average back to school email read rate 17 percent lower this year, but they also sent fewer campaigns. During last year’s back to school season they sent 23 emails with the highest volume during the first week of August and, although they also sent their highest volume during that same week this year, their overall back to school campaign volume decreased by nearly half.


Dick’s Sporting Goods best performing back to school email was sent during the first week of August. However, unlike their best performing email from last year, this email does not appear to have included any personalized product recommendations, an excellent tactic for increasing response, which may have been a contributing factor to this year’s lower engagement rates. Although the message, which used the subject line “BIG Back-To-School Savings!,” did not include any personalized elements, it did do a great job of clearly displaying the two promotional offers and giving the subscriber multiple chances to engage with the message.


Similar to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gap also decreased their number of back to school emails by over 50 percent. Unlike last year when they sent the most volume during the last week of July and middle of August, they sent a consistent amount of volume each week during this year’s back to school season. They began sending campaigns in early July and continued to the end of August, except for one week where no campaigns were sent. However, their decrease in frequency may have impacted their engagement metrics since their overall back to school campaign read rate was close to 25 percent lower than last year. 


Gap’s best performing back to school email this year, in terms of read rate, used the subject line “Use code PREFALL for our back-to-school best!” and included a 35 percent off promotion. The creative was much simpler than last year’s best performing email but did a great job of bringing focus to the message by featuring a large offer and one singular call to action button.


While the other brands decreased their number of back to school email campaigns from the previous year, Staples slightly increased their volume by close to 29 percent. Similar to the other brands. Staples also saw a drop in engagement from last year, with an 18 percent lower read rate for this year’s campaigns. Additionally, their sending strategy also appears to have shifted as this year they mailed back to school campaigns during both July and August where as last year they mainly focused on sending emails during the month of July. 


Similar to last year, Staples was the only brand to specifically target teachers with a standalone back to school email. This year’s campaign with subject line “ Teachers only! $5 gift reward” was again their top performing email, with over a 100 percent higher read rate than their average back to school read rate due to segmentation and an appealing offer.


How did your own back to school email program perform this year? Whether better or worse than the previous year, remember that in addition to continuously testing elements of your email program, looking back at your past email performance is a highly effective way to continuously optimize and evolve your strategy. Not only is this an easy way to help you gain a thorough understanding of which tactics work best for your particular audience but it can also help you avoid past mistakes that may have gone overlooked.

Now that back to school season has come to a close and the start of the holiday season is quickly approaching, be sure to check out our two-part series on holiday email engagement to help give you some helpful ideas when planning your upcoming holiday campaigns.

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