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The Most Important E-commerce Dates for College Students

By collegemktgrp | March 22, 2019 | Brands/Advertisers

As a marketer, you understand that seasonality should be steering the ship when it comes to smart digital marketing strategies.

If not, maybe you’re the guy on Craigslist trying to sell Christmas trees in July…or more aptly, trying to sell college students back-to-school supplies in November.

We all know that Black Friday and the months leading up to the first day of school are prime time for marketing to college students. But did you know that Halloween is one of the biggest e-commerce holidays of the year? Or that students start doing their back-to-school shopping online as early as April Fools’ Day?

But putting these important e-commerce dates on your team’s calendar is just the first step. Strategically leveraging these dates could be the key to seeing increased leads and conversions — even during some of the seasonal lulls.

Read on to discover the most important marketing dates for college students throughout the year, and how you can optimize your digital marketing strategy to make the most of each one.

3/17/2019: St. Patrick’s Day

Americans spent over $5 billion on green clothes and festive accessories for St. Patrick’s Day in 2017. And in a college town, green beer can probably be seen flowing from sunup to sundown.

Game plan:

  • Create a St. Patrick’s Day promotion to engage shoppers and push traffic to your brand’s site. Include a holiday discount or free shipping to help drive sales.
  • Don’t forget to choose a festive design for email campaigns, social posts & on-site promotions.

4/1/2019: April Fool’s Day

When you hear April Fool’s Day, you probably think about practical jokes and silly social media posts. But for college students, this is an important date for another reason — back to school shopping starts as early as April.

Game plan:

  • Build your brand voice and entertain your audience with appropriate humor.
  • Don’t promise visitors something they’re not actually going to receive, or risk saying something off-color you’ll be apologizing for later.
  • Get geared up for a first back-to-school product reveal and early-bird promotions once the holiday is over.
  • Don’t plan on releasing important information or news on April 1st, as anything you say could be taken as a joke to your users.

4/1/2019: Easter

College students have spring fever on their minds, and are looking for warmer-weather deals and spring merchandise.

Game plan:

Reach out to your email list with festive spring-centric promotional messaging and design.

  • Offer an “Easter egg” hunt on your site over Easter weekend by hiding egg icons throughout your site that offer prizes, promotions and deals when users find and click on them.
  • Got any pastel or spring-time merch? Make sure those items are front and center.

4/22/2019: Earth Day

Earth Day is a big promotional favorite for outdoor brands. Even if you’re not selling hiking boots or kayaks, Earth Day can be a great opportunity to partner with environmental organizations on promotions, and to find opportunities to go green.

That’s important with college students these days — millennials are the biggest proponents for companies to go green, but only if they “trust a company’s social and environmental practices.” The top 3 most trusted companies amongst millennials are Patagonia, Whole Foods, and Tesla.

Game plan:

  • Choose an environmental organization or brand that aligns with your company’s mission and donate a percentage of all proceeds from Earth Day sales.
  • Swap out banner ads on your site with promotional banners to build awareness around your partnership.
  • Run paid social ads to get the word out about the promotion, and send an email blast to your list.

5/13/2019: Mother’s Day

Americans sure do love their moms — Mother’s Day is the third largest retail holiday in the country. Americans typically spend over $20 billion doting on their moms to celebrate the holiday.

Some college students haven’t seen their moms since summer break, while others are freshman experiencing homesickness for the first time. There’s no better time to offer ways for them to give their mom something special.

Game plan:

  • Offer targeted promotions for Mother’s Day shoppers a few weeks out.
  • Consider teaming up with an industry influencer to create a unique gift-guide for moms using your products or services.
  • Use paid social campaigns to target moms and offer promotions that allow them to treat themselves.

5/28/2019: Memorial Day

Memorial Day is both the kickoff off to summer BBQs and graduation and a big day for sales on the retail front.

But most importantly, Memorial Day is a time to respectfully honor American troops. If you do host a Memorial Day promotion, it should be centered on giving back to organizations that benefit troops.

Game plan:

  • Show appreciation for the Americans who have served by offering special promotions and discounts to veterans.
  • For example, offer free shipping or 20% off storewide to veterans.
  • Offer relevant and fun Memorial Day content like blogs with seasonal recipes that feature snacks your brand sells, craft ideas using your company’s products or Memorial Day outfit ideas coordinated from the clothes sold in your boutique.

6/17/2019: Father’s Day

Just like Mother’s Day, college students are looking for unique and meaningful gifts for their dads.

Game plan:

  • Support Father’s Day sales and build your blog library at the same time.
  • Offer students relevant and engaging blog content — from the best gifts for dad to best locations to spend Father’s Day,
  • Partner with an industry influencer to create a unique gift-guide for dads that speak to college students — like outdoor adventures instead of “World’s Greatest Dad” mugs.

7/4/2019: Independence Day

In July, students are relaxing at home, studying abroad or simply catching up on sleep. As such, July is the slowest month for e-commerce — sales dipped by 30% in 2016, compared to big sales months like December.

Game plan:

Just because direct sales may be in a slump doesn’t mean you can’t build up some more indirect marketing campaigns.

  • Everyone loves a “Christmas in July” sale, which can help offset the sluggishness of the month.
  • Use this time to run a lead generation campaign to build your email list.
  • Consider an automated email sequence or retargeting campaign to keep your brand on students’ radar and to keep eyeballs on your brand until back-to-school time.
  • Build your blog with engaging holiday content — red, white and blue recipes, décor and cocktails (for the students who are of legal drinking age, of course!)

9/3/2019: Labor Day

Labor Day is a big travel weekend, as students and their families try to squeeze the last few days out of summer before going back to school. Students are looking to take advantage of the last days of the season and finish up their back-to-school shopping.

Game plan:

  • Present a first reveal of your fall products through an email campaign, and offer early-bird shopping discounts.
  • Be prepared with a fall photo shoot and fall designs for banner ads and social posts.

10/31/2019: Halloween

If there’s anything we know about college kids, it’s that they love Halloween. Or at least, they love Halloween parties, and shelling out for the perfect costume: Halloween is one of the top 5 e-commerce holidays.

Game plan:

  • Not many e-commerce sites sell candy and costumes, but everyone can benefit from the Halloween e-commerce uptick.
  • Create spooky seasonal sales promotions leading up to Halloween.

11/22/2019: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving kicks off the part of the year when college students get really spendy.

Online shoppers spent $15.12 billion on the Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving in 2017.

Search advertising drove over 20% of sales from paid social media, direct traffic made up almost 30%. And email traffic contributed to almost 20% of sales over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Game plan:

  • Many students are checking their emails for Thanksgiving deals well before the holiday hits.
  • Send out holiday-themed Black Friday and Cyber Monday reminders to your email list and social followers so you’re on their radar before the big shopping weekend.
  • Design banner ads for your site and create a sales page before Thanksgiving to direct site visitors to.

11/23/2019: Black Friday

Around 108.5 million Americans shopped online over the Thanksgiving Break (including Black Friday) in 2018. And in 2018, Black Friday pulled in a record $6.22 billion in online sales.

Game plan:

  • Start planning for Black Friday in Q2 by introducing mobile payment apps if you haven’t already, and upgrading your shopping apps.
  • Use social media advertising to get your deals in front of as many college students as possible. While you can cast a wide net with Facebook’s targeting, you can build warmer audiences on Facebook by uploading your existing email list or targeting previous site visitors based on your Facebook pixel. Then, build lookalike audiences based on those.
  • Design banner ads to promote your Black Friday deals.
  • Run an email series promoting your Black Friday deals at least a month in advance.

11/24/2019: Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday isn’t so small anymore — this “holiday” raked in $17.8B in 2018.

Game plan:

  • Plan special promotions in advance, and get word out to college students through your email list, organic and paid social presence, as well as through banner ads on your site.
  • If you’re a large national brand, this could be an opportunity to partner with smaller local businesses in college towns for cross-promotion and brand building.

11/26/2019: Cyber Monday

Americans spent $840 million online through 10am on the Monday following Black Friday. Mobile, smartphones and tablets made up just over 50% of traffic, and almost 40% of revenue.

Game plan:

  • Present a call-to-action pop up to direct shoppers to your sales pages.
  • Use an exit offer on the cart page to drive same-visit sales.
  • Extend Black Friday sales through Cyber Monday.


It’s probably no surprise to hear that December is the biggest e-commerce month of the year. Green Monday is the largest online sales day in December (12/10).

Game plan:

  • Create dynamic retargeting ads to bring back users who added to their cart and didn’t check out.
  • Coordinate an email drip campaign to keep your holiday sales and promotions top-of-mind for your list.
  • Create engaging and enriching holiday content that target college students’ wants.
  • Make sure you advertise the last day for shipping before Christmas!

12/25/2019: Christmas

College students are usually spending time with family and relaxing on Christmas rather than shopping. A friendly email or organic social post wishing your list a happy holiday is an effective way to build brand trust and affinity.

12/26/2019: Boxing Day

Boxing day is on December 26th, when most college students round up the sweaters and toasters they don’t need and head to the mall to return and exchange.

Game plan:

  • Boxing Day is huge for customer service and returns, so it’s your time to build brand trust and loyalty by providing the best customer service possible.
  • Make sure you’re available to man the phones, answer emails and monitor social chats to address returns and provide great customer service.

1/1/2019: New Year’s Day

Every college student has one thing in common once New Year’s Day rolls around: resolutions for a better year ahead.
Play up on the unique resolutions for college students to create targeted promotions. Do they want to improve their time management, spend more time in the gym or save money on car insurance? Anticipate what students will want to improve in the upcoming year and have a powerful promotion ready.

This is another great time to learn from last year’s ad campaigns and promotions. Use Google Analytics to determine which marketing strategies worked, and which could use some work. Check out which ads and products got the most attention from college students, and strategize how to make them even better for next year’s big e-commerce dates.

Knowing which e-commerce dates are the most important for marketing to college students is just the start. Understanding the latest marketing trends for college students is the next important step in your brand’s strategy »

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