A mom I know said it best: “Christmas shopping is fun. Black Friday shopping is awesome. But back-to-school shopping? Yuck. That’s just work.”

My friend sipped her ice coffee and turned back to her laptop — on which browser tabs for Staples, OfficeMax, Walmart, Amazon and several other retailers were open.

A long list with a school logo on top lay threateningly on her desk. But she wasn’t clicking Buy Now just yet: her state’s sales tax holiday was due to run for two days later that week and meanwhile, she was biding her time and comparing prices.

My friend is far from alone in her exhaustive — yet down-to-the-wire — online quest. The National Retail Federation (NRF) projects that almost half of the nearly $76 billion spent in 2016 by parents during the July-August back-to-school shopping season will be online.

The Market Is Massive — and Growing

Even more important, the NRF-sponsored survey found that nearly a quarter of cost-conscious back-to-school and back-to-college shoppers — 22 percent to be exact — wait until the last minute to make their purchases, in effect counting on closeout sales and sales tax holidays to lower their overall spend.

In a season that’s shaping up to bring in 10 percent more revenues than last year, this is huge news for online retailers. It means that even relatively late in the back-to-school game, retailers still have the unique opportunity to tweak key user experience parameters that can have an immediate impact on sales.

10 Ways to Nurture and Nab the Online Sale

So, quick, before it’s all over, here are ten factors to keep in mind and double-check. Some are simple and some are more complex, but all of them can help you ensure that the parents of the world choose your tab on the browser when it comes to outfitting their little darlings for the school year to come.

1. Realize that nobody’s in a very good mood

Unlike holiday shopping that brings with it some sense of warmth and good cheer, back-to-school shopping really is a thankless grind. And for most parents, it’s the final hurdle to clear after a long, hot, tiring summer home with the kiddos.

So first treat yourself to a viewing of Staples’ classic 2013 back-to-school commercial.  Then remember: To keep Mom and/or Dad happy, make their every online purchase decision simple, straightforward and crystal clear. 

2. Accept the reality that returns will happen

Just as in the bricks-and-mortar world, returns will happen. Don’t fight them. Make sure your return policy is easily accessible and clearly worded. Linking to information about returns right from the digital shopping cart doesn’t encourage returns — it raises purchase confidence and conversions. The same thing is true for spelling out your price guarantee policy.

3. Be crystal clear about your shipping schedule

The clearer you can be about exact delivery dates — and the earlier in the funnel you provide this information to purchasers, the better. Since you know time is tight, tell your shoppers right upfront what it will cost them to get their order there on time.

How can you know if time is especially tight? If you geolocate unregistered users and already know the location of your registered users, you can predict with some certainty when school will start. Impress them and show that you’ve got your finger on the community pulse by synching delivery options to their local back-to-school timeframes.

4. Clearly display your promotions

We recently discovered that one of our Fortune 100 clients was advertising its promotions via banners and direct mail but nowhere was there a link on its website. Make sure that your promotions are clearly integrated into your site’s information hierarchy and menus — including from the shopping cart — because now is when your customers most want to know about and act on them.

5. Align your promotions with your inventory

Make sure your promotions are aligned with up-to-date stock data to avoid sending out promotions for items that are nearly out of stock. Tired summer Mom will not be amused when the juicily discounted backpack/laptop/graphing calculator she needs is out of stock three minutes after your promotional email lands in her inbox.

At the same time, if you know you have only 50 units of a popular product left, don’t be afraid to create urgency. Keep in mind that the issue isn’t availability; it’s expectations.

6. Make it easy (and worthwhile) to buy more

Bundle, bundle and bundle again. Then discount the bundles, and make the price difference really clear. For example, if buying items separately costs $5 more, don’t make customers guess: boldly label the bundle “a $5 savings!”

Even if the benefits of add-on purchases aren’t line item related, they still need to be crystal-clear. Amazon does this masterfully with its free shipping threshold alerts such as “ten more dollars and you’re eligible for free shipping.”

7. Give your “Very Important Parents” the VIP treatment

Returning customers should be treated like the VIPs they are. You know they’re under back-to-school deadlines, so offer them incentives that make their lives easier, especially on shipping costs and delivery dates. Back-to-school season provides an ideal opportunity to be seen as a trusted friend who will deliver the goods — literally and figuratively — time and time again.

8. Make redeeming coupons fun

Deep in their hearts, consumers know that coupons are just a promotional gimmick but they work really well and the easier they are to use, the more effective they are. Don’t make your customers copy and paste long promotional codes or write anything down to get discounts. Keep your coupons simple, feature them prominently and don’t take the fun away by adding too many restrictions.

9. Keep promotions focused

Even the most valuable offering will be ignored if there’s too much background noise. So don’t overwhelm your customers with more than one promotional email each day. Show them the value of your offering and make it worthwhile for them to come visit but don’t add to the pressure by flooding their inboxes.

10. Maximize your site performance

As with any high-traffic season, back-to-school is not the time for poor site performance. Even if you’re under a code freeze, keep checking your website performance, VOC (voice of customer) insights and conversion funnels. If something is wrong, you need to be able to fix it on the spot.

Walk in Their Shoes

Any offline retailer will tell you that knowing your customers’ state of mind is key to closing the sale. In back-to-school season, Mom and Dad’s state of minds is hassled.

Put yourself in their shoes and evaluate your site’s user experience through eyes that are simultaneously shopping for the best deals on a tight budget and watching a five-year-old with a red Popsicle jumping on a white couch. Don’t mess with Mom or Dad this back-to-school season and your tab on the browser is more likely to come out on top.

Title image by Poodar Chu