Back to School Lessons from Target

By Alyssa Whiteside, The Mars Agency

Target prides itself on being able to capture all the big and small moments in the lives of their guests. With the return to school looming large on the calendars of many Target households, the retailer strives to bring engagement-building newness to its seasonal campaign each year.

Despite the current uncertainties surrounding the economy, most shoppers were still prioritizing the purchase of the products needed to get their kids (or themselves) back to school. Deloitte expected spending to increase 5.8% to $34.4 billion among K-12 shoppers and 6.0% to $28.3 billion among college shoppers.

Like most retailers, Target is focused on winning over both camps of consumers, and as a mass merchant aims to be their one-stop shop for all their back to school essentials, from supplies to apparel to lunches and snacks. It also places a special emphasis on the 3.1 million teachers across the United States, who each spend roughly $750 on average on supplies for their own classroom needs, according to nonprofit AdoptaClassroom.org.

The following is an overview of Target’s key areas of focus during the 2022 back to school season:


Deals and Steals

Target ran extreme deals on basic school supplies — pricing some items (scissors, glue sticks, 24-count crayon boxes) as low as $0.25. The steep discounting involved both national and own-brand products. As a result, a large amount of the seasonal signage in stores was deal-driven, calling out the many items on sale for under $10.

Among specific promotional offers:

  • College students who are Target Circle program loyalty members were given a one-time offer of 20% off entire purchase from July 3-Sept. 3. Special offers and sales prices for Circle members were also prominent in weekly circulars.

  • The annual Teacher Prep Event, which promises 15% off school supplies and other items to qualifying shoppers, was extended to 8 weeks (July 17-Sept. 10).

  • A Target Deal Day event that ran July 11-13 (to coincide with Amazon Prime Day) included offers on relevant products. The retailer also participated in tax-free weekends sanctioned by various states throughout the season.

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Teacher Features

While Target’s deal-driven messaging is geared to all guests, the retailer does give special attention to teachers through exclusive offers and services, including:

  • Target.com provides a categorized shopping experience for teacher supplies (Storage, Décor, Organization.

  • A Teachers’ Registry service on the site lets educators create a wish list of classroom supplies to share with their communities.

  • Eligible Circle members could receive a 15% discount off a one-time back to school purchase.

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PersonalizED Inspiration

The “School List Assist” program made it easier for parents to get everything their kids would need by allowing schools at all levels to submit their own essentials lists to Target.com, making personalized shopping simple and convenient.

For college students, the retailer promoted Individual uniqueness by curating “dorm looks to get your gears turning” that would reflect individual personalities and styles. Target.com’s 3D-enabled “Home Planner” service let students design a room based on the actual dimensions, then shop for the items that will bring their ideas to life. Social media posts also celebrated the individuality expressed through dorm décor.

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Ordering Options

Target devoted a lot of the seasonal messaging to the convenient fulfillment options it offers shoppers: in-store, drive-up or delivery. Same-day delivery for last-minute seasonal shoppers was available in many areas.


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What Can Brands Do?
  • Get creative with deals and promotions that can help Target drive traffic and basket rings during key seasons like back to school (and don’t forget “Back to Class” in January).

  • Deliver content and offers that includes unique messaging for teachers, not just parents and college students.

  • Tie into Target’s evergreen efforts to promote individuality and inclusivity through your creative and messaging.

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About the Author

Alyssa Whiteside is Senior Account Executive on the Target Customer Development team at The Mars Agency. She helps clients build best-in-class partnerships with this key retailer and has executed successful shopper marketing and national recruitment programs for Mars Petcare and Mars Wrigley.


Before joining The Mars Agency in March 2021, she worked on broadcast and digital advertising for Jos. A. Bank, Hilton Hotels, Ross Stores and Capital One while at GSD&M.


At The Mars Agency, we are committed to being leaders in innovation. To help our clients stay ahead of the competition in a fast-paced and constantly evolving marketplace, we closely monitor any and all news across the Target ecosystem so clients stay “in-the-know” about this key customer. Meghan Heltne, SVP-Client Leadership, heads up our Target team in Minneapolis. Contact her: [email protected]