One of the biggest shopping seasons in the U.S., second only to winter holiday sales, is back-to-school season. It accounts for about half of all annual school-related spends, and touches about a quarter of U.S. households. Last year set a record for back-to-school season sales at $75.8 billion, and 2017 is expected to be even better. Retail sales during the core months of July and August are expected to account for 17% of total retail sales for the year.
With the shopping season in full swing, back-to-school shoppers across demographics are evolving their shopping strategies, opting for omni-channel shopping experiences that offer the right balance between convenience, price savings, and quality. Here are some of the key trends that are shaping back-to-school shopping this year.
Early Shoppers and Undecideds are highly desirable targets.
1. Over 70% of total back-to-school spending happens during an eight-week period, from early July through late August.
2. One-in-five shoppers—a segment worth over $5 billion—is undecided about whether they will shop online or in-store, and they form the ideal segment for persuasion via targeted promotional efforts. Over half of this segment is comprised of Millennials.
3. 68% of Undecideds are inclined toward purchasing from online retailers who offer free shipping, and 52% prefer to purchase from retailers who offer an option to buy online and return in stores.
Shoppers are diversifying their shopping channel options.
4. Department stores and specialty channels are taking a hit, with only 34% of parents planning to shop in traditional department stores, down from 51% last year. Mass merchants and off-price venues see a sharp rise in shopper market share, at 81% and 28% of shoppers, respectively.
5. Expected in-store spend is more than twice that of online spend, at an average $288 and $103, respectively.
6. Walmart and Target are the top in-store contenders, commanding 88% and 65% of the shoppers’ share of the market, respectively. In the digital space, Amazon enjoys a three-fourths majority of the BTS online shopper market.
7. Ecommerce for the season will grow approximately 15%, to nearly $74 billion in 2017, representing 8.6% of total back-to-school retail sales—online and offline—for the period, up from a 7.8% share last year.
8. Among back-to-college shoppers, online was the undisputed winner and the biggest share gainer—44% of shoppers said they will buy online, up from 37.5% in 2016.
Read more on recent digital retail trends.
Back-to-school shoppers are more likely to make online purchases via large screens, but mobile is not far behind.
9. 57% of shoppers will use desktops or laptops at some point in their shopping journey, including accessing a retailer’s website, obtaining pricing information, collecting coupons, and comparing similar products. 60% of these shoppers will make a purchase online using desktops/laptops.
10. 49% of shoppers will use smartphones for BTS shopping, and 45% of these shoppers will make a purchase using their mobile devices.
11. Back-to-college shoppers use their smartphones primarily to find brick-and-mortar stores or get price information. 63% of respondents use their smartphones to access mobile shopping apps, and 61% use them for product information. Tablets, on the other hand, are most often used to access a retailer website or get price information; 53% use tablets to shop digitally.
12. While nearly 30% of BTS shoppers plan to use social media to assist in shopping, one-quarter plan to use it for transactional purposes—to find promos/coupons and browse.
Read more about mobile advertising trends and reaching these multi-channel shoppers through cross-device advertising.
In-store technologies, particularly ones that ease the checkout process, see greater acceptance.
13. 77% of BTS shoppers say they would use new digital in-store technologies that offer value and convenience.
14. The most anticipated in-store technologies include scan-as-you-shop mobile apps to avoid lengthy check-out, location check-in platforms to receive personalized deals/coupons, QR codes to check for product information and reviews, and Augmented Reality (AR) applications for interactive shopping experiences.
Although we are nearing the culmination of this shopping season, two-out-of-five shoppers are yet to begin their BTS purchases. Read more on the new path to purchase for consumers and their decision journey and how you can optimize your back-to-school campaigns to reach your audience at the right time.
2017 Back-to-school survey | Deloitte
Back-To-School Shopping Preview 2017 | eMarketer
Back to School Shopping, January 2017 | Mintel