JC Lupis | Marketing Charts | Tue, 18 Aug 2015 12:45:35 +0000

It’s the second half of August. Too late for a back to school (BTS) data update? Not so, according to multiple recent studies that suggest a later end for the season this year. In fact, MasterCard research reminds that last year, August 29 was the heaviest shopping day of the BTS season, and in a survey conducted last week by Market Track, 63% of respondents said they had yet to finish their BTS shopping.Deloitte-Back-to-School-Shopping-Scheduling-Aug2015

This update highlights some key data points from several pieces of recently-released BTS research. Follow the cited links to access the full studies.

  • Almost one-third of parents (up from 26% last year) plan to complete their back-to-school shopping after the start of the school year, per Deloitte [pdf], which also finds total planned spending on BTS items to be down from years past. (See previously published research below for more spending trends.)
  • Sticking with planned shopping times, a PM Digital study [download page] suggests that online shopping begins and ends earlier than offline shopping, while NPD survey results indicate that although a majority (55%) of consumers expect to finish their BTS apparel shopping in August, another 23% will in September (19%) and October (4%). Why might they wait? Almost one-quarter of consumers believe they get better deals by waiting until later in the season, reveals new research from Mintel. That report also notes that one-third of BTS shoppers admit that kids have a strong influence on their purchases.
  • Price is the top factor influencing the decision of where to shop for BTS supplies, finds JLL in its survey, with quality the second-most important factor. Indeed, shoppers are more interested in finding the lowest price on BTS items than the highest quality products, detail Integer and M/A/R/C Research [download page] in a consumer survey.
  • Target must have done a good job convincing consumers of their low prices: it’s the top retail brand consumers indicated that they would shop at this year during the BTS season, according to a Brand Keys survey [pdf]. It also happens to be the retailer that spent the most on BTS advertising last year, per Kantar Media data. Walmart, last year’s third-largest BTS advertiser, is the second-most likely retailer destination and also the second-most likely e-commerce destination among Brand Keys survey respondents, behind only Amazon.com in the e-commerce space.
  • Still, several reports indicate that BTS shoppers will visit multiple stores. In its study of 2014 shopping behavior, Cardlytics notes that consumers visit several more stores for their BTS shopping than usual, particularly when it comes to shoes and athletic gear destinations, office suppliers and electronic stores, and e-commerce retailers.
  • Parents are more likely to believe that the BTS season is the best time to buy student laptops than they are to say the Black Friday is the best time, according to a FatWallet.com survey. Teens and Millennials will certainly be shopping for tech products, at least Twitter-using ones, says the social platform.
  • While surveys disagree about the most common destination for BTS shopping, e-commerce is clearly a key part. Search advertisers can reap the benefits: Marin Software reveals that, last year, those in the education vertical saw clicks (+14.9%) and conversions (+9.8%) spike in August in comparison with other summer months.
  • E-commerce isn’t without its frustrations, though, says SOASTA, with online shoppers citing shipping costs (57%) and out-of-stock inventory (51%) as their top stressors when shopping online for back-to-school.
  • Several surveys detail a rise in mobile shopping this year (consistent with the broader retail sector), and a recent Retale survey suggests that almost 8 in 10 parents will use a smartphone for BTS shopping this year. With discount-seeking behavior prevalent, that survey finds that close to 9 in 10 parents typically select retailers based on the availability of coupons and deals on mobile devices.
  • Don’t forget! It’s not only parents and students spending on BTS supplies: teachers also get into the act. In fact, a SheerID and Agile Education Marketing survey of 500 K-12 teachers finds that they’ll spend on average $490 of their own money on BTS items.

Previously Published Research

[Editor’s note: This was published prior to this update.]

NRF-Back-to-School-Spending-Forecasts-2007-2015-July2015

Families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $630 this back-to-school (BTS) season on apparel, supplies and electronics, down about 6% from last year and the lowest average since 2011, finds the NRF Total BTS spending is expected to be slightly less than $25 billion, representing a decline of roughly 6% from last year’s estimated $26.5 billion. The study is one of many several looking at back-to-school spending trends, including popular shopping destinations and purchases.

According to the NRF’s study, families will spend the most on electronics or computer-related equipment purchases ($346 per spending family), exceeding the amount spent on clothing and accessories (excluding shoes), with that per-family average coming in at $235. Buyers are predicted to spend $129 on shoes and $104 on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes.

Shoppers will most likely be heading to discount stores (62.2%) to make those purchases, says the NRF, though that figure is the lowest going back at least as far as 2007. Department stores (56.4%) and clothing stores (53.5%) are also popular destinations, with planned purchases there steadier from years past. More than one-third (35.9%) will make purchases online, with that figure down slightly from recent years.

Interestingly, shoppers expect to get started later this year. Fewer indicated that they would start at least 3 weeks earlier than school starts (62.4%, down from 67% last year), with a concurrent increase in the percentage saying that they would begin shopping 1-2 weeks before school starts (30.3%, up from 25.4%). (A Meijer survey finds the opposite trend, with families beginning shopping earlier this year, though survey details were not released.)

Separately, another NRF survey indicates that back-to-college spending will average $899 among spenders, down slightly from $916 last year, but up from the year prior ($837). With fewer respondents attending college, though, the total anticipated spend of $43.1 billion, is the lowest since 2009 ($41.2 billion). Discount (48.3%) and department (44.9%) stores are also popular among the back-to-college crowd, who will spend the most on electronics ($416 per buyer) and apparel, excluding shoes ($188 per buyer).

Below, a list of data points from other research covering the back-to-school shopping season, along with links to the research (where details on methodology are available):

  • Retail e-commerce sales during the core back-to-school season of July and August are expected to grow by 14.4% year-over-year to reach almost $56.4 billion, per eMarketer, which also forecasts that online back-to-school spending will account for approximately one-sixth (16.5%) of full-year retail e-commerce sales.
  • The Rubicon Project has a significantly higher spending forecast than the NRF based on its own survey. The results suggests that K-12 parents will spend $873 per student, while parents with kids in college will spend $1,100 per student. Overall, a majority – 56% – of parents surveyed said they would spend more than last year. More than 8 in 10 parents surveyed claim that they decide where to shop for back-to-school time, though almost three-quarters said that children come along, heavily influencing purchases in the clothes, food and school supplies categories.
  • In-store purchases remain the preferred back-to-school shopping method, per the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), which also has a rosier forecast than the NRF. Indeed, two-thirds of consumers surveyed plan to spend more this year, up from 50% last year and 39% the year prior. Among the results, the ISCS study finds that school supplies (76%) and apparel and shoes (75%) top electronics (53%) as the most common products planned for purchase. Of note, about 3 in 4 respondents reported that they would likely start their BTS shopping when ads from major retailers started.
  • An analysis of brands’ back-to-school email volume shows that July volume has trended down over the past couple of years (2012-2014), with concurrent increases in August send volume, per Experian Marketing Services. The analysis also looks further at 2 industries – supplies (including school supplies, health and beauty products and electronics) and apparel and accessories – with some interesting results. For supplies, the first half of August sees by far the most mailings of the July-September period, with this 2-week time range accounting for an even larger share of supplies revenues. While the first half of August is also the heaviest for apparel and accessories email and revenues, that industry sees an higher share of revenues than email volume, indicating that it might be a good time for increased mailings. Overall, back-to-school subject lines touting $ offers, free shipping and the term “style” each performed better than those without those terms.
  • Online search behavior for back-to-school is growing, says Google, with search interest for “back to school” growing 48% last year and up 12% during the first half of the year. Search interest appears to be beginning earlier this year and skewing more mobile, with mobile’s share topping 50% through the year’s first half. See the top-rising and declining searches here.

About the Data: NRF’s 2015 Back-to-School and Back-to-College spending surveys were conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics. The poll of 6,500 consumers aged 18+ was conducted June 30-July 8. The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points. The total spending figure is an extrapolation of U.S. adults 18 and older.

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