The New Rules for Back to School

August 10, 2015 Christina Stubler

color_pencils 2.0“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” —You’ve Got Mail

The time-honored tradition of buying new clothes, shoes, backpacks, pencils and notebooks in anticipation of the school year is a serious retail event – second only to the winter holiday season.

The National Retail Federation predicts the average back-to-school family will spend $630 while the average back-to-college family will spend $899 for an industry total of $68 billion this year.

But the tradition is changing. Shoppers are shifting how and when they will buy back-to-school supplies, according to recent surveys by the National Retail Federation and Deloitte.

Regarding the when, there is a trend toward procrastination. Deloitte’s 2015 Back-to-School Survey reveals 31% of consumers won’t complete their shopping until after school starts this year. Many are reusing supplies and restocking as needed.

How parents and students are shopping is also changing. Brick-and-mortar stores are still the main place of purchase. But for the first time in the Deloitte survey, online shopping was the second most common response when participants were asked, “In what types of retail environments do you plan to do your back-to-school shopping?”

In 2012, only 20% of respondents said online sites were among their top five back-to-school shopping destinations. This year, that number was 44%.

The top back-to-school spending categories are clothes, electronics, shoes and school supplies such as notebooks and backpacks, according to the National Retail Federation. Deloitte’s survey broke spending down even further to find that electronics are more likely to be bought online than other back-to-school purchases.

As online shopping gains popularity among the back-to-school crowd, the use of smartphones and tablets is also increasing. More than 40% of back-to-college shoppers are using mobile devices to research and price compare, and more than 30% plan to make purchases via their smartphones or tablets, according to the National Retail Federation.

Free shipping is a big selling point, but so is the option to buy online and pick up at the store, which will be used by almost half of back-to-school shoppers, according to the National Retail Federation.

Mobile shoppers are also using smartphones to find store locations and locate in-store products. Meaning retailers that want an A from parents and students should focus on providing a strong omnichannel experience, including mobile-friendly sites with geolocation services and accurate in-store inventory.

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