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Mobile back-to-school sales to grow significantly this year: NRF

Mobile will play a much bigger role in this year’s back-to-school shopping season as more shoppers use their smartphones to compare prices and make purchases, according to the National Retail Federation.

One of the back-to-school trends identified in a recent survey from the NRF is a jump in online shopping, which includes mobile shopping, with 40 percent of respondents planning to shop for back-to-school items online. The number is double what it was just a couple of years ago, in part because of the growing use of mobile.

“I don’t think we can overstate the importance of mobile,” said Matthew Shay, CEO/president of the National Retail Federation, Washington. “This is an area that is seeing strong expenditures from retailers and that is driving sales.

“The evolution from last year is pretty dramatic,” he said. “The fact that 40 percent of shopping will be done online is significant – it won’t all be on mobile but a significant portion will be.

“Mobile will continue to be the hottest way to drive sales for retailers.”

Retailers innovate in mobile
Mobile is seeing significant investment levels from retailers, which in turn is driving sales.

For example, home furnishings flash sales site One King’s Lane went from zero mobile sales a couple of years ago to 25 percent of sales being driven by mobile today, per Mr. Shay.

“Online is certainly taking a bigger piece of the pie,” Mr. Shay said. “In part, it reflects the desire of consumers to find the best deal wherever they can and it reflects the innovativeness of retailers that have embraced online and mobile strategies to empower their customers.”

Online shoppers are coveted by retailers because they often spend more than in-store shoppers.

“Online shoppers really are the cash cows this year,” Mr. Shay said. “People spending online are going to spend on average $875 compared to $680 that back-to-school shoppers will spend in-store.”

Mobile’s influence is being felt in stores as well, where consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to go online and compare the price at other retailers for an item they are interested in.

During the back-to-school shopping season, such behavior will be driven by the promotional activity of retailers.

“We expect this to be an enormously promotional season for back to school,” Mr. Shay said. “Be prepared for consumers to do an enormous amount of comparison shopping.

“They are going to be doing price comparison shopping online using mobile to find the best price so they can go get it once they find it,” he said.

Digital catalogs gain
Overall, the NRF expects back-to-school sales to increase this year, driven in part by the need for consumers to replace older items following several years of flat sales.

Parents with children in grades K-12 are expected to spend an average of $688 on back-to-school shopping, up from $603 last year. College families will spend $907, up from $808 last year. The NRF forecasts combined school and college spending will reach $83.8 billion.

Other findings include that the economy is still top of mind for consumers, shoppers are spreading out their back-to-school over a longer period of time and department stores are seeing resurgence in popularity among consumers.

Another key trend revealed by the NRF survey is that catalogs are making a comeback and that, here again, mobile is playing an important role.

Catalogs have suffered through several years of declines but this year, 15 percent of survey respondents say they are going to do their back-to-school shopping via catalogs, up from 11 percent last year.

“The growth in digital catalogs that can be accessed via smartphones and tablets is also driving the popularity of catalogs this year,” Mr. Shay said. “It is the way retailers are innovating and thinking of progressive ways to make the old new and deliver content in a new way.”