- Parents will likely spend $25.5 billion on back-to-college shopping for their children this year, about the same as in 2017, according to a study from Deloitte. That equates to an average household spend for the season of $1,330. About a quarter (24%) of shopping is expected to take place online, while about half (54%) is expected in-store — leaving 22% of total spend up for grabs with shoppers undecided.
- Most parents (82%) said they'll collaborate with their children on back-to-college budgeting and shopping. Parents tend to pay, with 80% saying they'll provide more than half of the funding for their students' shopping. Notably, in Deloitte's data parents' interest in online shopping has slumped; 11% fewer parents than last year plan to use a desktop or laptop to shop, and 13% fewer plan to use social media. About the same number (45%) plan to shop with mobile devices.
- Income levels influence where and what people plan to buy: Mass merchants appeal to shoppers of all income levels, but low-income shoppers prefer dollar stores (32%) and off-campus bookstores (27%), while high-income shoppers tend to flock to traditional department stores (27%) and warehouse membership clubs (26%).
As retailers approach the climax of back-to-college shopping season, they face a unique marketing dilemma. For the most part, students make selections, but parents pay. Add to that challenge the fact that as e-commerce grows in popularity, online back-to-college shopping may be falling out of fashion.
"This decline in digital usage for back-to-college shoppers could be a sign that consumers desire innovation with their digital shopping interactions," Rod Sides, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP, said in a press release. "It provides an opportunity for retailers to define innovation at the intersection of technology, engagement and decision making in the coming years."
Retailers also face a wide swath of income levels among customers, a factor that influences shopping habits. More low-income shoppers (75%) than high-income (63%) plan to hunt for deals throughout the summer rather than pushing their shopping to just before the school year.
The back-to-college shopping season will peak between mid-July and mid-August, the Deloitte report said — but the back-to-school shopping season has become increasingly amorphous in recent years. "Retailers and brand[s] must understand that back-to-school shopping now spans six months, from before May to October," the NPD Group said in an analysis of 2016-17 back-to-school trends.
The lengthy time span poses challenges but may not be a wholly negative thing for retailers.
"According to parents surveyed, 68% plan to start their back-to-college shopping before August. Even more pertinent to retailers, these early shoppers also plan to spend 35% more than shoppers who wait until August," Lokesh Ohri, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, said in the press release. "This is an opportunity for retailers to engage customers early and often, to not only capture the pockets of early spenders but also appear on the radar of those shoppers who plan to engage throughout the season."
Home electronics, furnishings and warehouse stores will probably see a back-to-college sales spike in the last two weeks of July, earlier than the expected peak in August for other retailers, the report found.
Retailers are getting creative to meet the nuanced needs of back-to-college shoppers, the NPD report said, noting that some have offered shopping lists tailored to particular colleges. Others have set up pop-up booths on campuses or transportation to stores in the first week of school.
As with most retail markets, personalization and convenience are the keys to customer satisfaction: "As retailers get closer to offering door-to-door delivery, the potential for success is even greater," the NPD said.