While more parents began their back-to-school shopping early this year, the average family has polished off just 45% of their to-buy list as of early this month, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. That number is down from the peak (52%) in early August 2013 and 48% at the same time last year, and it's also the lowest level since the 40% logged in 2012, according to the study, which was emailed to Retail Dive.
Many parents (61%) appear to be waiting for classroom-issued back-to-school lists, though not as much the 64% influenced by school requirements last year, according to the NRF and Prosper. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that spending will be hampered. In aggregate, consumers plan to spend more than last year at all levels except post-secondary, according to another study from global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney emailed to Retail Dive.
When families do finally tackle those lists, retailers should keep in mind that consumers have grown more demanding than than last year, expecting better shopping experiences and lower costs, along with free expedited shipping offers and loyalty program rewards, according to A.T. Kearney.
Significant numbers of back-to-school shoppers are keeping their eye on in-store promotions (33%), newspaper advertising (29%), coupons, and sales and promotions (43%), according to the NRF study. But teachers and schools sway spenders the most, even when it comes to electronics, where school requirements influence 41% of those purchases (down from 45% last year).
The numbers aren’t much different for college students, who, together with their parents, say they've completed 45% of their shopping, down from 48% last year. Similar to families with younger children, that’s down from a peak of 54% in early August 2014 and the lowest level since 44% in 2011. Only 12% had completed all their shopping, and 26% haven’t even started.
While some schools (of all levels) have begun their year, many haven’t, with some not opening their doors until after Labor Day. According to the NRF and Prosper, 61% of consumers still needed to purchase school supplies as of early August, followed by clothing (51%) and shoes (33%).
“Similar to recent years, some of the big-ticket items are being significantly influenced by school requirements,” Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said in a statement. “That is why we are seeing many parents take their time in tackling their lists, so they can take advantage of any special promotions that can help them save on items such as laptops and computers.”
That survey found college consumers will likely complete the rest of their shopping online (41%), at discount or department stores (38% each), college bookstores (32%) and clothing stores (31%). Meanwhile, A.T. Kearney found a 15% increase in e-commerce back-to-school traffic.
Coupons and promotions are also influencing consumers in this season: 41% may use coupons; 30% in-store promotions and 28% are influenced by word of mouth. For those who’ve already made purchases, 46% were influenced by promotions, down from 50% last year.
The strong economy is boosting higher spending, and more millennials are participating in the season as parents, according to Ryan Fisher, A.T. Kearney Retail Practice partner and co-author of the report.
“This study, now in its third year, continues to show a trend toward increasing mobile and online shopping,” Fisher said in a statement. “[R]etailers should be poised to take advantage of the increase in expected spend. Overall, the back-to-school season should be good news for retailers who have been making omnichannel and especially mobile investments, and perhaps a wakeup call to those who continue to tread in more traditional footsteps.”