Sales during the back-to-school months of July and August will rise 2.6%, up from 1.6% last year, according to eMarketer’s report, “Back-to-School Shopping Preview 2016: The Shift to E-commerce Accelerates.”
E-commerce sales during that time will be even more robust, with 15.3% growth, up somewhat from 15.2% last year.
The back-to-school season overall will account for 17.2% of full-year retail sales, unchanged from the previous three years, with the back-to-school e-commerce share at 16.5%, also unchanged, eMarketer says. As a share of total retail during the back-to-school season, however, e-commerce will rise to 7.9% in 2016, according to the report.
After fairly brutal holiday and spring seasons, U.S. retail appears to be recovering somewhat, boosted by e-commerce growth. While wages continue to climb, many consumers are choosing to save or spend their money on experiences rather than material objects, and their retail dollars on cars, which doesn’t help other categories.
Still, in this year’s first quarter, retail sales rose 3.6% year-over-year, and another 2% in the second quarter. The third quarter should see 2.5% growth with the back-to-school activity contributing, according to eMarketer, propelling 2016 beyond 2015’s results.
The second half of 2016 in retail will outpace the first half, with eMarketer projecting year-over-year U.S. retail e-commerce sales growth of 15.8% in Q3 (outpacing the 2015 growth of 15.2%) and 16.3% in Q4 (outpacing 2015 growth of 15.7%).
But there’s a dark lining, considering that margins are notably lower in e-commerce for retailers. And not all analysts believe the growth trajectory for e-commerce is unstoppable. Most shoppers continue to shop primarily in stores, with price the main driver for online sales, other research shows. A study from Boston Consulting Group last month even found that many consumers plan to scale back their online shopping.
"[T]he findings from this research certainly pour cold water on everyone's expectations for a continuously rising e-commerce world,” BCG senior partner Michael J. Silverstein said in a statement. “E-commerce winners will have to earn new dollars and new spending by providing new value. That means me-too players will suffer—and leaders will need to provide more user-friendly websites, lower prices and offers tailored to individuals customers.”
Despite this forecast, eMarketer says that e-commerce will surpass 10% of total retail sales in the U.S. by 2018. Many forecasters predict e-commerce will only continue to grow, especially in categories like apparel: Goldman Sachs last week said online apparel and accessories sales in the U.S. could grow 20% over the next four years, compared to just 10% six years ago.