Shopping Online for Back to School/Back to College – Part 1

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It’s now about mid-way through summer vacation season… which means that retailers are gearing up to cater to millions of families across the U.S. who realize that back to school isn’t quite as far off as the weather outside might suggest. Putting aside the news that some retailers actually are already wooing customers with holiday (yes, holiday) merchandise, most families with school-age children first have to determine what they will and won’t be spending this year on back to school. Given the continued economic situation and consumers’ tight grip on any extra cash, what are the prospects for Back to School spending online specifically?

First, the big picture: the National Retail Federation’s 2009 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch from June 30 to July 7, 2009, indicates that, “…the average family with students in grades Kindergarten through 12 is expected to spend $548.72 on school merchandise, a decline of 7.7 percent from $594.24 in 2008. Total spending on back to school is expected to reach $17.42 billion.” ** Furthermore, not quite one quarter of consumers plan to shop for back to school online specifically.

So what about spending online?

When and where. Not quite half of online shoppers anticipate starting to shop for back to school three weeks to a month before school actually starts, while approximately one quarter expects to start as early as two months before school starts (i.e. now), and yet another quarter will bide their time (poolside, perhaps?) and tackle shopping for school just one to two weeks in advance. In terms of where they will shop, online consumers also expect to shop for back to school in discount stores, clothing stores, and department stores.

Products. Retailers appear poised to do well with online shoppers in all key back to school product categories. For example, online shoppers expect to spend a net average of $264.93 for clothing and accessories (not including shoes), compared with $204.67 for all shoppers. The net average that online consumers expect to spend this year specifically on back to school for electronics, shoes and school supplies also is well above the net average for all back to school shoppers.

Spending. Online shoppers for back to school do expect their children to spend some of their own money on this venture – with teens expecting to spend a net average of $32.90 of their own money, or about twice what pre-teens expect to pitch in. Regardless of who is footing the bill, however, over a third of consumers expect their children to directly influence between one quarter and half of all back to school purchases.

And what about the impact of continued concerns about the economy? Over half of online back to school shoppers noted they expect to shop for sales more often, do more comparative shopping both online and with ad circulars or newspapers, and spend less overall. Not surprisingly, coupons and generic / store brand products are important to online shoppers this year as well, though only a third thought they could make do with last year’s school items (possibly OK for things like stationery supplies and electronics, more difficult with items such as clothes and shoes for growing kids).

What do you see in terms of innovative campaigns, events, marketing or merchandising specifically for back to school on the horizon? Tell us what you think. Members may download the full results of this survey on the Web site. Stay tuned for a follow up to this blog post – Part 2: Back to College.

** Please see the full NRF press release.

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