What’s important to online back-to-college shoppers in 2013?

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As retailers know, back-to-college shopping is already well underway. Upcoming freshmen started talking weeks ago via social media about classes, supplies and gear, housing and more, but this is the point when they get moving on their shopping lists.

According to NRF and Shop.org’s survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, over one-third said they started shopping two months before the start of school, while another third will get started in the month before school starts Slightly less than 40 percent of back-to-college shoppers will do some part of their shopping online this year, much like last year. One of the more telling statistics this is year is that the average college shopper will spend $1,121, or 34 percent more than back-to-college shoppers overall.

After dissecting the data, here are some things online back-to-college shoppers are looking for this year:

Back-to-college shopping is a multi-channel affair. College students and their families will shop online, but not just online. The survey found that 57 percent will go to department stores while 52 percent will shop in discounts stores, 49 percent will go to college bookstores and 45 percent will visit office supply stores. Retailers should ensure that offers are available across all channels and also promote “buy online, pick up in store” services if available. As for finding stores, almost two out of five smartphone- and tablet-toting shoppers plan to look up retailer information using these devices. Retailers should make sure information is not hidden “below the fold” on mobile sites.

Electronics to capture the lion’s share of the budget. Online back-to-college shoppers expect to spend an average $301 on electronics and computer-related equipment along with an average $160 on clothing and accessories. As these consumers research and buy via multiple touch points, smartphones (47 percent) and tablets (54 percent) will be a significant source for researching products and comparing prices.

More than two out of five college students will live at home. Spending on dorm or apartment furnishings will come in at an average $137, largely on par with last year, but 42 percent of students will live at home rather than on campus, up from 39 percent in 2012. Retailers should be ready to present inspirational ideas for all types of collegiate living situations.

The U.S. economy factors heavily into shopping activities. In addition to more college students living at home,  47 percent of shoppers will look to the web to do more comparison shopping, find sales more often (46 percent), spend less overall (43 percent), and buy more store or generic brands (37 percent). Retailers should address value – price, quality, durability and other aspects of a product. Video has become a more common medium for retailers to quickly convey what wordy product descriptions can never express successfully. And don’t forget the mighty coupon: over one-third of online back-to-college shoppers plan to actively use coupons more this year, so make finding those easy and convenient without leaving your site in the middle of the checkout process. Among online back-to-college shoppers who own a smartphone and/or a tablet, close to a third will use them to redeem coupons.

Full results of the back- to-college online shopping survey are on the Shop.org website

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