Back to School (BTS) for me is epitomized in the classic Staples commercial. In this ad, the father joyously dances through Staples, completing his back-to-school shopping, followed reluctantly by his glum children. The ad features the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”
No matter which side of the shopping cart you are on, BTS is without a doubt big business. This year, BTS spending will reach $75.8 billion, an 11% increase over last year, and mostly in clothes, technology, and school supplies.
Additionally, according to a study by the National Retail Federation, consumers started BTS shopping earlier than last year and (as of August 18) are only half-done, which is consistent with other research finding the peak BTS shopping days in late August. Parents expect peak purchase of technology to occur in July, late July for school supplies, late in August for clothing, and in September for other electronic devices.
Of that $75.8 billion, back-to-college spending accounts for $48.5 (64%) which has increased 12.5% from last year. The remaining $27.3 billion for back to K through 12 is up 10% from last year. In total, BTS represents more than one-sixth of annual retail sales. That’s a lot of school supplies!
Other interesting BTS shopping factoids from MarketingCharts:
- Most BTS shopping will be completed in discount stores (61% for back to school and 44% for back to college).
- About a third of shoppers will make an online purchase and pick it up in-store. Once they are in the store, 84% intend to make additional purchases.
- In line with late August being the peak BTS shopping period, more than two-thirds of shoppers plan to take advantage of BTS promotions even after school begins.
- Two new “firsts” in 2016: more parents will shop at Amazon for technology than at brick-and-mortar stores, and 60% of parents will use a mobile device for at least some of their BTS shopping.
- The most important influences for BTS shopping for parents are school recommendations (43%), familiarity with the products or brands (42%), children (37%), and coupons (36%).
- Parents report buying what their children ask for 53% of the time.
- Parents (62%) and college students (70%) begin their BTS shopping by searching online.
- Deal/coupons apps and websites (32%) are a bigger influence on parents’ decisions to shop at a particular store or website than TV (18%), social media (12%), and in-store signage (9%).
But as the Staples’ ad aptly demonstrates, BTS shopping is a family activity. Parents who shop with their kids are more likely to have younger kids. Parents who shop with older children are more likely to use coupons and look for savings on everything they need (perhaps as a result of longer supplies lists). Just over half of parents see back-to-school shopping as an opportunity to teach their children about the value of saving money, while just over one-third teach them how to search for coupons and deals.
The start of the school year is a big positive for U.S. businesses. The days when a box of crayons and some pencils were sufficient for the entire school year are long gone – to retailers’ benefit and delight!