I’ll say it – I was a nerd. The feeling of a new, fat pack of PaperMate colored pens lined perfectly in a ROY-G-BIV row, ready to color-code my new, crisp yearly planner with assignment information, test dates, stickers, and school days off – that was something I looked forward to, right down to the decoration of new binder dividers.
Laugh away, but I know I’m not the only one. The July and August back-to-school buying period is quickly amassing $875 billion in sales – a new record for the 2nd most popular spending season. With retailers throwing after-hour shopping parties and innovating new ways to pay online and pickup later, shoppers are finding back-to-school sales fun and more convenient than ever before. Besides, there’s nothing like a new outfit or funky pencil pouch to get you excited about that school bell ringing. But what else is pushing this record-setting spending?
TECH PURCHASES ─ NOT JUST FOR BIG KIDS ANYMORE
Unlike my youthful, bright-eyed self, 63% of shoppers plan to buy technology or tech accessories. The users are becoming younger and younger, with more kids stuffing backpacks with the latest gadgets and accessories instead of yesteryear’s paper flashcards. Approximately 35% of elementary-age kids receive laptops, and 40% get tablets during this time of year (RetailDIVE). For middle schoolers, half of parents plan on buying a laptop for the 2017 school season (if they haven’t already). What’s more, six in 10 tech purchases are accessories for devices, meaning most shoppers won’t be buying a computer or tablet without also buying a colorful case, printed charger chords, or comfy headphones.
BOOMING COLLEGE MARKET, STRATEGIC RETAIL INITIATIVES
Back-to-Campus. You’re seeing a lot of these signs and sales plastered around stores these days, aren’t you? That’s because college shoppers are expected to spend around $54 billion – up from $48 billion – due to quickly rising college enrollments. What’s more, over 44% of them are buying online.
College kids are more likely to leave home and live in a dorm or off-campus dwelling than ever before. Even commuter-colleges have been implementing 1 year campus living requirements to graduate. And, it’s logistically easier than ever for incoming university students to buy larger items – bed frames, desks, mattresses, and the like – online in advance, rather than picking up at a store nearby campus. Companies like Our Campus Market have been popping onto the scene and flourishing amidst the booming demand, delivering dorm and apartment Value Paks straight to campuses.
SHOPPERS ARE DOING THEIR HOMEWORK
Shoppers know the school season is coming up, and they know retailers do, too. They want the lowest prices, the most convenient experiences, and easy-to-use sites when hunting colored pencils and trendy backpacks. Nearly 81% of shoppers are conducting online research before making back-to-school purchases – up from 75% last year. Approximately 63% of them compare prices, while 60% conduct searches and 57% peruse retailer’s sites. But don’t forget online reviews – one in two shoppers will read reviews and comments about products and retailers before pressing the buy button.
It’s 2017, which means a large amount of Millennials are now parents and the oldest Gen Zers are leaving home for college. In other words, the tech-native generations aren’t kids anymore, they’re here and they have wallets, too. They won’t be sitting on desktop computers to shop, and they surely won’t be buying from retailers lacking in omni-channel options. Roughly 43% of them will use smartphones while shopping – a 10% increase from five years ago. They’re consulting social media to learn about trending brands, see what their friends are buying, and find discounts.
What’s more, mobile isn’t just a purchasing platform. Shoppers compare prices (58%), download digital coupons (39%), check availability (38%), and even take pictures of items they’re considering buying (30%). Retailers need to leverage their mobile experiences and social presences to hook consumers and keep a popular presence among shoppers.
It’s the biggest year for back-to-school shopping – ever. Retailers, use this as a trial run before the holiday peak season hits (estimated $116 billion in US sales). Tune into your customers. Tune up your systems. Get your marketing engines fired up for the ride. Learn what tweaks you can make to improve your peak season performance to win the race.