Everything You Need to Know About Back to School Shopping

creative-desk-pens-school 730x280.jpgBack-to-school is the second largest shopping season (trailing only the holidays), with estimated sales reaching upwards of $75.8 billion dollars. This growth is largely accredited to e-commerce, as each year, more and more consumers forego annual trips to the mall in favor of shopping online.

But for brick-and-mortar retailers, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

You see, whereas ‘old school’ back-to-school shopping for the most part centered upon acquiring essentials (backpacks, pencils, notebooks, etc) and maybe a new article of clothing or two, back-to-school shopping, spurred on by the relative convenience of e-commerce, rapidly began to encompass other categories. Things like apparel and accessories, computers, cell phones, entertainment for bus rides, etc. Virtually everything imaginable can now be marketed as tangentially related to back-to-school.

According to Deloitte:

“This year’s [2017] survey reveals a category shift among the items respondents intend to buy for their children. Clothing and accessories are expected to account for 55 percent of families’ spending–up 10 percentage points from last year. Meanwhile, computers and hardware will take up just 14 percent of the spending; this is four percent lower than last year.”

Interestingly enough, though, that expansion beyond basic school supplies proved to be a tremendous boost not just to e-commerce retailers, but to brick-and-mortar ones as well. 

From the L.A. Times

“Although the growth of e-commerce has forced dozens of U.S. retail chains to close thousands of locations at malls and elsewhere, analysts said that children and their parents still like visiting stores to purchase items on their back-to-school lists — notebooks and lunch boxes and clothes and computers.

‘This is one category where we’re seeing a surprising level of support for the in-store experience,’ said Jim Mills, who heads the Southern California consumer business practice for Deloitte, the consulting and auditing firm.”

So, bottom-line:  There is a tremendous opportunity for retailers, both e-commerce and brick-and mortar, to capture part of the second biggest shopping season of the year.  Here’s everything you need to know about today’s back-to-school shopping trends, according to The National Retail Federation:

Shopper preferences for 2017:

  • Back to school shopping is predicted to reach $83.6B in 2017
  • Despite the prevalence of e-commerce, the majority of shoppers (57%) plan to do their shopping at department stores
  • 46% plan to shop online
  • The majority of shoppers (46.7%) plan to begin back to school shopping one month prior to their first day

2016 trends (that should continue into 2017)

  • More families have kids in school — thanks to the large generation of Millennials who are parents of school-age children — which is boosting total back-to-school spending to near-record levels.
  • The largest portion of back-to-school shopping budgets goes toward apparel and electronics. Not only are new clothes and devices a necessity, but these items are also a way for students to express their personalities.
  • 2 in 3 shoppers buy more than what’s on school-provided lists
  • Parents buy from three different websites, on average
  • 42% of shoppers shopped at discount stores, the lowest in the surveys recorded history


Thanks in large part to millennial parenthood and the rise of e-commerce, back-to-school shopping has ballooned to never-before-seen levels of spending. Despite this, consumers still prefer to shop in-store. Retailers should seek to capitalize, finding clever ways to optimize store assortments for in-store shoppers and ship-from-store opportunities, while marketing as many high margin products as possible as back-to-school essentials.


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Topics: back to school, ship-from-store, store assortment

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