Skip to main content

MBPT Spotlight: Tighter Back-to-School Spending Should Benefit Discount Chains, Online Retailers

Unlike some spring surveys that predicted back-to-school
shoppers would get an earlier start this season, the latest research shows that
consumers are actually waiting longer to buy and are planning to spend less
than they did last year.

Households with school-age children (K-12) are also looking
for more bargains and that is going to help discount store chains and online
retailers at the expense of department and specialty stores, according to the
Brand Keys 2013 Back-to-School report, which included information from 10,000
households collected via telephone and central location intercepts.

The report predicts a decrease of 10% in back-to-school
spending to an average of just over $600 per household. Average anticipated
spending in the major back-to-school categories are all down from last year.
Average spending on clothing is predicted to be $301 per household, down 29%;
average spending on dress and athletics shoes is forecast to be $110 per
household, down 23%; spending on computers/electronics/tablets and smartphones,
$150, down 32%; school supplies, $39, down 60%; and books and other study aids,
$10, down 56%.

Among back-to-school shoppers, 97% are expected to make
purchases at discount chains, up 4% over last year; 72% online, up 34%; 35% via
catalogs, up 3%; 28% at department stores, down 44%; 25% at office supply
stories, down 55%; and 30% at specialty retailers, down 10%.

Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, said in addition
to lower spending this year, consumers also said they will put off purchases
until they see no better deals, or until they absolutely have to buy.

Of back-to-school consumer shoppers, 70% said they would
wait until the middle to the end of August to shop. Passikoff said that
attitude has been fueled by more than a decade of retailers teaching consumers
that they will eventually be able to get cheaper prices if they are willing to

Passikoff added that there's more of an unbalanced
distribution this year in terms of retail outlets where consumers intend to
shop for back-to-school items, with consumers saying they will shop at whatever
outlet offers the best deals.

The top 10 retailers showing the greatest increase in
consumer intent-to-shop for back-to-school merchandise in order are: (1)
Amazon, (2) Wal-Mart, (3) Target, (4) Macy's, (5) Zappos, (6) TJ Maxx and Kohl's,
(8) Best Buy and Footlocker, and (10) Staples.

Passikoff did give a reason for the decline in bigger ticket
items like computers, smartphones and tablets, saying that many consumers are
buying them year-round now, rather than just waiting for the excuse of shopping
for school.

Nielsen Weighs In

Nielsen has also been conducting weekly online surveys of
consumers and the results of its first round of questioning for the week ending
July 19 found only 6% of respondents who said they had started their
back-to-school shopping. Meanwhile, 60% said they would be starting their
shopping before mid-August.

The Nielsen survey found 21% who said they will spend more
on back-to-school shopping this year, and 21% who said they would spend less.
Another 55% said they would spend the same amount as last year.

The biggest influence on where they would shop: 78% said
price, 65% said value and 54% said convenience.

"Shopper strategies are fairly unique when it comes to
back-to-school," said James Russo, senior VP of global consumer insights at
Nielsen. "Despite retailer strategies to drive back-to-school sales earlier and
earlier, consumers are set on doing their back-to-school shopping across three
main weeks in August."

here to register for the daily Media Buyer & Planner newsletter.