Deloitte: Back-to-school shopping trends include early start, shift to mass merchants

Retailers who wait until late summer this year to launch back-to-school deals are only hurting themselves, because early shoppers will spend more than late starters. 
 
That's according to Deloitte's "2017 Back-to-School Survey," which also detected a big shift in where back-to-school will be shopping this year. One thing that hasn't changed: In-store still prevails. 
 
Sixty-percent of back-to-school shoppers plan to hit stores by the end of July, spending an average of $532, which is 16% higher than the remaining 40% of parents who will start shopping in August or later, according to Deloitte. Those later shoppers are projected to spend only about $458 per student. 
 
Deloitte, which polled 1,200 parents of school-aged children in grades K – 12, found that shoppers expect to spend an average $501 per student on back-to-school this year, on par with last year. The total spend is expected to hit an estimated $27 billion.
 
The survey revealed a shift in where parents will be doing their back-to-school shopping. The majority of survey respondents (81%) plan to shop at mass merchants, a 24% increase over last year. Off-price stores also gained fans, climbing to 28% from 10% in 2016.  
 
Department stores and specialty apparel stores, however, are losing favor. Twenty-eight percent of respondents plan to shop traditional department stores this back-to-school season, down significantly from 54% last year. And only 8% of parents plan to visit specialty clothing stores, falling from 25% in 2016.
 
The survey also picked up a shift in the type of goods parents are buying this back-to-school season. Clothing and accessories are expected to account for 55% of families’ spending this year – up 10% from last year – mostly at the expense of school supplies and computers.
 
“With today’s technology-based education system there is less need for traditional school supplies, likely contributing to the shift toward more spending on clothing and accessories before children head back to school,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution practice leader. “Part of this shift may also come from the popularity of preconfigured school supply kits, which 30 percent of families plan to use."
 
Deloitte recommends that retailers make an effort to target the “undecided” back-to-school shopper – shoppers who don’t know whether they will shop online or in-store. Such shoppers are more likely to choose retailers that offer free shipping (68%), buy online and return to store (52%), and offer loyalty programs that provide faster or cheaper discounts when shopping online (49%), the study found. 
 
“Retailers should aggressively pursue the ‘undecided’ consumer because they collectively represent nearly $5.4 billion this back-to-school shopping season,” Sides said. “This segment is up for grabs but likely to go to retailers that draw customers in early with promotions and digital experiences that make store visits even more attractive, like inventory visibility, order tracking or buy online/pick up in store.”
 
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