Deloitte: Back-to-school shoppers sticking to necessities; mobile shopping surges

New York -- Consumers continue to hold tight to their purse strings and will rely heavily on online and mobile channels while they shop, according to Deloitte’s annual “Back-to-School” and “Back-to-College” surveys. 

Shoppers are far more optimistic about the economy than this time last year. Nearly four in 10 (37%) are more confident in the economy’s prospects, compared with just one-quarter (26%) a year ago. 

“Steady improvements in housing and employment, the stock market and personal finances give consumers reason to feel like they are back on solid ground,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader. “However, after several back-to-school seasons of spending frugally and taking advantage of season-long discounts, shoppers may need more encouragement and excitement to expand their child’s wardrobe or replenish additional items. Retailers will not only have to make offers very attractive this season, but they will have to score an ‘A+’ on unique, exclusive merchandise and services that nobody else can offer.” 

The number of parents with children in grades K-12 who said they would buy only what the family needs (57%) increased five percentage points, and those who plan to reuse last year’s items jumped from 20% in 2012 to 35% in 2013.

More than ever, shoppers surveyed are going online and turning to their smartphones to make the most of their back-to-school budgets. Among top shopping destinations, 36% of consumers plan to shop online this year, moving the Internet to the No.3 destination behind discount and office supply/technology stores, a significant jump from the No. 8 position last year. 

The Internet also shot up on consumers’ list of sources for information about back-to-school items, trumping all other sources and knocking television out of the No.1 spot. More than half (55%) of parents expect to head online, up 22 percentage points from last year.

Smartphones’ influence on back-to-school shopping also shot up dramatically in this year’s survey. Nearly eight in 10 (78%) of smartphone owners plan to use their smartphones to assist with their back-to-school shopping, up from 65% last year. 

“Online and mobile channels are the season-winning plays for retailers this year,” continued Paul. “If retailers get in front of the consumer who is checking prices, product details or product reviews, they become part of the experience rather than disappearing into the clutter of back-to-school advertising. We expect to see strategic retailers do more than offer promotions through digital channels, taking the extra step to tie their efforts to popular school activities or social issues, or serve as a shopping companion or stylist.”

Competitive pricing remains the top mobile incentive. Two-thirds (66%) of shoppers plan to use their smartphones to obtain price information, while 60% plan to do so to obtain discounts, coupons or sale information — a 15 percentage point increase from 2012.

While the number of respondents relying on social media (21 percent) remains steady, the survey found a marked increase in their online activities. More than eight in 10 (83%) of these consumers plan to use social media to find out about promotions, up from 70% last year. The number of social media users seeking reviews and recommendations leaped from 39% in 2012 to 67% in 2013. 

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