TECHNOLOGY

College students to boost back-to-school spending to all-time high

BY Marianne Wilson

An uptick in college student enrollment will give a big boost to retailers' second biggest shopping season.

Combined back-to-school and back-to-college spending is projected to reach $83.6 billion, up more than 10% from last year’s $75.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics.

Back-to-school shopping is expected to start early this. Of consumers shopping for college, 32% will start two months before school, up from 26% last year. And only 21% will leave shopping until the last week or two before school starts, down from 25% last year. Of those shopping early, 64% are trying to spread out their budgets, 41% don’t want to miss sales and 37% want to avoid crowds.

More families will tackle their back-to-school lists for grade school and high school early this year with 27% beginning two months before the beginning of school, up from 22% last year. But not all shoppers are early birds, 21% will wait until the last week or two before school starts, about the same as last year’s 22%.

Here is how the survey breaks out by the two different groups:

College Spending

College students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88, up from last year’s $888.71. Total spending expected to be $54.1 billion, up from $48.5 billion last year and surpassing 2012’s record of $53.5 billion. The increase in spending is driven, in part, to growing college enrollment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment has steadily increased over the last five years and is projected to reach nearly 21 million this fall.

College consumers plan to spend $12.8 billion on electronics (purchased by 51%), $8.0 billion on clothing (78%), $7.5 billion on snacks and other food items (75%), $5.9 billion on dorm/apartment furnishings (51%), $4.5 billion on shoes (72%), and $4.5 billion on personal care items (78%).

They also plan to spend $3.9 billion on school supplies (88%), $3.9 billion on gift cards (40%) and $3.2 billion on branded collegiate gear (56%). As to what type of electronics they will be buying, the survey found 61% plan to purchase a laptop, 28% a tablet, 26% an electronic accessory, 24% a calculator and 21% a smartphone/cell phone.

When it comes to where college consumers will shop, 44% will go online, 40% to discount stores, 39% to department stores, 34% to college bookstores and 29% to office supply stores.

School-Age Spending

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $687.72 each, for a total of $29.5 billion, an 8 percent increase from last year’s $27.3 billion. Total spending is the second-highest in the history of the survey following a peak of $30.3 billion in 2012.

According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing (purchased by 95% of respondents), $8.8 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators (60%), $5.6 billion on shoes (93%) and $4.9 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes (97%). Consumers plan to spend more across all categories, with shoes and school supplies seeing the highest expected increase.

As to what types of electronics they plan to purchase, among electronics shoppers, 45% said they would buy a laptop computer while more than a third plan to purchase a tablet (35%) or a calculator (35%). One in four plan to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive or charger.

When it comes to where parents will buy, they are shopping across a variety of retailers; 57% will shop at department stores, 54% at discount stores, 46% each at clothing stores and online, and 36% at office supply stores.

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TECHNOLOGY

J.C. Penney jumps into $20 billion industry with in-store shops

BY Marianne Wilson

J.C. Penney isn't playing around when it comes to toys.

The retailer announced it is opening toy shops in its 1,000 plus brick-and-mortar stores, and has already expanded its online toy assortment. The in-store shops will be located within the children's department, next to the Disney Collection displays, and will feature a wide range of items, from dolls and action figures to board games and arts and crafts, and such brands as Hasbro, Mattel, and Fisher Price. Many of the shops feature a play area where kids can try out select toys.

The rollout grows out of Penney's decision to bring back toys to its stores — for the first time in years — for the 2016 holiday season. The move apparently resonated with shoppers. Penney said it was "extremely pleased by customer response and confidently made the decision to grow our toy assortment in stores and at JCPenney.com.

"We know that shoppers buy toys year-round and by creating a fun, inviting toy shop, with some of the biggest brands and hottest products, we will entice families to shop and spend more at J.C. Penney,” said John Tighe, executive VP and chief merchant for J.C. Penney. “Toys are an exciting product category for J.C. Penney and an in-store attraction that will drive traffic and sales as we continue to focus on increasing revenue per customer.”

Online, Penney has doubled its toy assortment and added an array of new product categories, including bicycles, video games, outdoor trampolines, costumes and science kits. The retailer has also sorted out product by age group. Penney plans to beef up the assortment even more time for the holiday shopping season.

“J.C. Penney realizes the importance of having a significantly expanded product selection at JCPenney.com to compete with pure e-commerce rivals, which is why we are so proud of both our product and category expansions over the past 12 months," Tighe said. "The toy industry continues to grow and J.C. Penney intends to capture a significant portion of this $20 billion (Toy Association estimate) industry."

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TECHNOLOGY

Specialty retailer integrates omnichannel experience

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

As Cole Haan expands its breadth, the retail experience must remain consistent — regardless of the touchpoint shoppers use.

In partnership with Aptos, the specialty retailer now has a platform that delivers a seamless customer experience throughout the entire shopping journey. Regardless of whether shoppers visit one of the company’s 259 stores across 30 countries, or shop online, now they will get a unified experience.

The cloud-based Aptos Singular Commerce platform manages point-of-sale and mobile point-of-sale, and an order management module supports Cole Haan’s direct-to-consumer initiatives. The solution will integrate the retailer’s digital and physical retail channels, and support one complete view of customers, inventory and orders, as well as manage order fulfillment, logistics and analytics.

“Aptos has been a tremendous partner in helping Cole Haan to provide seamless customer experiences throughout the entire shopping journey,” said Ron Edwards, COO, Cole Haan. “The addition of the order management platform will allow us to gain efficiencies and consistency with unified processing of all orders originating from the store or online,” he added. “Meanwhile, it will help associates provide customers with ‘endless aisle’ capabilities and streamline returns of online purchases in the store.”

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