Old School: Back-to-School Shopping Is Changing But Shoppers Still Want Basics

Old School: Back-to-School Shopping Is Changing But Shoppers Still Want Basics

The back-to-school shopping climate has changed. According to a recent Nielsen survey, more consumers will be shopping for back-to-school items this year versus last year. In 2014, 50% of survey participants said they would not be doing any back to school shopping, and this year, that number dropped to 36%. However, overall spending will remain tight with 40% of consumers stating that they will spend the same as last year.  

While the traditional frenzy around the back-to-school shopping season has fizzled a bit, there are still active vital signs and opportunities to reinvigorate this once vibrant retail moment. The back-to-school shopping season is surely not dead. In fact, it is alive, there are growing sectors and the hot time for consumers purchasing their essential back to school items is actually happening right now.

With more than half (64%) of consumers shopping back-to-school this year, over 50% of respondents said they will be loading up their carts toward the tail end of summer—a trend that is consistent with years past. A snapshot look at 2013 and 2014 Nielsen sales data shows that historically, August has steadily been the strongest sales month for traditional and basic back-to-school items such as home, school and office supplies.

So once shoppers are on the hunt, what will drive their actual purchases? In a majority of cases, it comes down to cost. In fact, 61% of consumers say price will drive their back-to-school purchases, and 42% will be looking for value. For those searching for deals, it may pay to wait for the initial rush to subside a bit. Notably, procrastinating shoppers may prevail by taking advantage of end-of-August sales and regional tax-free holidays around the end of summer.

Mass merchandisers and department stores are still the top brick-and-mortar destinations for shoppers. However, e-commerce has quickly gained ground, as 30% of consumers say they’ll be shopping online for back to school items—a 10% increase from last year. 

While tech has been growing in popularity with inside the classroom, consumers’ shopping lists for this year’s back-to-school needs are fairly traditional. Basics lead the (back)pack, with notebooks, pens and pencils, backpacks and apparel top the list. At the other end of the spectrum, consumer electronics such as tablets, laptops and phones rank at the bottom of the list, with most showing a steady decline or plateaued purchase intent in the tech sector over the past three years.

So what does this mean for marketers? While the back-to-school shopping season may look different than years past—it is still a moment on consumer’s minds (and calendars). Take note of the late shoppers and the basics on their shopping list this year.