Consumers Shift More of their Back-to-School Supplies Spend Online and Purchase Later in the Season, NPD Group Reports

Online spend is on the rise, but brick-and-mortar still dominates

Port Washington, NY, October 11, 2016 – Shopping in stores remains the preferred method of purchasing traditional supplies during the back-to-school season, accounting for 92 percent of sales this year; however, more dollar spend is shifting online, according to global information company The NPD Group.

Retail growth was soft so far this back-to-school season (10 weeks ending September 10, 2016), and an 11 percent boost from e-commerce buoyed the overall traditional supplies market. Total brick-and-mortar sales increased by $11.3 million, while online sales grew by $27.3 million compared to the same time period in 2015.

It is not only where consumers are shopping but when that has changed. Similar to last year, a shift in school start dates because of the late Labor Day holiday, combined with changes in tax-free holidays, led to consumer spending on traditional supplies being pushed out later, into late August and early September. This year, the Fourth of July holiday was also later than usual, falling on a Monday during the first week of the measured back-to-school period, and pushing out consumer spending in July even further. Tying into these shifts, more consumers ended up shopping the week before Labor Day (August 29-September 3) compared to last year.

“A late Fourth of July holiday combined with a late Labor Day translated to fewer shopping days this back-to-school season, and meant that consumers were shopping for supplies later, and with less time,” said Leen Nsouli, director, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group. “In addition, there were nine less tax-free days in the U.S., which impacted when consumers were spending in-store and played a role in the softer brick-and-mortar sales this season. This worked to the advantage of online retailers, however, as consumers turned to the internet to save time while also hunting for the best deals.”

Looking at category group performance, Dated Products, Writing Instruments, and Coloring & Art experienced the highest growth rates at retail overall during the 2016 back-to-school shopping period. Looking at brick-and-mortar and online sales individually, the results panned out differently for both channels; colored pencil sets, coloring pages, and traditional pens were the top-growing among all categories in-store, while presentation/reference/storage and all other filing and storage categories saw the strongest increases online.

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“There are many nuances that retailers and manufacturers need to take into consideration as they plan their back-to-school campaigns and assortments, from how consumers are behaving in-store and online, to when they are shopping, which varies greatly by region,” said Nsouli. “School start dates vary by region and grade level, which means that national spending patterns vary in timing. Early and late school starts can drive total industry sales trends. As a result, having targeted regional strategies throughout the season rather than all-encompassing national campaigns is critical for a successful back-to-school season.”

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Retail Tracking Service, Excluding Janitorial & Breakroom, 10 weeks ending September 10, 2016

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